Coaches Create Learning Spaces, Too.

“You mean your office?” my husband asked this morning as I described the space set aside for me at my new school.

“Office” does not seem the right word for the space I envision. This is not just a space where I will work to get things done. Learning will happen here. I will make space for learners to see themselves reflected. Yes, “classroom” sounds more like it, though unlike the past few years, this space I am moving into is not a classroom. It is shaped and spaced more like an office. The challenge will be to find the “AND” in the middle.

So, what do I do? Just as in all my parallel practice breakthroughs, I think about what I did do as a teacher. When I had trouble envisioning how I would work with learners within my classroom walls, I would come in over the summer to begin the process. Sometimes I would simply sit among the furniture and envision the year ahead of me. Often times, I would unpack a box or two. Most times I would at least hang a square of butcher paper and affix a border to greet me upon my return.

This parallel practice, my friends, is what today is for:

(in a time-stamped style inspired by Chapter 4 of Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches)

10:03 The Suburban is almost loaded. Just a few crates from the upstairs office left. I have worked hard since the moment I started packing to make sure it fits in one load, and, even better, in one layer of one load. And it will.

12:33 My daughter’s first drive to the city and a drop-ff at the mall behind me and I am standing outside the door to the “Process Area,” aka, my learning space. It’s bigger than I remember. I think a rolling cart of books has found its way to the adjacent book room, and Yes! I do have a sink!

12:34 I begin opening drawers and cabinet doors and I am instantly taken back to my first teaching job, standing in the middle of the ready-made classroom of a teacher on maternity leave. A deep breath reminds me that I am not the same person I was at 22 (and it is more than just the stuff I aim to add that makes me different). So I let the lessons of that year flood my senses: back then, it was Tim McGraw’s greatest hits that got me through; today it’s a station playing Rihanna, Kalid, and the Weeknd coming from the library that becomes my soundtrack as I bring “me” into this space.

12:35 I take the long way out of the library so that I can trace a path down the ramp (instead of the stairs) that I will use for each subsequent trip with the dolly. It is then that I realize another – more striking – difference. More than a bookshelf behind the teacher’s desk that I had in my first classroom, more than the corner cubicle I had when I worked in the central office, more than the back of the heat register that I had in my first coaching space, this time I am not taking up space in someone else’s. This room, at the top of the stairs is mine to make sense of. This realization lifts my chin up and sets my eyes on the bigger picture. This is the view that greets me:

12:59 First box and a bag of snacks are settled. I aim not to organize it at all, but instead to just get it all inside.

1:35 The last bin, the one with my borders and baskets, makes it way past the mail carrier who holds the door for me, up the stairs this time, past the library, and comes to rest at the top of the stack.

2:02 I allow myself to sit for a moment, take in half a jug of water and a cheese stick, and then, I start with the important things: I leave a single border hanging by a single magnet, knowing I’ll have to revisit this after I find out whether stapling into walls that are, in fact, not entirely metallic nor magnetic is the preferred method. These are the kinds of burning questions that accumulate in my brain even as I begin to move a few things around and consolidate reading assessment materials onto a single bookshelf.

2:49 I have 11 minutes if I hope to leave without securing the building myself. (No one likes being the last one out, am I right?) That’s just enough time to personalize in a different sort of way: I stack my first bookshelf, using one of my crates to create a space that, moments before, didn’t even exist. And just like that, I am born in this space. I begin to envision how it will work for me and our learners, where I’ll need things to live, so that I can grab them and go, set them and sit, research and react. A now empty box will hold the PD supplies. The few empty drawers will become refuge for the papers and packets I’m not sure I’ll need. One by one, my books will find a new home, my binders will stand at the ready, and, me, I’ll remember how much I enjoy summer hours spent setting up a learning space.

Setting up your own learning space? Here are a few tips from today’s Parallel Practice:
  1. Make it visible: Open all the drawers and doors. Stack all the boxes. Make it so that you can see all the “stuff,” yours, theirs, and who-knows.
  2. Reground yourself: When the “stuff” starts to overwhelm, play music, take the long way around, step outside, do something that helps you reconnect with the big picture.
  3. Do just one thing: Whether it is to organize that first shelf, empty that first drawer, or unpack that first box, making that first decision has away of setting intention for the rest of your time in this space.
  4. Personalize: Set out your photos, hang a border, or stack a bookshelf with your favorites. Make a small space your own, ideally in a place that will greet you right away when you return.
  5. Let it breathe: Whether it is because time runs out or your energy wanes, walk away. As with most creative processes – and yes, this is a creative process – whatever you’ve done has already made space for the work ahead.

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