Little Monkeys jumping in your head?

I recently began reading (if that’s the correct term for listening to an audiobook on the SLICE copy
Hoopla app in your car as you drive to and from school each day) 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found a Self-Help That Actually Works by Dan Harris.  It’s a great book of Dan’s life, including his journey from a panic attack on national television to a happier balanced place.  This post is not intended to be a book review, but I heartily enjoyed his style of writing, his humor, and his use of a well-placed foul word or two. I definitely recommend you pick it up or visit Dan’s website or follow on Twitter to learn more.

While his book is not about instructional coaching or even education, one term stuck with me that applies to our work with teachers. As Dan recounts his journey, which lead him to practice meditation and to learn more and more about Buddhism, he discusses his discovery of his favorite term. Harris states,

“The Buddhists called this prapañca (pronounced pra-PUN-cha), which roughly translates to “proliferation,” or “the imperialistic tendency of mind.” That captured it beautifully, I thought: something happens, I worry, and that concern instantaneously colonizes my future. My favorite Buddhist catchphrase, however, was the one they used to describe the churning of the ego: “monkey mind.” I’ve always been a sucker for animal metaphors, and I thought this one was perfect. Our minds are like furry little gibbons: always agitated, never at rest.”

The concept of monkey mind stuck with me. As I did some quick research,  I found other great quotes about our monkey minds. The words of the Buddha are particulary eloquent, “Just as a monkey swinging through the trees grabs one branch and lets it go only to seize another, so too, that which is called thought, mind or consciousness arises and disappears continually both day and night (Guide to Buddhism A to Z).”

Buddha contrasted the monkey mind with the mind of the deer. According to Buddhist teaching, we should train our mind to be like the forest deer. According to the Guide to Buddhism A to Z, “Deer are particularly gentle creatures and always remain alert and aware no matter what they are doing.”

I’m sure in all of our work we’ve all met with the teacher, either in a structured meeting or in a coaching conversation, who has a case of monkey mind.  They can’t concentrate on anything, talking about anything and everything that’s not on the agenda, they have a million things to do and only 10 minutes to do them, and they need to go to the bathroom before they have to pick their class up from Music class!

As instructional coaches, we are not immune to contracting a case of monkey mind.  We’ve all been in the middle of various projects, adding students to assessment software rosters, covering a class for a teacher who has to go to the doctor, meeting with students who have various issues, and all the while trying to keep our laundry list of to do items from spilling out of our heads.

When you work as an instructional coach, being mindful of the monkeys in your head can help. Beyond mindfulness, you need to develop strategies to not only help control those monkeys in your mind, but help the teachers that you serve as well. I welcome your suggestion in the comment box below. Some strateies that might help include:

  • Using a prioritized list (what must be done today, what can wait, what can be done by someone else)
  • At the start of a conversation or meeting, give teachers a moment to reflect on their success and a moment to share (if they are willing).
  • Breathing: I teach students all the time to inhale (Like smelling a flower) and exhale (like blowing out a candle). Even a few seconds of breathing can help all of us calm and refocus.
  • Focus on what we can control and change right now, today, and tomorrow.
  • One last coaching note, when working with teachers struggles and troubles can be seized and turned into coaching opportunities. If the teacher is overwhelmed by grading you might be able to sit down and talk through some strategies for being more efficient.

Regardless of the strategy you choose, the goal is to be more mindful of the monkeys in your mind, minimize distractions and bring the focus of the deer back to our work. Good luck taming your mind monkeys!

Guest Post: Dealing with Resistance

Do you feel like a salesman as you try to get teachers to enroll c&cin a coaching cycle? Have you ever run into barricades put up by teachers uninterested in working with an Instructional Coach? Perhaps you’ve encountered a teacher or administrator who is quite vocal about a change in practice being unnecessary. While the challenges described above can be intimidating for a new or veteran Instructional Coach, there are a few steps I take when dealing with resistance.

First, do not take a teacher’s standoffishness personally. There may be circumstances or personal experiences you aren’t aware of that are prohibiting a teacher from opening up. If the building or district had a coach before you were hired, it could be the previous coach didn’t have good rapport with the teacher or did something to damage the trust that is a vital part of a teacher-coach relationship. No matter the reason, it is important that you do not avoid the teacher. Even if they are not directly reaching out to you, you can still make a point of having an authentic and positive interaction with them each day. If nothing else, they will begin to see you as someone safe to approach, but hopefully they will begin to show signs of being open to collaborate with you.

Second, be persistent. Teaching is a passion and a craft, and you will encounter teachers who are satisfied with their practice, and believe what they are doing is working for their learners. They may be correct, and it’s okay to acknowledge that.  However, even the best athletes have coaches, and you can remind teachers that you are their to support what they’re currently doing and to work with them on their terms. Your persistence does not need to be intimidating or overwhelming, but rather an opportunity to respectfully remind teachers that you are available, the types of supports you can provide, and that you are there to learn alongside them.

Finally, keep your eye out for windows of opportunity. Any chance you have to make a connection, whether to a personal or professional passion, teachers will begin to see you as a peer, colleague, and someone they can relate to. Windows of opportunity can be as simple as a teacher needing someone to bounce around an idea with during lunch, or sending a video clip or activity resource related to what they’re currently teaching. When you are fully present in conversations, both planned and incidental, and know the curriculum and curricular maps, you will be able to identify and make the most of all opportunities that present themselves.  

Being in the Instructional Coaching position, you recognize the power and value working with a coach can have on teaching and learning, but it can take time for others to recognize the benefit. I have encountered resistance, everyone has. But, by having reflected upon and learned from my experiences, I can honestly say that if keep looking for your windows of opportunity, take your time, and don’t give up, good things will happen.  


About our Guest Blogger:

Stephanie Laird is an Instructional Coach in Iowa, where she works alongside teachers to affect student learning through the areas of curriculum, instruction, assessment, and community building. She holds an MEd in Curriculum and Instructional Technology from Iowa State University. To connect with Stephanie, visit her website and follow her on Twitter.