“I’M STILL LEARNING.” ~MICHELANGELO
Life and Tacos:
Coaching Self and Others for Stress Management
So much stress! The list of stressors currently present in our lives is mindboggling and heart wrenching. For some of us, our personal troubles are largely an inconvenience, and yet they nibble at our sense of wellbeing and keep us from sleeping well at night. For others, the challenges are devastating and demoralizing.
We are dealing with unprecedented levels of stress right now. It is ok to fall apart. We are human. Our emotions are an essential part of what it means to be a human being. When we express and name our emotions, we step into our humanness, we show others our vulnerabilities and our strengths, we gift ourselves with acceptance and we gift others with the opportunity to see themselves in us. When we share our emotions with others, we recognize our human connection and create bonds of empathy.
Along with giving ourselves and others permission to fall apart as an expression of the strong emotions we are experiencing, we also know that life goes on. And so, after a good cry or a rant, it’s time to dust ourselves off or crawl out of despair and take a big picture look at the situation.
Within the brain, emotions function as neurological circuits that determine which things we should pay attention to and which can be ignored. And so, when we or someone else falls apart it’s a signal to pay attention to what’s going on. While we can’t control many of the causes of our current anxiety, we can use this signal as a reminder to take care of ourselves. Part of this self-care involves monitoring our internal mindsets. Adjusting our mindset allows us to remain resourceful in response to challenges. One way of doing this is through routines of self-coaching.
In his book Triggers: Creating Behavior that Lasts, Becoming the Person You Want to Be, Marshall Goldsmith suggests that we ask ourselves a series of questions on a daily basis as a means of building our own agency for navigating life’s challenges. Here are some questions to get you started on accepting and caring for yourself in this challenging time. You might also offer a question or two to a family member, friend, or colleague who could use some support in managing stress.
- Did I do my best today to find meaning?
- Did I do my best today to be fully engaged?
- Did I do my best today to learn something new?
- Did I do my best today to be grateful for what I have?
- Did I do my best today to forgive myself and others for mistakes?
- Did I do my best today to not waste energy on things I can’t change?
- Did I do my best today to take care of myself physically?
- Did I do my best today to say or do something nice for someone else?
Goldsmith, M. (2015). Triggers: Creating behavior that lasts, becoming the person you want to be. New York: Crown Business.
Learning from Suzanne
A new grandmother’s reflections on learning
Suzanne and the Dinosaurs
Suzanne had a new game. Holding a toy dinosaur, she chases Grandpa and growls. Always glad to play along, Grandpa cowers with fear. Suzanne squeals with delight. How fun! And how amazing to think about the cognitive work behind this simple game! What’s it all about?
Power. When Suzanne growls and Grandpa cowers, Suzanne feels suddenly powerful in comparison to this big person who is such an important and almighty presence in her life. In that moment, Suzanne sees her own potential for competence and influence. It is human nature to seek power. This is a good thing; it helps us to be self-directed and to build an identity, an understanding of who we are separate from others.
How we relate to others. Suzanne is learning that she can be fierce without hurting others. She’s learning that, like dinosaurs, she can be both ferocious and gentle. Suzanne’s parents, grandparents, and great grandmother all want her to grow up to be a strong woman. Our role models for Suzanne include Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Wonder Woman. At the same time, we want Suzanne to be passionately respectful of others, to appreciate their unique strengths, and to share power generously. We want Suzanne to be empathetic, skilled in collaborating, and humble in recognition of all that she can learn from others. Suzanne, like all of us, is working through the tension between being personally powerful and respecting the rights and needs of others.
Understanding our emotions. Suzanne is playing with emotions – her own and others’. She’s beginning to examine the emotion of fear and learning that she can face and control fear as well as other emotions. As Suzanne gets a bit older, we’ll help her to attach names to these emotions. When we can recognize and name our emotions, we are empowered to manage our emotions by analyzing the messages they are sending us and to deciding whether they are serving us well.
It’s fascinating to me how the issues that Suzanne is exploring at 16 months are the same issues we continue to struggle with as adults and as a society. Wouldn’t it be interesting to have conversations about how these very important human issues play out in politics, in our communities, and in our schools? Perhaps conversations like these would help us to understand each other’s perspectives and move toward solving some of the ferocious societal problems that we’re facing.
Resources worth checking out
Coaching for Equity: Conversations that Change Practice
By Elena Aguilar
Elena Aguilar has given instructional coaches and the education world an incredible gift in her newest book. Exercises help readers begin the journey of examining our own mindsets toward race and how these mindsets can make white privilege and racism invisible. Aguilar cautions that learning about to recognize racism is a lifelong learning journey. She explains that wherever we are in our equity learning journey, we can and must work deliberately to strengthen our eyesight for patterns of inequity and our toolkit for disrupting these patterns. Aguilar argues that it is critical for coaches to do this hard and uncomfortable internal work if they are to be effective in coaching for equity. She states bluntly that those of us who have grown up with white privilege have much learning to do and tells us: “Remember: It’s not your fault that things are the way they are, but it is your responsibility to do something about them” (p. 21).
According to Aguilar, coaching is an effective vehicle for building equitable schools because teaching in ways that disrupt patterns of inequity requires learning, and coaching is a structure that supports teacher learning. She states that coaches should have coaching conversations about equity as frequently as possible and says, “Coaching for equity requires that we manage our discomfort around discussing race and class and identity differences. As we normalize these conversations, we normalize discomfort, which makes these conversations more comfortable” (p. 207).
Aguilar tells two extended coaching stories to illustrate how coaching for equity looks and sounds. She shows us how, when we coach for equity, we must coach for both behavior and belief change simultaneously. Coaching for belief change builds teachers’ capacity to think and act from an equity mindset in novel situations they will face when the coach is out of the picture. Coaching for behavior change builds self-efficacy and agency.
Aguilar demonstrates that equity-focused coaching requires that we navigate emotions; this is new but necessary territory for many coaches and teachers. She includes helpful supports for recognizing and engaging with emotions that are likely to surface in coaching conversations related to equity. Aguilar shows how addressing emotions is critical to altering racist beliefs and building empathy. She explains, “Systems of oppression rely on us disconnecting from our own emotions (including guilt or regret) so that we don’t feel the emotions of other people” (p. 193).
The practical strategies and tools offered throughout the book (e.g., What to Say When You Hear Racist Comments; Responding to Resistance) will be much appreciated by coaches as they engage in the important work of promoting equity in classrooms and schools. Appendices offer even more tools including a comprehensive equity rubric and an extensive list of resources for learning more.
Aguilar is candid about the difficulty of the work ahead of us, but she also helps us see why this work is critical. “Schools,” she states, “can be places of healing and liberation. They can be a microcosm for a more just and equitable society, a place where adults and children learn to be together in healthy community, a place where we learn about ourselves and others” (p. 27). I know already I will reach for this book again and again for guidance and inspiration in my own learning journey and my support of others.