Monday, June 15, 2015

First Year of Coaching & Escaping From Alcatraz

What a week it has been.  Actually, I should really say, what a past two months it has been. I've inadvertently taken somewhat of a break from writing- life has just been busy!  However, it's been busy in a good way...  Yesterday, I completed my first year as a literacy coach for the Palo Alto Unified School District.  The day before yesterday, I completed The Escape From Alcatraz triathlon.  Today, I am on a plane and ready to relax! 

Practice bay swim- Alcatraz in the background!
Picture from John Springer

I must say, swimming from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco's shoreline was quite similar to my first year outside of the classroom as a literacy coach.  The swim itself takes months and months of training to successfully complete. Countless hours were spent in the pool and the chilly waters of San Francisco's Aquatic Park.  Books, were read, experts were consulted, and much reflection on my swim form took place.  Similarly, prior to becoming a literacy coach, I spent years and years reflecting upon and refining my own classroom literacy instruction with students.  Countless hours were spent learning in graduate school classes, consulting with experts, and reading book after book on all things literacy education.  

After the initial plunge off the boat and into the chilly waters of
Plunging into San Francisco Bay to start
The Escape from Alcatraz triathlon
Picture from NBC News
San Francisco Bay to start the Escape From Alcatraz triathlon, the first ten minutes of the swim were just an unpredictable frenzy of flailing arms, kicking feet, choppy waters, and slight panic.  I had trouble breathing and finding my swim groove as a few other swimmers were swimming on top of me and diagonally hitting me from the side. Oddly enough, this is how the first few months in my new coaching position felt. I spent 12 years in the classroom as a teacher- 12 years!  Teaching a room full of diverse children was all I knew.  Being plucked out of the day to day of the classroom truly felt like plunging into the unpredictable, turbulent waters of San Francisco Bay.  For a few months, I honestly felt like I made a mistake leaving the classroom.  It was scary.  While I didn't feel like jumping into San Francisco Bay was a mistake, I did question my sanity a couple times during the swim.

After being kicked in the face, ingesting at least a gallon of sea water, and being tossed around from boat wakes, I noticed that the water calmed, my breathing slowed, and I found my smooth, efficient swim stroke.  I was on my way.  This is exactly how I felt in January of my first year as a literacy coach.  After navigating life outside of my own classroom, figuring out how to be content not getting daily student hugs, and realizing I was actually making a difference at my school sites, I found my coaching groove.  I suddenly realized I didn't make a mistake. I finally felt that I was doing what I needed to be doing.

Once I reached the glorious sandy bottom at the St. Francis Yacht Club on San
Continuing the Escape at the
end of the Sand Ladder.
Picture from Michael Stricklan
Francisco's Marina district shore, I felt both relief and elation.  I cried (if you know me, you know that I am a happy crier- no matter how hard I try, I just can't hold those tears of joy back).  Yet, my race wasn't over.  Why just swim when you can also bike and run?   After my wetsuit was pulled off with a little help from my volunteering friends, I ran past my cheering parents and triathlon club, and I made my way to my bike to start the rest of my journey.  This is exactly how I feel right now.  The rest of the journey is still ahead, and I'm looking forward to it.  While I do miss the comfort and known entities that my own classroom bring, I am really excited for what the future holds.  

I don't know if I'll end up doing another triathlon. I've been a triathlete for nearly six years now.  It can be all-consuming.  There are so many other things in life that I want to do and try- rowing, paddling, dancing, hiking, actually sleeping-in on a weekend, and perhaps more that I haven't even thought of yet.  I truly love being a triathlete.  Finishing a race after months of hard work, running by cheering friends and family, and experiencing the camaraderie of my triathlon club are all extremely fulfilling.  Plus, if I walk away from triathlon, would I have to change the name of my blog?  However, I know that there is more to life, and I just don't want to let it pass me by.

Working as a literacy coach: Modeling a small group
in writing workshop for teachers and a principal
When I first started this new role outside of the classroom, many of my teaching colleagues asked me how I liked it.  I gave the same response time after time, "I like it.  I'm learning a lot.  However, I will go back to the classroom."  Then, in February, a teacher I've highly respected for years asked me the same question.  I offered up my same response.  She then gave a response that changed everything for me.  She looked at me, paused, and eventually said, "That's too bad. You should consider continuing. You're making a difference at our school."  Our conversation then went deeply into why teachers become coaches.  Some become coaches to step into administration.  Others become coaches to help their fellow teachers- which in turn helps build better schools, which then changes the lives of all children in those schools for the better.  The latter is why I became a coach.  It wasn't to just try something different.  It was to help all children become readers and writers on a larger scale.  

I still hope to go back to the classroom one day, and my desire to become an administrator remains nonexistent.  Yet, who truly knows all that the future holds?  My role as a coach has opened up so many incredible doors that I didn't even know were there prior to taking this position.  Working in the classrooms of so many different teachers with different methods and styles has truly been a gift.  I can't even begin to accurately describe all that I've learned from my teaching colleagues.  While I deeply miss being a classroom teacher, I finally know I am where I need to be right now.  And, the journey continues... 


  1. Christina,
    Love your comparisons between the triathalon and your coaching year. What a "leap of faith" and a lot of training made you successful in BOTH! Also looking forward to seeing you at #TCRWP!

  2. Thank you, Fran! Your words and feedback always mean a great deal to me. Looking forward to seeing you in the coming two weeks at #TCRWP. I arrive tomorrow!


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