The Value in Writing End of Year Reports
This month I have a special treat for you! Anna Martin, an instructional coach in the Oakland Unified School District, will be my guest blogger. In my last post, I shared an End of Year Report that she wrote about her work with a new teacher. Check it out if you didn't see it--it provides a close and detailed account of transformational coaching. I asked her to write about the experience of creating these End of Year (EOY) reports, and so here are her thoughts.
What I Learned from Writing End of Year Reports
By Anna Martin
Elena asked me to write about the process and experience of writing end of year reports, so I agreed (she's my boss, by the way). What I offer is a brief 6-point guide to both my process and how EOYs helped me as a coach.
During the past year, I found it helpful to take the time to pause, write, and reflect on a session--time I often didn't have. Writing end of year reports gave me a heightened level of clarity beyond any single reflection and the process itself taught me a great deal--about my clients, about my coaching, and about myself.
EOYs helped me to:
1. Step Back: My process for writing EOY reports started by looking back through all my notes, observations, and artifacts for a client from the start of our coaching relationship. This let me step back and look from a different, more distant vantage point than I typically would for a single session. Stepping back brought our work and my clients' growth into focus just as if I had taken a photograph that was inches from my face ("Look! Green dots!") and drew it back ("Oh, it's a tree...").
2. End with the Beginning in Mind: One of the most helpful aspects of writing EOYs was attempting to objectively describe where each client started at the beginning of our work in relation to her goals. In the case of Jasmine (shared previously by Elena), I looked at scripting notes from an early observation to ground my description. It was now apparent how novice she had been at the beginning. At the time, I focused on her emerging strengths, not on her deficiencies--but in re-reading the script they were clearly there to see. Remembering the beginning at the end was helpful because it gave me a truer baseline to assess EOY growth.
3. Pinpoint the Highlights: Going back through a client's file it was much easier to mark the points--individual sessions, a single sentence a client uttered, a powerful activity, a breaking down point--where a new possibility emerged. Even if it grew from a period of difficulty, I was now positioned to recognize the highlights. I literally highlighted quotations and placed post-its that I returned to and included when actually writing the reports.
4. Mine the Lowlights: In seeing the highlights, I found that I was often better able to understand (and be open to viewing objectively) the low points--periods of little growth, what seemed like resistance, or where it felt our work, my client, or I got stuck. In contrasting these with the highlights, my client's learning style and ZPD often came into stark relief. I was able to recognize when my coaching had been effective and in line with my client's needs--and when it, frankly, had not. I also found gaps in my data collection or was not monitoring progress closely enough to make needed adjustments to our work.
5. Reveal the Coaching Relationship, or "Lessons Learned": After I had reflected on the changes, the indicators of progress, sources of evidence, and contributing factors--I saw my coaching relationships with increased clarity. I could see what had worked (or not) for that client, at that point in her path, to maximize a client's learning and openness to new possibility. With Jasmine, when my coaching included opportunities for her to actually "see" a strategy or herself, she was able to make more immediate, and lasting growth. Duh! I also recognized where I had not accommodated her visual learning style or had overestimated her abilities as a novice teacher. Oops! Each realization provided a lesson for our work next year or future work with other clients.
6. Uncover My Coaching Strengths and Areas for Growth: Writing EOYs was a powerful tool for reflection about my coaching style and strengths, as well as areas I want to work on next year. By looking across my reports, patterns became visible. For example, I saw how I maintained the dignity and humanity of my clients and a commitment to helping them recognize their strengths. I also saw where I had shied away from what made me uncomfortable as a coach, even when my clients (in hindsight!) clearly needed it.
Although they say hindsight is 20/20, for me, end of year reports feel like a form of foresight--I feel ready for next year. For clients that I will continue working with, I feel like I just discovered cheat codes that I can use to better our work. For myself, I have a clear plan for my own growth and I have a collection of learnings I can apply from the very start of my new relationships next year.
I put the list above as a numbered list for a reason. In essence, it articulates the steps I used to write each report. It also identifies the six most helpful and powerful effects I experienced. The process takes time (about 2-5 hours per client), but it is essential, and I'm grateful to Elena for having the prescience to require it.
For our work as coaches to be transformational, we need to take the time to pause, recognize, and name our work in all it's messiness if we are to become better at our craft and better able to support our clients in the ways they need, not just the ways we know how. EOYs are one way to do this.
Anna Martin (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Transformational Instructional Coach with the Oakland Public Schools.