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From Vulnerability to Empowerment. Reflections on a Coaching Cycle

From Vulnerability to Empowerment. Reflections on a Coaching Cycle

By Agustina Matavos, 5th Grade Spanish Teacher at Asociación Escuelas Lincoln in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

“Let’s do a coaching cycle…” When those words were said to me, I froze. I did not know what to expect, what to do. I was out of my comfort zone. Yes, I know… we have to step outside our comfort zone if we want things to change, if we want to grow as professionals and as human beings. But I was in fear, fear of the unknown. As teachers we are used to being the one in control, the leader in the classroom, the knowledge bearers. We are IN CONTROL. We prepare the lessons, we set the goals and expectations for our students, we manage every step of the way. So when I heard those words all the self-assurance I had, melted away. Were they going to evaluate me? Furthermore, where they going to judge me? I believe that as human beings we are all afraid of feeling vulnerable and I was not the exception.

Barbara, the learning coach, and I scheduled a time to meet back in September. This meeting was key as it unveiled the fundamentals of a Coaching Cycle: a non-judgmental process in which both coach and coachee work together in order to accomplish a goal for students and teacher learning. Whew…I was happily relieved! I was not going to be assessed by her, to the contrary, she was there to collaborate with me, to help me put into words my thinking and when necessary to guide me. Furthermore, Barbara set her own goal to coach in Spanish, my first language but not hers, which helped to give the process a sense of equality and easiness. So this was the beginning of a fulfilling and mind-shifting experience.

A Revelation

The coaching cycle lasted one month and it was based on the Language Arts unit: leyendas. Leyendas are traditional stories created hundreds years ago by the natives with the aim to explain the origin of the elements of nature. For instance, the origin of a river or a volcano. These stories can be found in multiple South American countries. 

It was in that first day, in our first planning meeting when Barbara asked me how I was planning to pre-assess my students’ knowledge on the topic that I had an epiphany:

I have not been formally pre-assessing my students’ knowledge.

I have to admit that due to the fact that I have been teaching the same content for the last 8 years, I was being guided by preconceptions and ideas about what my students’ knew. Naturally, pre-assessment as a tool to differentiate, became my goal.

As I previously said, a coach’s role is to help us mediate our thinking by promoting a cognitive shift. Well, she did!



Re-Energized

I am the kind of teacher who loathes stagnation. I am eager to learn and try new things but always within a safe environment. But, had my main fear come true? Was I being stagnant or, as we say in Spanish “¿Me había achanchado?” I wasn’t going to allow it.

Barbara and I had weekly meetings and she regularly popped into my classroom. What at first felt strange, as I am not very fond of being observed, ended up being a natural and easy going situation. Moreover, after each observation we had reflective conversations which helped me rethink my practice encouraging me to make changes. I felt re-energized!

The array of activities varied according to the students’ needs and language proficiency. Due to the information gathered during the pre and formative assessments, I was able to better scaffold students’ learning.


Data and More Data

During the Coaching Cycle data was key to keeping track of the learning process, aka formative assessment. Even though I always keep a record of my students’ progress, this time it was more thorough. Having clear criteria of success is vital to be able to collect data. At this point Barbara’s aid was fundamental. As my coach she helped me create a data collection chart that was a visual and clear tool to record students’ progress.



Empowerment

By the end of the Coaching Cycle I felt renewed and empowered. What started with making me feel vulnerable and afraid, ended up being a mind shifting and enriching experience. I grew as a teacher and became more confident of my own tools and strategies. Even though it was a long reflective process, it was worthwhile. Having a knowledgeable, experienced but most important, humble coach is the key to success. Barbara was able to listen to me and to guide me through this process. She was never judgmental nor did I feel she was evaluating me. It was through our reflective conversations that I was able to see what I was lacking, what I wanted to focus on in order to improve my practice. By now you might have guessed and you are probably right… Using pre-assessment as a tool to better differentiate is what I will focus on.

I highly recommend the experience to anyone who is open to moving from a stage of vulnerability to a more empowered one.

Don’t we teachers want to provide our students with the best learning opportunities? Unless we are willing to become learners ourselves and step outside our comfort zone we are far from becoming the best teachers we could be. I am glad I did.

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