The Loneliness of Coaching

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I wasn’t prepared for the loneliness of coaching.  

After our district had investigated and chosen a coaching model to support a balanced literacy model, complete with Reader’s and Writer’s Workshops and developmentally appropriate word study instruction, excitement filled me. The kind of excitement that a preschooler who believes in the magic of Christmas feels, the kind of butterflies-in-my-stomach excitement, the kind of I-can’t-sleep-because-it’s-hard-to-wait excitement! Who wouldn’t want the opportunity to continue their professional learning at The Ohio State University?  Who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to bring change, with its accompanying refreshment, into her career?  Who wouldn’t want to opportunity to walk alongside teachers and reflect with them? Who wouldn’t want the opportunity to affect student outcomes on a building-wide scale?  I would!  So excitement filled me as clicked Submit on my computer.

Happily, the day came when our principal told me the wonderful news- I would be the new Literacy Coach!  Willingly, I sacrificed summer freedom for intense training.  Contentedly, I spent long hours, post-workday hours, planning and preparing for my lab classroom. Cheerfully, I taught and experimented and reflected and improved my practice that first year.  Voluntarily, I attended webinars and on-site training to perfect my craft, to prepare to be the best coach I could be. Gladly, I reflected with and was coached by the University trainer on my teaching and practice.  All this was done with the glorious vision to help teachers, to get to know them, and to reflect with them.  All this was done for the learners in our building.

Then, the reality of the rough road of coaching that stretched ahead collided with my dreamy vision.  Who would have ever thought that teachers didn’t want to invite the coach in?  Who would have ever thought that teachers didn’t want to reflect on their practices? Who would have ever thought teachers didn’t want to improve their practices?  Who would have ever thought teachers wouldn’t want to work with, get to know, collaborate with the coach?  It was like being dressed for a 90 degree day, but instead, finding a -25 degree, frigid blast bombarding you in your face!  

I have moved forward from that day my joyous dreams of coaching were shattered.  I have moved into a new reality, one of building relationships, of taking baby steps, of providing appropriate professional development, of gently nudging teachers to move to best practices, of celebration.  I have moved on to acceptance that I am no longer “one of them.”  I have moved on to acceptance that my support team is mostly other coaches in the district.  I have moved on to a new dream of coaching, a dream to help teachers shift paradigms and to embrace disequilibrium in order to grow readers and writers.  Coaching has taken me on a journey.  Coaching is a journey.  Coaching is my calling.  

But, I wasn’t prepared for the loneliness of coaching.  

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About bjdonaldson

I think of myself as a Renaissance woman with a variety of passions. If you visited me, you might find me hanging out with my husband and children. Our Golden Retriever would be lovingly near. I am a Literacy Coach/Reading Specialist at an elementary school where I provide professional development and coaching to teachers. Formerly, I was a Reading Recovery teacher, an interventionist, and a middle and elementary classroom teacher. Getting up in the morning is not hard; I still love making a difference in the lives of children and teachers.

12 responses »

  1. Thanks for your post, BJ. Like you, I’m intrigued by paradigms of professional learning and coaching. I appreciate your balanced look at your high hopes going in along with the current reality to which you’re adjusting. Small steps can still take you to grand places over time 🙂

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  2. Coaching is a very lonely position to be in. Lucky for you to have some other coaches in the district to collaborate with. Sounds like you have an extensive background in teaching with lots of experience to support your role. I find that keeping connected with other coaches/teachers on Twitter helps my loneliness, but it really is not the same thing as the face-to-face connections.

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    • Although a tough road to walk, it is very rewarding. Change is hard and takes time. My expectations didn’t fit with reality. From reading your slices, I think your reflective stance and love of books would make you well-suited for being a coach. Don’t give up on it-just know what you are getting into!

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  3. Thanks for your post, BJ. I think your plight is shared by many in the education profession, not just coaches. Sometimes it feels like an island and we are lucky to have one person to cling to–usually another teacher in our subject, team, or age bracket. When that is taken away, the loneliness is consuming.
    I know you mentioned how rewarding coaching, but I know from a similar position of educational loneliness that it’s hard to see the rewards when there aren’t many to share them with. I think coaching is a hard job anyway (I’d much prefer working with kids to adults!), but I think coaches are so important, so kind, and such role models for good teaching. Thank you for being one!

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  4. I have worked with many teachers who did not want another teacher in their room because they felt threatened. They didn’t look on it as a way to grow and help their students. How sad.

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  5. This comparison is great: “It was like being dressed for a 90 degree day, but instead, finding a -25 degree, frigid blast bombarding you in your face!” I am not a coach, but I see how teachers react to ours and I don’t envy it.

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  6. Yes yes yes yes. This describes EVERYTHING I feel about making the switch to coach. We all do it with the best of intentions – imagining the difference we are going to make and the shifts that we are going to see – and we forget that we are dealing with people. ❤ It is a lonely job – I'm glad you have other coaches to commiserate with.

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