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The Power of Coaching: How It Shaped My Career as an Educator

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Butler Institute for Families

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As an educator reflecting on three decades of experience, Kathryn Walton emphasizes the joy and growth gained from teaching and coaching. Early mentorship from veteran teachers deeply influenced her career, shaping her approach to leadership and adult coaching. This journey, marked by challenges and personal development, highlights the lasting impact of coaching on both students and colleagues, driven by a continuous pursuit of joy and improvement.

Kathryn Walton Quote

As the school year winds down, I find myself in a state of reflection more than usual. This year marks the end of my third decade as an educator. Thirty years ago when I started teaching, my young educator self would not have imagined the journey I have taken. She would not have predicted my impact on so many students and families, nor my personal growth through an unexpected turn to the nonprofit sector. As I reflect, what comes up for me most is the impact and evolution of coaching in my career.

When I began my educator journey all those years ago, I looked into the eager eyes of a roomful of second graders. There was a lot of energy and a little magic in that room as those young minds discovered the world of books and the logic of numbers. It is the joy that I remember most. 

This joy spilled over into the hours I spent honing my teaching craft. I was learning, too. Fortunately, I had two veteran teachers as teammates, who offered ideas and truly coached me. They observed my classroom, provided me with feedback and supported my planning.

Ann Marie and Darcy asked the hard questions and made me dig deep. They wanted to know why I made the choices I made in the classroom, what I valued and believed to be true and how I would use that to make sure every student in my room found the love of learning. 

That early coaching guided me when I became the principal of a 7-12 grade school 15 years later. My years as a school leader are the most cherished of my educator journey. It was a huge responsibility, and the days were filled with the unexpected. I learned to lean into my vulnerabilities and my strengths to become a more effective coach for the staff.

Successful coaching involves close consideration of the whole person. I worked with students and families to open doors they thought were closed. To do this, I had to understand other perspectives, while also challenging young people to find and seek new paths. Finally, I had to coach a community of educators, so they, too, could guide others.

When coaching adults, I quickly learned that I needed to sharpen my mentoring skills. Simply providing feedback was not enough to effect change. I learned to be fully present in a learning space and listen while engaging others to ask questions, identify improvements and set goals collaboratively. In doing this work, I learned to seek the strengths in each individual and recognize how teams can evolve together. And I grew as a professional.

For all of us, the end goal is lasting change. My road toward that end has included some bumps, a few wrong turns and a fair bit of redirection. It has also included magical moments of enlightenment and self-discovery. Along the way, communities have formed that are based on trust and understanding.

No, I’m not the same person I was in that freshly decorated classroom 30 years ago, thanks, in part, to my first coaches, Darcy and Ann Marie. They taught me to always ask why. Why do I teach? Why do I coach? Why do I look ahead to the next school year to grow, learn and adapt even more? 

Why? Because it brings me joy.

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