Being an instructional coach has a lot in common with rubber bands.
The work of an instructional coach often involves helping a teacher or administrator stretch beyond their present abilities enough to grow and develop new skills. The really tricky part is to apply just enough pressure to move the needle without a blowout.
This was more than evident during one of my first coaching sessions with a young alternative certification intern. Brilliant guy. Not handling his stress very well. Enter the new instructional coach. Boom! Too much pressure, way too soon.
So this got me thinking about rubber bands and I discovered some interesting connections to the work I am doing as a new instructional coach. Here are some of my conclusions.
Fact: Rubber bands are sensitive things. Treat one badly and the effect is evident. You’ve seen the kind of rubber bands I’m talking about. The kind that have spent a month or so in the sun, or allowed to dry up, losing much of their elasticity. Maybe you’ve even abused one or two in your lifetime.
Corollary: After nearly 20 years in the classroom, I get how much stress and strain some teachers are under. Some are drying up and losing their elasticity. As a coach, I can’t fix that, but I can empathize and take it into account. I also have to assume that it is there, waiting like a tiger in the dark. I don’t want to be part of what causes them to snap.
Fact: Rubber gets hot when stretched. According to Scientific American, when a rubber band is stretched, it produces heat. In fact, you can stretch a rubber band and hold it — still stretched — to your face and you will feel a slight warming of the rubber band. Release the rubber band and it will return to its original temperature.
Corollary: Coaching is hot work. Working to develop new skills in a teacher or administrator can produce a similar rise in temperature — at least metaphorically — resulting in a higher degree of stress. Releasing the stress will also lower the metaphorical temperature.
Fact: Even when stretched, a rubber band will eventually cool down. Holding a stretched rubber band in position until it naturally returns to normal temperature while still stretched will alter the shape of the band permanently. For example, a rubber band wrapped around a folded newspaper for a period of time will heat up, cool down, and then be permanently stretched out of its original shape. It will be slightly bigger.
Corollary: As a coach, I have to stretch my coachee beyond his or her normal “shape” and hold the pressure on just long enough that when things “cool” down, the new skill level is retained, resulting in a slightly new and improved model of teaching or leading. Part of my growth as an instructional coach is learning just how long to keep the pressure on so that I don’t “snap” the coachee.
I saw this first hand in one of my first coaching assignments, I stretched a little too far and held on a little too long and had to spend some time helping my coachee put it back together before we could continue the coaching process.
Fact: If I do not stretch the rubber band enough, it won’t heat up enough so that when it cools the shape is permanently altered.
Corollary: When working with a teacher or administrator, one might be tempted to take an “easier” route to a desired growth point out of fear of stretching too far. It’s not exactly about “no pain, no gain”, but if I don’t take my coachee far enough out of their comfort zone to experience the win that comes from improved ability, they will not be as likely to expand enough to ensure permanent change.
The sensitivity to know how much is enough and how much is too far is part of the art of instructional coaching. Consider this graphic and the sensitivity required to measure the state of your coachee.
In his book, Get Better Faster, Paul Bambrick-Santoyo writes that “Teaching is a performance profession…Just like the soccer player going for the goal, the actor delivering the monologue, and the surgeon performing an emergency operation, teachers have to deliver excellent instruction live…modifying it swiftly and surely in response to whatever challenges or triumphs the students bring to the classroom that day.” (p. 25)
Coaching for peak performance requires growth and is going to generate some heat. Coaching is hot work.
About our Guest Author: Dr. Harrison McCoy brings nearly 20 years of classroom and administrative experience to his new position at Texas’ Education Service Center Region 11 in Fort Worth, where he is a new Instructional Content Coach. In that role, he supports teachers and administrators in their campus improvement strategies in the service center’s more than 75 school district region. Professionally, he enjoys connecting with educators at a global level, blogging and creating amazing learning experiences for teachers and students.