Isabel Sawyer's picture

Reflecting on My Year

I have spent some time reflecting on my first year as a Lead Instructional Coach in Albemarle County Schools. Here is what I wrote about my transition at the beginning of the school year:

It has helped that folks are checking in making sure I am doing OK, understanding that August is a crazy time of the school year. It has helped to have some quiet reflection time all on my own to process the new information. It has helped to hear some of the same language several times in different contexts and with different people. It has helped that some have encouraged me and told me I’m doing fine—doing a good job, in fact. It has helped to throw myself into all the new learning and not be afraid of making mistakes. Most importantly, it has really helped to have kind and caring people around me.

With the help of my kind and caring colleagues, I have learned a lot. Here is some of what I’ve discovered:

  1. Don’t overplan. I began the school year thinking that I needed to plan, and plan, and plan some more for every minute of every meeting—often like I did for professional development sessions. I have found that simply creating a structure within which we can function as a team is the most important part to facilitating a successful meeting. In fact, I intentionally collected and saved templates of structures I found helpful.
  2. It is OK to be new. In fact, it is often helpful. I often found that my role in the division was to ask questions about why we were doing the things we were doing (and had been doing for quite a long time). Sometimes we realized we could change things up a bit, and sometimes we clarified how important it was to keep the same old routines.
  3. You are going to make mistakes. However, don’t think of them as mistakes—think of your mistakes as opportunities to learn new skills. In a project I was leading, I wasn’t thorough enough and did not communicate like I should have. When things went south on me, I spent some time beating myself up. Then I realized that I learned more from this opportunity than from many of my other experiences in which I was successful!
  4. Take spring break off! Clearly I have learned a lot from mistakes—this is one of those mistakes. I lost my window this year. I made the assumption that I could accomplish a lot and that my days would be fairly relaxing when school wasn’t in session. Sure, all of that was true. However, the push between spring break and the end of school is hard and long. A rejuvenation vacation would have made that push much easier.
  5. Communication is important—remember to close the circle. When I was busy and emails were flying, I would accomplish the chore or task that needed to be accomplished yet forget sometimes to circle back and inform all of the players. Circling back matters.
  6. Finally, and most importantly, trust your team. I was so blessed this year. I was fortunate enough to work with many amazing people. But two teams stand out in my mind. The Lead Coach team and my cluster of coaches helped me to make my way. To them I am truly grateful.

Isabel Sawyer, PhD, is a Regional Director at Center for the Collaborative Classroom. She presents keynotes, workshops, presentations, and professional development for teachers, literacy coaches, and administrators across the country. Previously Isabel worked as a lead instructional coach for Albemarle County Public Schools and as an instructional coordinator for an inner-city school in Charlottesville, Virginia. Isabel holds her PhD from the University of Virginia and serves as an adjunct instructor in UVA's Curry School of Education. She has presented at local, state, and national conferences and worked with schools across the country as an independent consultant. 


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Comments (6)

I loved working with you this

I loved working with you this year, and look forward to our work together next year! You won't be "new", but you'll be as awesome as ever. . . keep on learning, friend.

Thank you for sharing your

Thank you for sharing your journey - this is good advice for all of us!!  We miss you but, it sounds like you have an amazing group of people to work with!!  

You were such a bright face

You were such a bright face to see at our PLCs. Thank you for joining ACPS again! Stay new... You're awesome!

Sounds like you had a busy

Sounds like you had a busy and exciting "first" year. Your learning can be applied to so many situations. Thanks for the reminders!

Abelmarle County is very

Abelmarle County is very lucky to have you as an instructional leader, Iasabel. I can only imagine the numbers of educators in other places throughout the country who are longing for your presence and guidance, not to mention your infectious laugh and grand smile. Thank goodness for social media so that we can all continue to benefit from your sound wisdom, Isabel. Thank you for taking the time to stay in touch and for sharing your on-the-job learning with us.  

Thanks, Linda-I think we are

Thanks, Linda-I think we are all longing for collaboration with colleagues. Making space for this in the work we do is critical! I value the collaboration and support I get virtually through my blog--thank you for providing that! Keep in touch!