This month in our Coaching in Action series HMH classroom coach Shelley Branine chronicles the building of a teacher-coach relationship, demonstrating the impact a trusted coach can have on a teacher’s outlook and day-to-day life.
I met Carol in August of 2016. She attended my READ 180 Getting Started training and spent the day in the back row, awkwardly silent with her head down, creating an invisible wall between us. Clearly, she did not volunteer to attend the training.
A month later, I visited her classroom for a follow-up coaching session. The empty, teacherless room smelled like a mixture of dusty books and oversized middle schoolers at the end of a long, warm day. I waited about 15 minutes until the phone rang. Carol instantly burst through the door mumbling a halfhearted apology for her tardiness and abruptly snatched the phone off of her desk.
“I can’t help you now,” she stated harshly into the receiver. “I have to attend another meeting, this time with someone from HMH.”
She forcefully hung up the phone and crossed her arms. Her voice quivered and her eyes filled with tears. “I don’t have time for this!” she began. “I’ve had meetings every day, and just this morning, I was volun-told to stay after school to help with homework club. I spend my evenings buying food for my students because they come to school hungry. I don’t have time to learn another new curriculum, and the last thing I need is you people coming in here and telling me everything I’m doing wrong.”
Instantly, memories of my 20 years of teaching surfaced. I remembered feeling overworked and helpless with an impossible amount of needs to meet. My heart broke for Carol.
“I’m not here to tell you what you’re doing wrong,” I said softly. “I’m here to help you with your students.” We began to list all of Carol’s challenges and everything that overwhelmed her. After completing the list, she dabbed her eyes with a tissue and exhaled slowly. Then, together, we came up with one simple task she could manage that would help her students, but not add to her stress load.
Time passed and I continued monthly meetings with Carol. With each session, we focused on her students and gradually added new manageable tasks. Eventually she began asking for reassurance that I would come back the following month.
By the end of the school year, Carol had the excitement of a new teacher, but the skills of a veteran. She appealed to her administrators, begging them to take away other responsibilities so that she could devote all of her time to READ 180, the curriculum she didn’t think she had time to learn.
The following August, Carol attended our District goal-setting PD excited and empowered. She collaborated with her colleagues and served as a mentor to new teachers.
By December, the District Curriculum Director celebrated Carol’s students for achieving the highest mean growth in the District. She organized a pizza party for Carol’s class and said that she had never seen such a boost in confidence, morale, and performance. In her words, “A year ago, Carol was the teacher most against teaching the program.”
The last time I met with Carol, she introduced me to her colleague. “This is Shelley,” she said. “She’s from HMH, but don’t be intimidated by her. She’s not anyone important. She’s like us, just a teacher who wants to help kids.”
Of course I did not agree that teachers are unimportant, but I also didn’t correct her. Her words were the best compliment I could receive. In truth, we are all like Carol . . . just teachers who want to help kids.
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