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Every Coach Needs Balance

Take Time to Fill Up

· Reflection

As a "coach," the art of balancing is essential. Your sole purpose is to support teachers in their professional growth so they can meet the needs of their students. You juggle relationship building, finding relevant resources, growing in the knowledge of your field, and reflecting on the most meaningful feedback to offer. You are a liaison, a listener, and an advocate. All of this takes enormous strength, and, if you don't make time to refuel, your desire to serve and uplift, can become your Achilles heel.

I sat in the beige conference chair whimpering three rows from the back of the room. I was listening to David Kirkland's farewell speech as he concluded his tenure serving as Chair of NCTE's Black Caucus, and I knew I had been sent to hear his words. They were for my ears and for my heart; they would frame the beginning of much needed reflection as I prepared to close out the first semester of the school year. He told us all to possess hope, not as an abstract concept, but something we possessed in our core, a beating pulse, a strand in our DNA.

His words were the catalyst to light something that had dimmed within me because I had begun to doubt my professional journey. I was unsure if I was making a difference as the change agent I so wanted to be, and I had stopped believing in the possibilities of what could be on the other side. I listened to David talk about his life, his own struggle to imagine beyond his circumstances as a homeless boy on the streets of Detroit, and how he'd met a woman who spoke light into him. He ended his speech with a charge. "You must persist," he said, "there is so much work still to do." And to those words I said aloud in that room with tears dripping down both cheeks, "Okay."

After three days in St. Louis and a month of reflection, I realized that as a coach, positioning yourself for success has as much to do with what you believe about yourself as it does your beliefs about your teachers. You must refuel and water the hopefulness that others see in you and need from you. Your presence, even your persistence alongside them as they grow into the teachers they want to be, is why you are there. They may not know the complexities of what you juggle when you are not with them. Your invisible navigation may never fully come to light—nor should it.

They may never know how much you fought for them. They may never appreciate how you re-framed and presented the questions they passionately protested in a staff meeting, but dared not say aloud in front of your administrator—words that needed to be said, but could not be heard cloaked in anger. Their personal struggles may never allow them to see that your success, though appearing easy, was built upon hard work, sleepless nights, and grace from a power beyond yourself.

You must positively persist. But, in order to do so, you have to accept that the best plans may come undone. You must accept that you too—are a work in progress and forgive yourself for not matching everyone's expectations of you. And, most importantly, you must schedule both personal and professional fill-ups. If you have a mentor, schedule quarterly phone calls or coffee time. If you don't have a mentor, ensure that you connect with thought partners outside of your school district.

I used to attend conferences and plan back-to-back sessions from 8 a.m. till 4 or 5 p.m. Now, I make time to eat an unrushed lunch. I also give myself permission to break away from my carefully calculated schedule if I meet someone who has great ideas, has done interesting research, or asked really thoughtful questions in prior session. I make time to talk to people within and outside of my role and ask them to share the powerful things they are doing in hopes that I can learn from them and form new relationships.

At home, I do my best not to multi-task. I kiss and hug my children more. I watch "Beat Bobby Flay" with my husband. And, I check Groupon for their hotel deals under 100 dollars. My point is--do what works for you. You are worth it.

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