PSD70 Learning Coach Program

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Change is Messy Work

In the book, The Art of Coaching by Elena Aguilar, she defines the “trans” in “transformation” as meaning “across, on the other side of, beyond – where we are going is unknown and yet to be defined”.   Our role as learning coaches is to support change, and more often than not the result of this change is not always clear to us.  When we take steps to change, we are walking into the unknown and this can be very uncomfortable, not only for the teacher we are working with, but for us as coaches as well.  In my many coaching conversations with teachers, I have found that there is an overwhelming want to make changes in order to provide a caring, learning rich, fair, yet equitable environment that supports the many individual needs that they are faced with; but the million dollar question is how?  Well, as Mrs. Kelly Wilkins, our own Deputy Superintendent often says, “this is messy work”.   I smile as I think about Kelly saying this because it is so true!  I honestly believe that this is a great way to describe our work as coaches….messy.  The wonderful thing about messy is that it can be freeing, exciting and fun, especially if we are willing to let go of our preconceptions about how we think things should look or be, and be willing to dream….risk….yes, fail and try again.  I have personally found that the messiest work is when I am digging in and doing some really deep coaching, and the funny thing is, the messiest work has been the most rewarding work.  It is in the midst of the messiest work that I have been challenged, stretched and empowered.  It is in the midst of this messy work that I have seen the most growth in myself and my collaborative teaching partner at the time.  Through these messy coaching experiences I have learned the following:

  • Messy work takes trust.  A solid foundation of trust makes the messiest work less scary because we are not alone.
  • Messy work takes time.  In order to make meaningful changes there has to be a clear understanding of exactly where we are and where we want to go.  This takes time to observe, reflect, dream, plan, try, reflect, tweak, and try again.
  • Messy work takes mindful observation.  If you do not have a clear picture of “now”, it is difficult to work towards “tomorrow”.
  • Messy work takes asking difficult questions of ourselves and others.  We cannot have a clear understanding about ourselves as teachers and about our work if we do not ask difficult questions.  Difficult questions guide us to see situations from other perspectives and challenge us to try something new.
  • Messy work takes stamina.  Try and try again – taking the risk to try something new is a huge step in creating change.  When the first step is a big nose dive, picking ourselves up and trying something else is another huge step in the right direction.
  • Messy work takes practice.  Let’s face it, when we try something new, it at times may look ugly at first.  Practice makes perfection.
  • Messy work takes celebration.  Making significant changes can be a long process and at times frustrating.  Celebrating each step in the right direction motivates everyone to keep going.

Arnold Bennett is quoted as saying “Any change, even a change for the better is always accomplished by drawbacks and discomforts.”  In coaching situations where I am feeling uncomfortable because I myself cannot clearly see the end result, I try to be mindful that it is the process that is most powerful, and this allows me to take the focus off of the end result and just enjoy rolling up my sleeves, digging my hands in deeper and getting good and messy.

  • dlander says:

    Thank you for this extremely insightful post, Christine. The way you have articulated your “messy” experiences demonstrates how much you have grown as a coach; a year ago, would you even have imagined being able to articulate your work so well? It seems like messiness is part and parcel of being a successful learning coach; so happy that you have embraced it!

    March 13, 2014 at 8:12 pm
  • landrews says:

    You are so wise Christine, thank you for sharing your reflections with us. I like to think of the work we do, and the role we play in this transformation of the education system, as “Growth Agents”. We help and support people to grow their understandings and capacity to create environments were all students are meaningfully engaged and attached to the Programs of Study. It is messy, and I love it!

    March 13, 2014 at 12:33 pm

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