You Must Do the Thing You Think You Cannot Do

Eleanor Roosevelt was a very wise woman! There are experience in our lives that have profound effects. Experiences that change us. Experiences that open our eyes. Experiences we will remember for a lifetime.  Experiences we never thought possible. During this Thanksgiving season one in particular came to mine. One I am very thankful for the experience!

Early in my career as a school improvement/literacy consultant/instructional coach I had the opportunity to learn from Dr. Emily Calhoun. The professional learning and dialogue with colleagues was life changing!  Drs. Bruce Joyce and Emily Calhoun’s work on the effects of coaching is often cited in school improvement and instructional coaching resources. As you can see from the table below, the aspect of coaching in the classroom yields the highest use of a new skill in the classroom. Without coaching teachers may be able to demonstrate (5 – 60%) that they can use the strategy, but full use of the strategy in the classroom only amounts to about 5%.

Coaching comes in all forms at the school level. Three types that are most important in my work include:

  • Instructional Coaching to support teachers,
  • Teacher to Teacher instructional (peer) coaching, and
  • Administrators taking on the qualities of an instructional coach (i.e. Wearing a “Coaches Hat”)

As an instructional coach and school leader I am always looking for examples of “real life” coaching and how that one aspect (coaching) makes the difference in fully implementing something especially when the activity is out of a person’s comfort zone. Dr. Calhoun would often used a phrase – Pressure with support. I believe the key is that the pressure/support comes from a respected, trusted individual. Someone who truly has your best interest at heart. Someone who will do everything possible to help you succeed. When this kind trust is present, we really can do things we did not think we could do!

This past summer I had one of these experiences. An experience that had a profound effect and one I will never forget.  For 10 minutes I was suspended high above Lake Okoboji – the picture above is proof! That is me on the right. I don’t have a fear of heights, but do fear situations that are risky in the physical sense. I am usually full of what if questions. What if the rope breaks? What if I fall? What if I drown? What if, What if, What if, What if…. I sound like a broken record! (Yes, I grew up in the days of 45s and LPs!)

So what made the difference? Why did I decide to step out of my comfort zone? The answer was the art coaching with the use of pressure with support from a trusted friend!

My good friend had been mentioning we should go parasailing for several years. I did a good job at putting her and the idea off. I will do it as a celebration for losing weight or when I find a principal job. I was very good at making excuses.  As I reflect, I realize we were in the “theory and discussion stage.” She had been parasailing once before and loved it. She would tell me of her experience. Just talking about it didn’t help much, even if she was pretty convincing at times. The talk did not make me want to move out of my comfort zone. Having my feet planted on the ground seemed like a good idea!

So what changed?

She skillfully added demonstration AND coaching to her pressure with support. 

During a summer visit to the lakes area we enjoyed biking riding on a wide variety of trails. One Saturday morning she suggested we ride to Arnold’s Park – the amusement park in the area. It was another great bike ride. When we arrived at the park we rested – right next to EXTREME SPORTS. I didn’t think anything of it. I saw a picnic table – she saw an opportunity to coach!

She pointed out the Parasailing sign and suggested we inquire if they had any open appointments. Her conviction trumped my reluctancy. To my favor, the winds were too strong to attempt parasailing that day – but after watching a demonstration and learning more about the approach (and safety precautions) I agreed on a 1:00 PM sail time the following day. Weather predictions for the day aligned with features needed for successful parasailing.

I had put this off long enough. How were any of my excuses going to change anything? I had lost 35 pounds to date, but how was losing more going to make the idea of parasailing any different? Was finding a principal job going to give me the courage to parasail? That will be something to celebrate – but is parasailing the celebration? None of comfort zone excuses were going to change anything. None of them were going to change the fact that the rope may break (it didn’t!) or that I fall in to the lake and drown (I didn’t!). Knowing that my trusted friend would be at my side, gliding high above the lake was reassuring. We could do this together.

Instructional coaching is just like that. A partnership approach as Jim Knight refers to. Anyone in the school setting can take on the qualities of an instruction coach – even an administrator! When the partnership is built on trust, a deep respected trust – the aspect of coaching can help teachers and administrators reach outside their comfort zones.

I recently ran across the Simple Truth’s video: Secrets of World Class: Turning Mediocrity into Greatness. The video has the same feel as the Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t concept of Jim Collins. It asks, “How do you see yourself as you approach challenges?” Moving from Middle Class (Mediocrity) to World Class may be a step out of your comfort zone at times. I encourage you to find an instructional coach to help guided you along the way. The key is they are a trusted individual who as your best interest at heart! Their support can inspire you to do the thing you never thought you could do!

Middle Class

(NOT a reference to financial status)

World Class

Frustrated Grateful
Competes Creates
Avoid risks Manages risks
Loves to be comfortable Comfortable being uncomfortable
Focuses on having Focuses on being
Has pipedreams Has vision
Problem Oriented Solution oriented
Sees itself as victim Sees itself as responsible
Thinks it knows enough Is eager to learn
Chooses fear Choose growth

Do you have any stories that show how coaching helped you in your life? I would love to hear about them. Sharing your story may help yet another person see the value of instructional coaching.

Other books of interest may include:

How to Use Action Research in the Self-Renewing School by Emily Calhoun

Models of Professional Development: A Celebration of Educators by Bruce Joyce

Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction by Jim Knight

Unmistakable Impact: A Partnership Approach for Dramatically Improving Instruction by Jim Knight

From Good Schools to Great Schools: What Their Principals Do Well by Susan P. Gray, William A. Streshly

Instructional Coaching with the End in Mind by Steve Barkley

Instructional Coaches and Classroom Teachers: Sharing the Road to Success by Cheryl Jones, Mary Vreeman

The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation by Elena Aguilar

Student-Centered Coaching: A Guide for K-8 Coaches and Principals by Diane Sweeney

Student-Centered Coaching at the Secondary Level by Diane Sweeney


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