As she walked along the corridor to the classroom she could feel her shoulders rising to meet her ears. Her whole body was tensing up. From her stomach arose a whirlwind of fear. It reached past her heart and grabbed hold of her mind. Her body began to twist into a knot. Her face screwed into a scowl.
“Why does it always have to be this way with this class? They are so…”, she lamented.
“Wait a minute. What kind of energy are you bringing with you into the classroom?” interrupted her inner coach.
“What do you look like?”
“Well, it’s because…”
“What kind of face is that you have on?”
“What do you expect?”
“What do you expect? If you go into the room, feeling like that, looking like that? What’s the first thing they will see?”
“What’s the first thing they will do?”
“And what do you want them to do? Really? Deep down?”
“I want them to want to learn!”
“What can you do, to make that more possible?”
She stopped, straightened up.
She carried out her self-calming ritual. She took a deep breath. Then two more. Fear settled down. She sent fear back down to her belly and took control of her mind.
“This is going to be a wonderful lesson,” she told herself. Then said it out loud again, for extra measure as she opened the classroom door, “Wonderful lesson…”
I was a new teacher, at my first job at a Secondary School. I was enthusiastic about Mathematics, and wanted to pass on my enthusiasm to the schoolchildren there.
One day, whilst writing on the blackboard I noticed that one of the taller boys was having a bundle of fun attracting the attention of the class, distracting them from my teaching of the Noble Art of Maths.
Some of the teenage students were rather tall for their age. Several boys were taller than I was. Along with their age and size came an awakening interest in the opposite sex. In this co-educational school the classes were a mix of boys and girls, which gave plenty of opportunities for the boys to show off to the girls; and for the girls to show off to the boys.
Realising - from the sounds of laughter at the back of the room - that I had lost the attention of the class I felt that I needed to refocus on teaching them some social skills.
I paid more attention to what the boy at the back of the room was doing. Somehow - and I still don't know how - he had managed to take off his underpants without removing his trousers AND had put his underpants back on again, over his trousers, like Superman.
I could have flipped out, shouted and perhaps demanded that the boy leave the room, apologise etc. etc. However I was so fascinated by his feat of dexterity that I had to ask, not "Why?" but, "How?".
Standing beside this boy asking how, we shared the attention of the class. Here was an opportunity to discuss useful social skills. In this case the skill of knowing the difference between private and public behaviour, appropriate behaviour for a classroom, and how to get the attention you need without taking your pants off. A skill that could be useful for all the boys and girls in the room.
I asked the boy to stand up and adjust his clothing in front of the class, which probably felt slightly embarrassing for him since the kind of attention he was getting now was not as sexy as before.
Being a young teacher, I still felt the need to play the role of teacher, to assert my authority in the classroom and to "tell him off", so that everyone would know that I am in charge of the classroom. Yet it felt daft looking up at this giant of a boy to say "Don't do it again"... so I grabbed the nearest chair and stood on it in order to be taller, then in an over-dramatised way, said the words "Don't .. do that ... again!"
"No Sir", he said, smiling and accepting the admonishment in good spirits, along with the lesson in social skills. I sent him out of the room to adjust his clothing.
This had been a paper, scissors and glue lesson. Paper had been cut and glued. Hair had been cut and glued. And even a few fingers have been cut and glued. Not many of the paper model houses had been built.
As the teacher got the children to sit in a circle at the end of the lesson, I expected that she was about to share her thoughts on how those little buildings should have been made.
In a voice that was wholly calm and filled with curiosity, she asked each of the students in turn questions like, “What do you think of the work you have done today?“, “How satisfied are you with what you have done?”, “What do you think of your behaviour in your group?”, “How well did you get on with the task today?”
She then asked questions like, “What would you do differently?”, “What could you have done instead?“, “What would have been the best thing to do?“, “What would’ve made you really happy about your work?“
The answers the pupils gave could have come from mature adults. They expressed how sad they were at having trashed the room, failed at the task, messed with each other and generally wasted the lesson. They expressed a renewed desire to be better, to do better and follow the teacher’s instructions in a focused way in the next lesson. All that came from the pupils, not the teacher.
So here was the learning! It was not about paper, scissors and glue, nor about model houses. It was about doing what made you feel fulfilled. It was about collaborating, making good use of one’s time and having a good time.
This is the second in a series of blogs that examines the ways in which I, as a coach-educator, handle the external and internal struggles of taking on challenging educational assignments.
In the previous blog, I described the situation where the management team of a particular IT company wants to strengthen their position of being a 'good' company by supporting the reintegration of unemployed people into the IT-workforce. All well and good. To this end, they have entered into an agreement with the local employment office, aligning with some of the government's attempts to reduce the number of unemployed people. They have also acquired the services of a local recruitment company to ensure maximum results. It's supposed to be a win-win for all concerned.
But, it's not working out. There have been challenges. Resistance, from the trainers, is increasing.
As a coach-educator, who has strong opinions about using coaching in education, I have been brought in to 'solve the problem'. After some deliberation, I have accepted an assignment to design and run a 3-day 'social skills' course - for the unemployed people who are seeking jobs after three years of unemployment.
In this blog, I will take us through my reasoning behind the design of the course, and arrive at an outline which I leave to you to populate with your favourite activities.
Naturally, the blog is a story, and you can read it here.
Some people ask about the difference between coaching and counselling.
I'm not sure I could describe in a list what one does that the other does not. But I did have the opportunity of being in a school counsellor's room and coaching one of his students.
The story below comes from "The Coach in the Classroom", by Martin Richards..
When the boy came into the counsellor, Jason's room, Riccardo immediately saw he was an ordinary boy, except for the fact that his eyes darted everywhere. He moved his head much like a bird, and seemed to be looking for something, or looking out for something, Riccardo wasn’t sure which.
The boy radiated a lot of energy and it seemed as though the room became both brighter and hotter as he walked in. The boy looked Riccardo up and down, querying why he was there, but not actually asking the question.
Jason introduced them and portrayed Riccardo as a coach, a life coach. With this opening, Riccardo aimed to connect with the boy.
Riccardo faced the boy and said, "I work with people who are in the process of making a decision, who want it to be the best decision for their lives. I don’t give advice; I simply listen and ask questions, and then listen again."
The boy looked around the room in silence.
Riccardo continued, "Is it okay with you that I’m here today? Jason asked me to come in and give some support. We both want the best for you, but it will be you who decides what the ‘best’ is, and who can help you, or not. Is it okay that I am a coach here for you today?"
The boy shrugged and mumbled, "It’s okay I suppose."
During his attempt to connect with him, Riccardo tried to maintain eye contact, but the boy looked away most of the time and scanned the room instead.
"But is he paying attention?" asked the voice in Riccardo’s head. "Yes, he is listening; he is using his eyes, not his ears."
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Not every teacher is ready and willing to be coached - even if their headteacher thinks so.
Taking on the assignment to coach such a teacher brings me into the space between a Rock and a Hard Place. The question arises, "Why am I doing this? For whom am I coaching?".
"Am I coaching to prove to the people in the Education System (teachers, headteachers, administrators...) that coaching is effective? Am I coaching to prove to myself that I am a good coach? Do I simply wish to prove to this teacher that coaching is good stuff? Am I coaching to support this teacher in his professional development?"
The answer is, "Yes, all of that."
And that affects how the coaching is carried out as you can read in this story of Riccardo Midwinter's adventures as the coach in the classroom. He's not perfect, faultless or entirely neutral in what he does. He is on a mission to bring coaching to the education world. Oops, he has an agenda, and coaches should not have an agenda.
The following text is from "The Coach in the Classroom", written by Martin Richards.
Riccardo chose to first get in touch with Max, one of the teachers on the list.
He found Max, a middle-aged man, in one of the staff rooms and approached him.
"Hi, I'm Riccardo, the coach on assignment here. Your name is on my list."
Max rose from his chair, looking like a benevolent bear disturbed from a slumber. His fine, straight, short hair was the colour of varnished wood and was combed in an impractical, artistic style across his eyes. He had droopy blue eyes, and a thick moustache which hung above his defensive smile. Max’s attire was businesslike and flattering to his rounded chest and belly.
Max began, "I'm sorry, I don't have time for coaching," and he waved his stubby-fingered hands as if to dismiss Riccardo.
Riccardo was taken aback, and silent. He did not move.
Max continued, "In fact, I was volunteered for coaching by the headteacher and I don’t really see the point. I have been teaching for seventeen years and I'm already a good teacher."
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There are teachers who give up teaching, and yet continue teaching.
Can they be re-inspired?
Here, I tell the story of a coaching conversation with an exhausted teacher.
It did not go well. Or maybe it went as well as it could? You tell me.
This story first appeared in "The Coach in the Classroom", available on Amazon
Alan came into the room without knocking. He was in his late fifties, his balding head was bowed, his back was stooped. He looked like a lost and wandering spirit. His narrow black eyes were two spheres of night-black marble. The straggling remains of his unkempt black
hair was shoulder-length. He wore a pale grey jumper and old blue jeans. He carried a worn briefcase under one arm and he dragged the soles of his shoes across the floor as he walked across to Riccardo.
Alan presented himself in a flat voice, "Hello"
"Hi, I'm Riccardo, your coach," replied Riccardo slightly too gleefully, getting up to shake Alan's hand.
"Yes, so what do we do?"
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An exhausted teacher, an ineffective assistant and a student who's looking for a fight.
A recipe for disaster?
Or an opportunity for learning?
The story below comes from "The Coach in the Classroom", by Martin Richards.
Riccardo relaxed into the smooth rhythm of the lesson and was about to start the third page of notes when a loud disturbance of voices at the back of the room caught his attention.
Turning to the source of the disturbance, Riccardo saw the assistant and his young student were having what might be described as a wrestling match. The student was apparently trying to hit the assistant, and the assistant was defending himself by holding onto the student’s wrists.
The students nearest the disturbance turned to watch. Riccardo looked for Jayne. Where was she? She was attending to another student elsewhere in the room and had her back to the disturbance. Riccardo was certain, if he could hear the disturbance, then she too could hear what was going on behind her.
After a minute, Jayne spun round and walked determinedly over to this wrestling pair. Riccardo’s eyes and ears widened, excited to hear what she was about to say and to see what she was going to do in order to resolve this tense and escalating situation.
"A teachable moment," said the voice. "A coachable moment," replied Riccardo.
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It's not often that you get to see two teachers teaching the same class.
It's not a scientific experiment, it's how the school is dealing with a particular situation. But it does give some scope for observing the effect that two teachers have on the same class.
The following story comes from "The Coach in the Classroom", by Martin Richards.
During this observation phase, Riccardo noticed something that was happening with this class. The students were at times unruly, challenging, and occasionally rude; and at other times collaborative, playful, and supportive of each other.
The observation tool revealed that the different behaviours were connected to which teacher was at the front of the room. It was tempting to come to the conclusion that one teacher was good and the other was bad, but he knew that would be counter-productive.
For Anna, the following occurred: every time a student interrupted, Anna started over reading from the beginning of the sentence once more, sounding a little bit peeved. The students played the game of "winding up the teacher," and Anna would be successfully wound up.
For Belle, the following occurred: whenever a student interrupted, she smiled and continued reading in a calm voice, not allowing the interruption to disturb the flow of her story. Students responded by playing the game of "helping each other keep up with the reading."
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I am a teacher, a business-owner, a public speaker, a coach and an author.