Redefining “Impact”

“I dearly miss all of my kiddos, but I’m excited about the prospect of having a greater impact on education.” This has been my mantra as I explain my transition from math teacher to school development coach. In my 4 years at Cleveland High School, I was incredibly fortunate to have excellent professional development (departmental coaching as well as New Tech Network events and opportunities) and administrative support (the backing and encouragement to be bold, risky within reason, and occasionally experimental). But the potential to impact students outside of my classroom and teachers outside of my school lurked and whispered and outright yelled at me. With the lure to make a different and bigger impact, I whole-heartedly jumped with both feet into the world of coaching.


Here’s perhaps where I didn’t fully think things through. What does this impact look like in coaching? How is this defined? In the classroom, I could feel impact. At the end of the year, I looked back on student work from the beginning of the year, I listened to the incredible change in tone of the group conversations in even November versus September, or, best yet, I had former Geometry students return as students in my PreCalculus class. In this last case, I not only got to see again the impact my classroom had, but also the impact of our departmental work (how students had grown during the in-between year) and in other content areas as well (how students had touches of improvement from each teacher). The school’s impact on the students was palpable. But the question remains: Where is this in coaching? What’s the comparable hit-me-in-the-face impact in coaching? I know the moments exist; I just don’t know what they look like.


I do have one more data point to enter on the topic in the hopes of approaching an answer: The first event I facilitated as a coach was to welcome a new school to the network and investigate the school’s purpose and ideal graduate. When the staff dug in to defining their ideal graduate (imagine post-its flying, large chart paper filling, debates over word choice heating), I realized I was jealous – jealous to not be in the thick of it and making decisions that I knew would directly impact future decisions and, more importantly, the students that walked through my hallways. I’m aware that our facilitation allowed this conversation to occur and (at least in our eyes) end productively and so, by some weird version of the transitive property, I have a hand in the school and student impact they will enact this fall. But it’s that distance between me and this impact that feels so drastically different. And the fact that I may never get to see or feel that impact with my own eyes and heart.


So how do I reconcile this changing definition of “impact” and how it will be captured and captioned moving forward in my career? Holding onto patience with my own learning curve that I always asked of my students and onto teacher leader experiences as a beginning toolkit, I hope to continue to add data points to help me reason my way to a definition that is real, rich, and fulfilling. To summarize, perhaps I should edit an earlier sentence from this post about where impactful coaching moments reside:


I know the moments exist; I just don’t know what they look like…yet!