You Are What You Do
For many tech coaches, our job descriptions are not clearly defined within our schools. We may have great external resources, like the ISTE Standards for Coaches or their whitepaper on coaching (and of course all of the awesome resources that coaches themselves are sharing all the time!), but often there is no actual job description for this position.
I know I’ve personally had to write one for every school I’ve worked at (that’s five in sixteen years). And, while defining our job is very important for clarity among the internal school community, it’s not the only way to build understanding about the role.
Who defines your job?
Back in 2007, I was hired at ISB for the position of 21st Century Literacy Specialist. This was an entirely new job at the school, and perhaps an unusual job title, so, to be honest, very few people knew what I was supposed to be doing. For the first few months, I found it really stressful — I didn’t know how to fit into the existing school culture and do the job I was hired to do (and which I was super excited about doing).
Lucky for me, ISB (and, interestingly, all of my following schools) worked with Pam Harper from Fieldwork Education. Pam would visit the school every few months and meet with any teacher who was interested, about pretty much any challenge or issue they were facing. Pam, and the rest of the team, provided critical friend support to the school, and coaching to the staff. In one of our many conversations, Pam told me perhaps the most important thing I’ve ever learned as a coach:
You are what you do.
To clarify: People will recognize and understand your job, and your role in the school by what you choose to do each day. Even if they have no idea what your job title means, or who you are, you are defining your role for yourself and for them.
Every day we make choices and take actions. Each choice and action we take gives further evidence of our role. So each day, as you make choices about what you do, you are also informing others about your responsibilities. People don’t need (and certainly won’t read) a job description. They don’t need to be told what your job responsibilities are. They need to see you, in action, doing your job. That’s how you define your role in a school.
Of course, this has pros and cons. The great thing is that you can define, for yourself and for others, the work that you do by the work that you do. The not so great thing is that it can be tough. We know teachers want tech support, so we can be sucked into doing tech support all day, every day, and then we become “just” tech support. We know that teachers like easy to access resources, so we can end up creating resource banks all day every day, and then we become “just” the resources person.
But most coaches are excited about, and very much capable, of doing so much more. Sometimes this means making hard choices and having the strength to say no – even when we know we could do that simpler task – because the more meaningful or important actions that define your role should take precedent.
Each day is a clean slate
As I was thinking about this (when I ran into Pam at NIST) last week, I realized that this not only applies to tech coaches (or whatever your job title might be), but also to your personal life. Each day you have the chance to re-create the person that you are, simply by the choices you make and the actions you take.
In our work, coaches are often very concerned by what other teachers think our job is, because we want them to work with us. In our personal life, we might be able to trick ourselves into being the person we want to be (but maybe never thought we could) by taking small actions each day, which build into habits, and can transform our lives over time.
I realize that this may make it harder (or slower) for coaches to make progress in their schools, especially if the role is new. But, I also think it’s an exciting opportunity to shape your own career over time. As one of my Heads of School once said, If you’re ready and willing to take the risk to define your own work, it’s a little bit like being an entrepreneur with job security and full time salary – that sounds pretty good to me!
How do you define your role by the actions you take? Have you seen this kind of process play itself out in your school or your life?