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Designing the plane while flying it: Mentorship & Coaching

As the novel COVID-19 has put a damper on instructional practice as we know it, the time for mentors and coaches in the education field is even more critical than ever. There is no game plan for teachers and administrators in this new environment we are operating in on a daily basis. We have all seen posts and memes where the teachers are “designing the airplane as they are flying it”.

As I reflect on that statement – “educators are designing the airplane as they are flying it” – this is not at all a new concept. We have master teachers and administrators that design instruction, classroom leadership, building leadership, and district leadership on a daily basis to meet the needs of their learners. This is what we do.

Granted the situation here is more extreme and resources we typically use are not at our disposal – but we have great teachers and administrators that can rely on their experience of adjusting to the “need of the day” to power through this. They have been adjusting to the ever-changing needs of their students, staff, and communities as a matter of course, and will continue to do so.

As we fly through these times together, doing our best to build our planes – we should be thankful for the captains helping us pilot them – the mentors.

There is a difference between a mentor and coach. The mentors in the education world are stepping up and sharing their knowledge and experience to help those that are new to the profession or struggling to cope and adapt to this unique environment we are now operating in. We are very blessed to have those mentors and experts that are sharing ideas that worked, ideas that didn’t work, and resources they come across.

As a former educator I can say proudly that educators are the best in the world at taking someone else’s idea, improving it, and making it their own, and sharing it back out to the world. Thank you, mentors.

This is not to say that coaches are any less important than mentors. How does coaching play into all of this? A coach is an individual helping to create a more specific, formal plan to help a person grow and be successful. These are not captains or pilots, they’re the flight school instructors and air traffic controllers that not only teach you how to fly the plane, but also how not to crash it.

Unfortunately, an opportunity to give formal feedback (coaching) on instructional practices, leadership styles, and planning has been lost this school year. There is a group of teachers and administrators that missed the opportunity to have reflective practice discussions and may be in the “maintain and survive mode” until this school year is “officially” over. Those individuals will need to be placed with a trusted advisor that can help coach them to effectiveness – so they can fly on their own.

I fear that this environment we have all been placed into will cause another mass exodus from the field. We need both mentors and coaches to provide feedback and resources to keep and grow our educators. We are already facing a teacher shortage and growing teacher attrition rates – and so the development and retention of teachers and administrators is even more critical to deliver student success than it ever has been before. We must strive to coach and mentor Better Teachers to facilitate the development of Better Students, and in turn produce a Better World. With the right mentors and coaches – the sky is the limit.

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