How Are You Doing?

Mark Pfohl, Tuesday Mar 25, 2008, 12:00 am

Are you finding yourself in the final stretch of a long winter? Are you in the middle or nearing the end of state testing? Are you anxious for Spring Break, nice weather, flowers, and the beach?!

As a literacy coach who is supposed to be supporting others, this can be your low energy point of the year. How are you doing?

I am wondering what suggestions we might give each other as to ways that coaches can practice self-care. Jan Burkins in her recent book Coaching for Balance [see IRA publications] recommends that coaches can:

  • create their own environments,
  • leave some margins in their work lives,
  • plan for their own professional growth,
  • take care of their bodies,
  • go home,
  • practice positive habits,
  • recognize their limitations,
  • let go of some of the responsibility,
  • build a support system under themselves, and
  • plan nurturing transitions to and from work.

In what ways do you agree with Jan? What are additional ways that you practice self-care as a literacy, reading, and/or instructional coach?

(P.S. Jan will be speaking at IRA as part of a session on literacy coaching scheduled for TH, 5/8, 12:30-3:15 in Georgia World Congress Center B203.)

« Blog

Responses to How Are You Doing?

  1. Suzanne Santos says:
    I am not yet a Literacy Coach, but I can certainly relate to having low energy at the end of the year. The best self care I can think of is to surround yourself with people who continue to speak positively about the year. Just recently I began to notice that I, myself, was complaining about my work load and the new pressures that are binging brought on in my district concerning a Standards Based System. I then realized that if I only focus on what is going right then my energy improves and so do those around me. I think that is true of the Literacy Coaches that I have had in the past. When a coach consciously creates a positive emotional climate around them it benefits everyone involved.
  2. Jessie Sears says:
    As a literacy coach, it is important to keep a positive outlook and have a high motivation level. This attitude will spread to coworkers, which is important at this time of year. On your own, taking time to yourself, exercising, and spending time outdoors are great ways to relax and relieve stress. Keeping a journal, personal or professional, can help to reveal difficulties or changes a person want to make. At school, it is important to get teachers involved in analyzing how the year went and planning for the next year. Sharing this responsibility can get others involved as well as lighten the stress load. Analyzing test scores as well as having conversations about activities throughout the year can reveal strengths and weaknesses. These conversations can help to plan for the next year and make changes where necessary. Teachers should be part of this process, and they will feel their opinions are noted and valued. Together, teams can come up with staff development topics, new activites or strategies, and different ways the literacy coach can assist them. This support will help the literacy coach with the responsibility of planning as well as reveal the assistance that the teachers need in their instruction.
  3. Erika Eichelberg says:
    I, too, am not a Literacy coach yet. But, I'm reaching the end of my Master's degree and the end of the school year. I find myself a little stressed and thinking how to get by day to day just because I am very tired. I try to stay positive for my students and my teammates and I think that is the important thing. I have supportive people around me that helps. But when personal struggles happen that can also make one tired and just worn out...then trying to keep it up becomes hard. I agree with what Jessie said. We, coaches or not, need to stay positive and that will spread to coworkers and students. I think it is important to take care of myself with diet and exercise and talking to others to help with the stress load. I work with some great teachers who are doing what is suggested above, fidning ways to plan for next year and looking at the successes of this year. I find that helpful and I know I will get through the next few weeks of spring fever in middle school, and I look forward to next year and the new students and new opportunities.
  4. Nancy Shanklin says:

    The following book, piece, and protocol was recently recommended to me.  I do think that it links to this general topic of self-care and working on change - within ourselves as well as with others!

     Wheatley, Margaret J. Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2002.

    I am going to then paste in a two-page handout and response protocol that might be used with the passage.


    Willing To Be Disturbed

    As we work together to restore hope to the future, we need to include a new and strange all --  our willingness to be disturbed, our willingness to have our beliefs and ideas challenged by what others think. No one person or perspective can give us the answers we need to the problems of today. Paradoxically, we can only find those answers by admitting we don't know. We have to be willing to let go of our certainty and expect ourselves to be confused for a time.

    We weren't trained to admit we don't know. Most of us were taught to sound certain and confident, to state our opinion as if it were true. We haven't been rewarded for being confused or for asking more questions rather than giving quick answers. We've also spent many years listening to others mainly to determine whether we agree with them or not. We don't have time or interest to sit and listen to those who think differently than we do.

    But the world now is quite perplexing. We no longer live in those sweet, slow days when life felt predictable, when we actually knew what to do next. We live in a complex world. We often don't know what's going on, and we won't be able to understand its complexity unless we spend more time in not knowing.

    It is very difficult to give up our certainties -- our positions, our beliefs, our explanations. These help define us; they lie at the heart of our personal identity. Yet I believe we will succeed in changing this world only if we can think and work together in new ways. Curiosity is what we need. We don't have to let go of what we believe, but we do need to be curious about what someone else believes. We do need to acknowledge that their way of interpreting the world might be essential to our survival.

    We live in a dense and tangled global system. Because we live in different parts of this complexity and because no two people are physically identical, we each experience life differently. It's impossible for any two people to ever see things exactly the same. You can test this out for yourself. Take any event that you've shared with others (a speech, a movie, a current event, a major problem) and ask your colleagues and friends to describe their interpretation of that event.

    I think you'll be amazed at how many different explanations you'll hear. Once you get a sense of the diversity, try asking even more colleagues. You'll end up with a rich tapestry of interpretations that are much more interesting than any single one. To be curious about how someone else interprets things, we have to be willing to admit that we're not capable of figuring things out alone. If our solutions don't work as well as we want them to, if our explanations of why something happened don't feel sufficient, it's time to begin asking others about what they see and think. When so many interpretations are available, I can't understand why we would be satisfied with superficial conversations where we pretend to agree with one another.

    There are many ways to sit and listen for the differences. Lately, I've been listening for what surprises me. What did I just hear that startled me? This isn't easy-- I'm accustomed to sitting there nodding my head to those saying things I agree with. But when I notice what surprises me, I'm able to see my own views more clearly, including my beliefs and assumptions.

    Noticing what surprises and disturbs me has been a very useful way to see invisible beliefs. If what you say surprises me, I must have been assuming something else was true. If what you say disturbs me, I must believe something contrary to you. My shock at your position exposes my own position. When I hear myself saying, “How could anyone believe something like that?" a light comes on for me to see my own beliefs. These moments are great gifts. If I can see my beliefs and assumptions, I can decide whether I still value them. I hope you'll begin a conversation, listening for what's new. Listen as best you can for what's different, for what surprises you. See if this practice helps you learn something new. Notice whether you develop a better relationship with the person you're talking with. If you try this with several people, you might find yourself laughing in delight as you realize how many unique ways there are to be human.

    We have the opportunity many times a day everyday to be the one who listens to others, curious rather than certain. But the greatest benefit of all is that listening moves us closer. When we listen with less judgment, we always develop better relationship with each other. It's not differences that divide us. It's our judgments about each other that do. Curiosity and good listening bring us back together.

    Sometimes we hesitate to listen for differences because we don't want to change. We're comfortable with our lives, and if we listened to anyone who raised questions, we'd have to get engaged in changing things. If we don't listen, things can stay as they are and we won't have to expend any energy. But most of us do see things in our life or in the world that we would like to be different. If that's true, we have to listen more, not less. And we have to be willing to move into the very uncomfortable place of uncertainty. We can't be creative if we refuse to be confused. Change always starts with confusion; cherished interpretations must dissolve to make way for the new. Of course it's scary to give up what we know, but the abyss is where newness lives. Great ideas and inventions miraculously appear in the space of not knowing. If we can move through the fear and enter the abyss, we are rewarded greatly. We rediscover we're creative.

    As the world grows more strange and puzzling and difficult, I don't believe most of us want to keep struggling through it alone. I can’t know what to do from my own narrow perspective. I know I need a better understanding of what's going on. I want to sit down with you and talk about all the frightening and hopeful things I observe, and listen to what frightens you and gives you hope. I need new ideas and solutions for the problems I care about. I know I need to talk to you to discover those. I need to learn to value your perspective, and I want you to value mine. I expect to be disturbed by what I hear from you. I know we don't have to agree with each other in order to think well together. There is no need for us to be joined at the head. We are joined by our human hearts.

    The following protocol might be used with this text.  I received this from Stevi Quate, Director of the Colorado Critical Friends Group.

    Three Levels of Text Protocol

    Purpose: To deepen understanding of a text and explore implications for participants' work.

    Facilitation: Stick to the time limits. Each round takes up to 5 minutes per person in a group. Emphasize the need to watch air time during the brief “group response” segment.  Do 1 – 3 rounds.  Can be used as a prelude to a Text-based Discussion or by itself.

    Roles: Facilitator/timekeeper (who also participates); participants


    1. Sit in a circle and identify a facilitator/timekeeper

    2. If participants have not done so ahead of time, have them read the text and identify passages (and a couple of back-ups) that they feel may have important implications for their work.

    3. A Round consists of:

    One person using up to 3 minutes to:

    LEVEL 1: Read aloud the passage she/he has selected
    LEVEL 2: Say what she/he thinks about the passage (interpretation, connection to past experiences, etc.)
    LEVEL 3: Say what she/he sees as the implications for his/her work.

    The group responding (for a TOTAL of up to 2 minutes) to what has been said.

    4. After all rounds have been completed, debrief

  5. Melanie Van Allen says:
    I was one of the lucky audience participants in room C203 on Thursday at the IRA conference in Atlanta. I gained a more global picture of education in America during our time together, and found this website, which I plan to visit often. Thanks for sharing, it has definitely helped my motivation to end the year on a positive note!
  6. Mindy Butler says:
    I was there as well. It was a very enlightening and powerful experience!