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CUTTING

WATERMELON:
Lessons in Instructional Coaching

At picnics, you Martha Sandstead to gain acceptance in classrooms. The

W
answer is simple. I cut watermelon.
cut watermelon. hen we teachers are The idea of cutting watermelon as
in our own class- a metaphor for coaching came to me
In classrooms, rooms, we can be when I read an interview with Lawrence
you meet teachers whoever we want to
be. We can be dic-
Guyot about grassroots organizing for
the Student Nonviolent Coordinating
where they are. tators, mother or father figures, coaches, Committee (SNCC) during the civil
friends, experts, guides, or mentors. rights era. Guyot urged,
We invent ourselves as we envision and You dont alter the basic format that you
build the environment we want for our walk into. Lets say youre riding past
students. The possibilities are endless. a picnic, and people are cuttin water-
Teachers are powerful. Perhaps thats melons. You dont immediately go and
why its so difficult to let other adults say, stop the watermelon cutting and
lets talk.... You cut some watermelons,
into this world weve so carefully con- or you help somebody else serve em.
structed. Were unsure of their role and (p.240)1
how they will fit in.
When I began working as an instruc- I now think of cutting water-
tional coach three years ago, other melon as a way to begin relationships
coaches often asked me how I was able with teachers and work with them

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By setting a table and spending time with teachers, you
demonstrate respect for teachers and establish a positive,
pleasant, and relaxed tone for your time together.

to discover their potential and bring about to connect with teachers informally. As soon as I began
change in a way that respects them as profes making my copies, I noticed that a teacher was waiting.
sionals and as people. Being a coach is not Knowing I didnt need my copies that day, I allowed her
about being the expert who knows it all; its to go ahead of me. While she copied, we chatted about my
about immersing yourself in teachers class struggles trying to corral the kindergartners during lan
rooms so you can learn about the world they guage block. The veteran teacher admitted it was difficult
have created and who they are as professionals. for her as well, but she knew that with practice they would
Its about getting teachers to think deeply get better.
about where they are as teachers and providing Before she left, a 2nd grade teacher arrived. I allowed him
O.BELLINI/SHUTTERSTOCK

support and encouragement to nudge them to go ahead. I had observed in his room the day before, and
forward. he asked me what I had noticed. He said he was working
hard to make sure the students were speaking for 50
Setting the Table percent of the time. Learning that he had set this goal for
Six weeks into the school year, I wanted to himself would help me target my future feedback for him.
honor teachers hard work. On Fridays, one A 1st grade teacher then entered before I could make a
teacher typically made a pot of coffee and invited colleagues single copy. As her homework packet whirred through the
to stop by in the morning to fill up and chat. Remembering machine, she asked if I could come and help her figure out
Guyots words, dont alter the basic format that you walk how to engage some of her students, and I promised to be
into, instead of trying to host my own celebration, I offered there the next morning.
to bring treats. I baked cookies and muffins and set out a After 45 minutes in the copy room, I still hadnt made
tablecloth with flowers and food. When teachers arrived, my copies, but what I had done was much more valuable.
they commented on the tablecloth. When you encounter teachers in the hallway or the copy
Lawrence Guyot knew that he needed to be a member room, listen to them and learn about their frustrations as
of the community to work for change. He knew to start well as their goals. This conveys that youre willing to cut
at the picnic. A coach needs time to build relationships watermelon with them. These informal coaching sessions
and socialize with teachers. Doing so helps you know one are often the most important conversations you have each
another better and care for one another more. From this week.
place of respect and camaraderie, you can begin your most
important work. By setting a table and spending time with Taking Risks
teachers, you demonstrate respect for teachers and establish During my first year as a coach, I was thrilled when I
a positive, pleasant, and relaxed tone for your time together. received my first request to model a lesson, but I was
nervous to have an adult audience. As I prepared, I tried to
Coaching from the Copy Room follow the curriculum, just as the teachers are expected to
One Wednesday when a staff meeting ended early, I dis do, even though I thought it included too much for kinder
covered that the copy room provides many opportunities gartners to do in 30 minutes. Rather than a swan dive,

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Idemonstrated a belly flop. unroll the Fruit Roll-Up, and reuse or
When I met with the teacher the recycle the materials when finished.
following day to debrief, I joked that This was a great concrete way to get
it wasnt much of a model but that I students using the prefixes in context,
hoped she got something out of it. but it was time-consuming to prepare.
Together we discussed what went Rather than lose momentum, I spent
well and what we would change the my lunch hour placing the Fruit Roll-
next time either of us tried to teach a Ups in the bags, zipping them, and
similar lesson. I offered to return to tying the ribbons. Jumping in to help
try again, and the lesson went well the with mundane tasks like this lets the
second time around. teachers know that no classroom or
Model lessons are valuable coaching preparation task is beneath me if it will
tools even if they dont go well. Its help them and their students.
powerful for teachers to watch you This is tricky for a coach. You dont
fail, reflect, and reteach success- want to turn into a teaching assistant.
fully. And its essential to maintain But its your job to knock down bar-
humility, honesty, and sincerity when riers that keep teachers from trying
working with teachers. They need to new ideas. You wont be available
know that you too struggle to make every time someone needs something
the curriculum fit the students, that
you understand the time involved in
Informal coaching laminated, copied, or cut, but doing
tasks that stand in the way of teacher
preparing lessons, that you value the sessions are growth is part of your job and dem-
support of colleagues, and that you are onstrates to teachers that you share
willing to take risks. often the most ownership of their students. Teachers
STOCKERNUMBER2/SHUTTERSTOCK

spend countless hours preparing


Finding the Key important engaging science experiments, messy
Through coaching discussions and art projects, and intricate simulations
reflections on classroom observation conversations you to excite and motivate their students.
data, a first-year kindergarten teacher These are acts of love for our students.
determined that she would like to have each week. Its essential to show you love the stu-
monitor and encourage student dents, too.
engagement. I knew just the person
to help, so I arranged for the kinder- in order to share it with others. Each Providing a Mirror
garten teacher to visit the classroom teacher has different strengths and A 2nd grade teacher wanted to know
of a 1st grade teacher whos great at needs. Your job is to help teachers whether she incorporated enough
getting students to actively participate. recognize theseto celebrate their student talk time into her language
After the observation, the kindergarten strengths and connect them to the lessons, so I collected data about what
teacher had several ideas and tools to keys that will release their untapped was happening during each minute
try in her own classroom, and I would potential. of her language block. Looking at the
be there to help her experiment with data, she could see what was hap-
these new strategies. Tying Ribbons pening in her classroom, draw con-
As a coach, you dont need to have At the culmination of their lesson to clusions about her teaching practice,
all the answers, but you should know teach the prefixes un- and re-, the 1st and set goals to move forward. The
where to look for them. Coaches are grade team wanted students to have initial data indicated that students
fortunate to visit so many classrooms a small treat to celebrate. To get their were speaking only about 17percent
and should always be on the lookout treat, students would have to ask a of the time. She exclaimed, It was
for outstanding practice, trying to classmate to untie a ribbon, unzip surprising. I thought they were talking
discover teachers brilliance and talent a plastic bag, unwrap the package, more. Six weeks later, students were

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Sandstead.indd 80 10/29/15 10:03 PM


speaking 45percent of the time; three c hallenging questions and helping
months later, it was up to 64percent.
Using data as a mirror, this teacher
All teachers want teachers work toward their goals. You
discover the gifts each teacher brings
had found an area of practice she to improve, and to teaching, you listen and create a
wanted to improve and worked hard to shared vision, and together you and
make the changes. She even posted the all teachers have the teacher you are coaching transform
pie charts near her desk and told me, teacher practice one slice at a time.
Of course I put them up; they make something to And instead of looking for an entry
me feel good. She should feel good. point, you find an open door. EL
The graphs were powerful evidence of celebrate. 1
Guyot, L. (1977). Inside agitator. In H.
how she had changed her professional Raines (Ed.), My soul is rested: The story of
practice and made tremendous growth. the civil rights movement in the deep south.
Teachers rarely have the time or I had excellent models for the kind of New York: Penguin.
the tools to reflect on their practice. coach I set out to be.
Its your role as a coach to provide the All teachers want to improve, and all Martha Sandstead (marthasandstead@
gmail.com) is a language development
mirror, to help teachers learn to look teachers have something to celebrate.
specialist, instructional coach, and
more closely at their reflection, and to Cutting watermelon means meeting teacher leader at Ventura Park Ele-
help them find things to celebrate as teachers where they are and building mentary School in Portland, Oregon, and
well as determine their own goals for trusting professional relationships, not an adjunct professor at Lewis and Clark
improvement. The mirror can be in having all the answers but asking Graduate School of Education.
the form a self-reflection or a video of
a lesson. Once teachers have looked
carefully in the mirror, they can
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PD_OnlineEl_Ad 1/3_Fpp_1115.indd 1 ASCD / w w w . 10/27/15


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Sandstead.indd 81 10/29/15 10:03 PM


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