Reflections from a Literacy Coach and Recovering Perfectionist
Updated: Aug 10, 2022
There is no such thing as perfection. This has been a valuable realization for me. Of course it’s not exactly a revelation. We are human, and as such, inherently flawed. As much as one may strive for perfection, it certainly is an impossibility. The acceptance of this fact has helped me to grow in profound ways.
In my work as a literacy coach I strive to build trusting relationships with educators as we collaborate to strengthen instruction. I dedicate a great deal of time to preparing for professional development with teachers. For example, I often implement demonstration lessons in reading or writing that provide a model for discussion and practice. In my early days as a coach, my primary objective was to present a lesson as flawless as possible. I would plan for every possible scenario I could imagine, revise, refine, and practice repeatedly. Over the years, however, I’ve shifted my thinking in this regard.
It has been freeing for me to let go of the idea that as a literacy expert I must implement a lesson that is perfect. I’ve also come to believe that it is misleading to present a lesson practiced beyond what would be reasonable for any classroom teacher. By being “real” in this way, I open myself up to exploring and critiquing my own practice in the same way that I encourage educators to constructively analyze their own teaching and that of their colleagues.
I find the key to this approach is vulnerability. I routinely encourage the teachers I mentor to reflect on their teaching practices, acknowledge their strengths, and set goals for their own growth. How can I ask this of them, if I don’t actively and transparently do so myself? Being vulnerable requires me to implement demonstration lessons as a fellow educator, reflect on my own practices with teachers, and open myself up to critique. It would be unreasonable to expect myself to teach a perfect lesson to a class of students, which in many cases I am meeting for the first time. I often remind teachers that the choices I make in my practice may very well be different than those they might make, since I am not privileged with the background knowledge and relationships they have with their students. There is great value in reflecting on these interactions while debriefing a demonstration lesson to analyze my teaching moves and discuss alternate choices.
On my journey as a “recovering perfectionist” I’ve become comfortable critiquing my own practice as a means to explore various teaching moves and approaches. For example, I’ve demonstrated many small group reading lessons for groups of teachers to observe. During our debrief, teachers are generally very generous and supportive as we analyze my teaching. For example, they may comment on concise instruction, clear modeling, and use of critical thinking questions to push student thinking. When I ask teachers what I might improve upon, they are sometimes hesitant to comment. I find it’s helpful to ask specific questions, such as,
“How could I have shortened the modeling of that reading strategy?”
“How might I have been more efficient with my time during that one-on-one interaction?”
Specific modeling of how I question my own teaching is helpful as I guide teachers to evaluate their own instruction with a critical eye. When I exhibit vulnerability, critique my own teaching, and collaboratively discuss how to strengthen my practice, teachers feel more comfortable doing so themselves.
Brené Brown writes about the role vulnerability plays in relationships. She suggests that when we share our mistakes and our feelings about them, we can better build trust and connection in our learning communities. She asserts that if we evaluate or critique others from a place where we’re not also putting ourselves on the line, then our ability to connect and build trust will be greatly inhibited. In Dare to Lead, Brené Brown (2018) asserts,
“If we want people to fully show up, to bring their whole selves… we have to be vigilant about creating a culture in which people feel safe, seen, heard, and respected.” (12)
This is what I always strive for when collaborating with educators.
I will continue to be vulnerable, risk making mistakes, and open myself up to critique. Instead of striving for perfection, I will focus on reflection, growth, and utilize missteps as an opportunity for growth. My hope is that in this way I will continually grow and learn as an educator, a literacy coach, and as a person. This will help me to hone my craft and strengthen my ability to support educators as they do the same.