I take my work seriously. Students and learning matter, and this gives me clear focus. But sometimes my fervor and focus get in the way of my coaching. My intensity can make me feel less accessible and receptive. A few years back, I was coached by a colleague about an upcoming meeting. “You and Susie are both so intense,” he said. “You can be intimidating.”
At first I laughed, because Suzie and I are both petite – if we stood on the scales together, we’d barely tip the needle over 200 lbs. How could two tiny women be intimidating? But, on further reflection, I knew he was right. We can both have that fierce gaze that means, “I am not giving up until we get this right!” And that attribute, unfortunately, could push people away. I decided this was something I needed to work on. I needed to be more approachable.
I started thinking about things I hadn’t thought about before: How I sat in a chair while listening, for example. Even though a leaning-in posture can say, “I’m paying attention,” it might also feel in-your-face. So I practiced leaning back and looking relaxed from time to time. I reminded myself to uncross my arms. I laid an open hand loosely on the table. These subtle gestures can make me feel more approachable during one-on-one and group conversations.
When I enter a classroom for an observation, I have to remind myself to keep a smile on my face. Even though on the inside I am always SO happy to be there, I sometime get so focused on taking everything in that I notice my brow is furrowed. That sends a signal that I don’t intend! Teachers (and sometimes students) read that expression as, “Something is wrong here.” Even when it isn’t. So I do facial readjustments throughout an observation.
I also try to remember to slide into the classroom rather than striding in. I don’t want my walk to say that I’m all business. I don’t want to create a diversion, I want to blend in. This might seem extreme, but I even think about what shoes I’ll wear, because I don’t want my heels click-clicking as I enter the room or as I wander over to a group of students to listen in on their collaboration. I don’t want my posture to be too stick-straight, because my bearing could be intimidating.
Until I’ve really established rapport with a teacher, I don’t bring my laptop into her room. That big, official screen seems to create a barrier and differences in our status. It does not feel welcoming. It does not feel pleasant. Even though I’m much better at capturing all the little details using my keyboard, it’s not worth the hurdle it creates. At first, I get what data I can with my notebook or iPad.
This week, I met three preservice teachers who I’ll be spending a lot of time with next month (we are going to Ireland together!). Before they joined me in my office, I reminded myself to smile a lot. I put away my big laptop and got out the caramels. I asked what they are excited about and what advice they had about preparing for the trip, because I hadn’t really had time to think about it yet. There won’t be much time for rapport-building once we get to Ireland, because we’ll jump right in to working in the school, so I knew I needed a strong start during our 30-minute get-together. I hope that reminding myself to be approachable got our relationship started on the right foot. As with all coaching work, positive relationships will be vital. If you are like me and your intensity sometimes gets in the way of your approachability, paying attention to posture, positioning, and facial expressions can help teachers feel at ease.
This week, you might want to take a look at:
Using the questions for Learning categories in coaching:
Social-Emotional benefits of 3 common literacy practices:
EdCamp-style PD at your school:
Getting power from having students write to politicians:
A 3-minute listen about why sitting affects teens’ mental health:
That’s it for this week. Happy Coaching!
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