Part 2 of our conversation with Elena Aguilar, author and founder of Bright Morning

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Here is the transcript.

– Welcome to PLtogether Lounge Talks, I’m Adam Geller, founder and CEO of Edthena. Today, we’re talking with Elena Aguilar. She is an instructional coaching expert and the author of multiple books, including “The Art of Coaching” and “Onward.” Elena, thanks so much for joining us.

– Thank you.

– So let’s start with the idea of coaching. The title of your book is “The Art of Coaching,” so I almost can’t help myself and to ask you about the art of corona coaching. Let’s, I guess, even start with the basics. Do we need coaches right now, in this moment?

– Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. More than ever. I mean, more than ever because teaching is harder than ever right now. And teachers are under more stress and pressure and having to make changes to the way that they think about instruction and curriculum, and if a coach is a thought partner. It’s somebody who can help them think about alternatives and other approaches, and who can support them emotionally during this time. Yes more than ever.

– Let’s talk about that idea of the coach as an emotional support right now, because it’s potentially more complicated than usual, being in that role. ‘Cause I imagine often times when I think about coaches supporting all the needs of a teacher, including their emotional needs. Often times those are centered around the complexities of school, and maybe. I don’t wanna say a minority of time, but a lesser amount of time, it’s about the things outside of the context of school. And now, school is happening in the context of home or wherever you are able to work. So, how has that changed for folks?

– I see potential in the sort of melding of the worlds that we traditionally think of as so separate. I see potential in the personal and the professional softening around the edges or even conflating. I think there’s a potential for people to embrace their full humanity and be. I’ve had coaching calls and I’ve been facilitating learning where, I think we all have, where people’s kids wander in, or their pets, or their other loved ones. Or, I was on one meeting where a woman was breastfeeding her baby, and it sort of felt like, sure why not? I mean, this is part of life. Like, this is part of life. I’ve had meetings with principals, dozens of principals who were all at home and some of them were wearing pajamas, and it just made me think, wow, if you’re a teacher and now you are meeting with your principal in a virtual space, and you’re seeing more complexity to who they are, it’s gonna shift the power dynamics a little bit. It’s gonna humanize people. So I think that there’s potential, there’s challenge as well. There’s potential in being able to meet with people in some ways more easily when you’re a coach and you’re working with teachers, whether you work in one school or many schools, there’s always logistical challenges. There’s, you know, you were going to meet with a teacher and then they’re during their prep period and then they’re called off to go substitute for someone else, and you can’t meet with them. That’s less likely to happen now. And I think that there’s potential for coaches to expand their traditional repertoire of strategies, so that they’re not just talking about instructional lessons design or assessments for those who have had a harder time expanding into the more transformational grounds of coaching or inter transformational coaching. It’s hard to talk to anybody these days and not have an authentic moment of how are you. And, that is where as coaches, we can hold some space. When I talk about attending to someone’s emotions, it’s not being a therapist. It’s not being a counselor, doesn’t mean the entire conversation has to be about emotions, but we can hold some space to listen to someone and to perhaps help them process some of the fear, the disappointment, the sadness, the uncertainty that’s coming up for everybody. And really all we need to do is, it sounds simple but it’s not, but hold some space. We don’t have to solve it, we don’t have to know what to say. Just expressing empathy and using active listening and slowing down enough to let someone talk and process is a big gift.

– It’s almost like, there’s the phrase of, you wanna find workplaces where you can bring your whole self to work. And it’s almost as if before, it was bring the whole teacher persona to work. And now, we’re actually able to, like you said, ask people how they really are, not just, how are you today at school. And, you know, we can get that more authentic and truer response from them. I’m curious as coaches are working with teachers and having conversations in that coaching relationship. I mean there’s always this need to be pushing for high achievement and high expectations for the students, that we want to make sure that the way that we’re leading students forward is on the farthest and best path possible for them. How do we balance that need of achieving high expectations by pushing hard, and achieving high expectations by kind of knowing where we are and what our context is right now?

– Well I think about it as we wanna meet the needs of students, and we wanna understand who they are, and where they’re at, and what they need, and what we wanna do is effectively continuously provide them with what they need. So, what they need, what they deserve. I don’t tend to use the language of high expectations ’cause I think it’s, it can be problematic and it can mean different things to different people. So, I coach teachers around understanding what students need and providing them with that. Understanding where they’re at right now. And right now, students, many students are in also in places of great uncertainty and fear. And that’s I think more than ever teachers also need to be really into the grading, awareness of an instruction around social emotional learning. It’s what they need. Right now given the situation we’re in, the way that our brain and our bodies are working is to. Our prefrontal cortex is not working as optimally as it would under normal circumstances, because there’s so much fear and anxiety. And our energy really is going into sort of how can I make it through this day and this time, and lots of people are having trouble focusing. Lots of people feel like they’re having a poor memory, they can’t remember what it was. They’re feeling more short tempered or impatient. And that is a response to the kind of incredible stress we’re under, and uncertainty and anxiety. Kids are too. And so right now, I think there’s a need to reorient the way that we traditionally have thought about schooling, which I personally don’t think has served kids. I don’t think we need to keep, I hope we don’t keep doing what we’re doing. I hope we start taking a more holistic approach. It doesn’t mean that we can’t also ensure that kids graduate from high school, college and career ready. It’s not a contradiction, but we can take an approach that’s more responsive and holistic. I’m actually seeing, one of the things I think I’ve seen that is giving me a lot of hope and is making me really curious about what can happen, is the way that, because we are teaching and learning, many people through these virtual platforms. There’s more opportunity for people to tell stories. There’s more opportunity for oral culture, or for story telling culture to be appreciated and to thrive. And there are folks that I’m working with, teachers who are seeing their students and family members and community members responding really positively to more space and more time to share stories. And that’s feeling to them like, oh yeah this is something that we know how to do. We tell stories, we can do that. That’s important, that’s learning.

– Yeah it reminds me of another guest I had and they were talking about the idea of doing project based learning. If you’re working with students who are at home, they’re speaking not English as their first language, then maybe the end result of that project needs to be in the language of the home, not in the language of the teacher. Because you can design these learning experiences that help meet the students where they are, and what they need right now, right? It’s a productive opportunity to engage in something that is driving their learning and their curiosity in the world, and developing their skills. But acknowledging that there are people in their context right now as their home, and how do you support that, so. Very, calls that to mind. Well, we will continue the conversation here in just a minute. If you’re interested to hear the first part of this conversation, or the rest of it, head to PLtogether.org. Elena, thanks again for joining us.

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