During the past school year, we've been sharing stories about the Alabama Instructional Partners Pilot Program, initiated by the Alabama State Department of Education with professional development support from the Alabama Best Practices Center. The essential goal of the project, which is expanding this fall, is to prepare teacher leaders, including reading coaches, for roles as school-based "instructional partners" who facilitate transformative professional learning among their peers.
We've invited participants in the first-year pilot to write about how the experience impacted their own professional growth. Our final reflection is written by Carmen Buchanan, an instructional coach at Liberty Middle School in Madison City.
by Carmen Buchanan
I am not known for my green thumb. In fact, even my four-year old, Braylon, knows how bad I am at “growing” things. One day he asked me why we didn’t have any plants in our house. I looked at him and sighed. “Baby, Mommy forgets to water them and they just die.” He looked at me with alarm. “Gosh, Mommy. I'm glad that you don’t forget to water me.”
This made me chuckle at the time, but as I sat down to write a reflection of this school year and my personal growth, I was reminded of that story. I “water” the things that are important to me.
Even though my school’s growth and our teachers' growth have been at the forefront of my mind this year, my own growth has been tremendous as well.
I have poured my heart and head into growing and learning. I believe I grew so much because of the “garden” that I was planted in this year -- the Instructional Partner Pilot group started by ALSDE and led by the Alabama Best Practices Center. It's comprised of a phenomenal group of educators dedicated to improving instruction, helping teachers grow, and raising student achievement. They showed me how important it is to grow personally.
Through a lot of self reflection on my work, I believe that I “pruned” myself to continue to grow. Each week, I looked at where my time was spent. I soon realized that the weeks in which I really flourished were the weeks that I was learning alongside my faculty and my principal, Dr. Brian Clayton.
Nourish yourself and your school will grow
Early in the year, I reflected and assessed where I was spending my time as an instructional coach. I was appalled that most of it was devoted to things that other people “needed” from me. I quickly turned that around and it is amazing how -- when I started “watering” and “fertilizing” myself to better myself and others -- I saw growth in my school.
I learned how to let go of many things that weren't about being a true instructional partner. In return, I empowered teams and individual teachers and then grew as the guide on the side.
This is the area that I saw the biggest growth for me. It was okay to let others be the leaders. It was also extremely freeing to be able to say that I was not the expert. When I let that go, I became a co-learner with many other professional teachers in my school. Talk about liberating!
Near the end of the school year, this story came across my e-mail and it spoke directly to me.
THE ROOT OF SUCCESS
There once was a tree that produced an abundant supply of fruit. Everyone marveled at its ability to produce a record harvest each year.
The owner who sold his fruit at the local market had become one of the wealthiest men in town and he was the envy of all who knew him. However, as the years passed the owner spent so much of his time counting and selling his fruit that he forgot to nourish the roots. He became so prideful and focused on results that he neglected to see the signs that the tree was dying.
Then one day when the owner went to pick fruit from his tree he was shocked to discover that the tree was barren. "How could this be?" he asked.
But when he inspected the root he found his answer. The root had dried up. He was so focused on the fruit that he neglected the root. He wished there was something he could do but it was too late.
It was a lesson he would never forget!
As I nourished myself this year with my own professional learning and networks, I began to take care of my roots. It was so much easier, in turn, to nourish others with my coaching and support.
The other day I was watering my plants outside (I decided to give my green thumb another try). My son remarked that he was proud of me. I asked him why. He told me he was proud that I had not killed these plants yet. I told him “thank you.”
I too was proud of myself. I guess you could say that I'm now watering all the things that need to be watered for everything important to me to grow.