Early in the school year, my instructional coaching colleagues and I attended district training where participants were tasked with creating an image to explain the coaching process.
My group thought for a moment.
“You know, coaching is an organic thing,” I said. “Or at least it should be. We all know it takes time to develop relationships and trust. It’s about honing practices, sure, but this is a growth process for us as well as for our teachers. We grow together to reach goals.”
A colleague said, “Yes! I’m seeing a tree, branching out . . . .”
In a few minutes we’d sketched the tree. We began to label it, recognizing coaching elements that correlated to parts of the tree. The more we worked, the faster the ideas came.
Relationships are key in coaching, the foundation, but certain things must feed the relationships before the process can begin. These roots are trust, the human connection, listening, collegiality, safety, empathy, and support. Coaches must meet teachers where they are and be willing to plug in with what teachers want to accomplish – it’s not as much about seeing the work as it is seeing a fellow human being. The vision develops from there, and needs to be a shared one.
The trunk of the tree symbolizes this togetherness with inspiration from Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. Near the bottom of our tree, we placed a little heart: Coach + You. The heart of coaching is just that – having a heart for each other.
A solid, thriving coaching relationship branches out into nearly endless possibilities, aspirations, and directions, such as goals, the 4 Cs (communication, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration), encouragement, self-modifying learners, reflection, growth mindset and learner agency.
My coaching colleagues and I stood looking at our work, feeling pretty happy with our Coaching Tree.
“We need to put the sun in,” said a colleague. “The sun is the climate, of course – a warm climate conducive to coaching is necessary for the process to work. That’s where administration comes in.”
We put the sun in.
At this point, something struck me – “Trees bear fruit! What is the ultimate goal of coaching, the payoff? What’s the fruit of our labor?”
We created a basket then, and labeled it The fruit of our combined efforts. It holds apples: Love of learning, data, increased student achievement, teacher fulfillment, students graduating college or career ready.
As teachers are fulfilled and productive, we desire to branch out into new areas. The growth continues. As students achieve, as they go on with their lives, some will go into the teaching field and the cycle begins anew.
At the close of the training, small groups presented their work to the whole assembly of coaches. The other groups had designed diagrams, cycles, or flow charts, all of which artistically, appropriately encapsulated the continuous reflective coaching cycle of support.
My group was the only one to present the coaching process as a living thing, something organic.
We were startled by the enthusiastic applause from our fellow coaches.
Upon returning to school, my colleagues and I recreated the Coaching Tree in the teachers’ lounge. It stands there to encourage, invite, celebrate, and maybe inspire or spark hope when we all need it, a visual reminder that our work is not in vain, that we’re in this together, to help each other along, and the sky is the limit.