PSD70 Learning Coach Program

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Talk-Reach-Throw-Row-Go-Tow; Learning to Lead

I recently re- read, “Not Waving, But Drowning”, by Tony Borash. He is a lead instructional coach for Albemarie County Public Schools which has approximately 1,200 teachers.  He writes about the drowning metaphor, and the “Talk-Reach-Throw-Row-Go-Tow”, Boating Services framework as a concrete way to help teachers who compare their emotional and physical state to sinking under water. His techniques on how to strategically help a call from a teacher, prioritizes options from the lowest risk to the highest.  Also, the words are direct and process organized. I find his process particularly helpful, as often, my first response to teachers is to “rescue” by “pulling them safely” to my shore. ( Which may not be a comfortable shore for them and therefore; often not what teachers need. What follows here is a summary of the strategy by Mr. Borash.


In times of panic, teachers need to be reminded that they can swim.  Coaching with reminders and encouragement without jumping in to act may be the best first response. Ask questions!


For many teachers, talk is not enough, they need a hand.  It is important to keep your hand extended and hope that people grab on.  (Reminder to self- this may take some months or years!) The key is that when a teacher grabs on, you need to be ready to pull.  Be direct.


Mr. Borash suggests that some teachers are so far from shore they need something else to keep afloat. What can I throw them?  Anything that helps them: lesson plans, content/support websites, ready to use learning resources, etc.


Sometimes educators can’t or won’t respond to any of the above strategies. They may see their situation as too difficult, so that they give up, and/or are confrontational.  To help these situations a coach needs a boat to “row” out and help reach the teacher where they are at. This vessel of intervention can by many things.

Go and Tow:

If all else fails, Mr. Borash suggests you need to go in and be the hero. Jump in and bring something with you that will tie you and the teacher together – some focal point that will help you to tow him or her alongside you. In other words, let them know that survival as a team is better than waving, and drowning alone!

  • tborash says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts- it’s great to hear that the article made an impact!

    In case it’s helpful, I designed this “checklist” as a summary of these actions- feel free to use is as you see fit!

    May 24, 2014 at 10:17 am
  • dlander says:

    Thank you for sharing this perspective on coaching, Analee. I see elements of the different cognitive coaching maps sprinkled throughout.

    March 11, 2014 at 8:35 pm
  • landrews says:

    I love this Analee! What a fantastic way of describing the different ways a coach can support teachers. Thank you for sharing! I found a link to the original article if anyone is interested:

    March 11, 2014 at 1:55 pm

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