Coach & Team Responsibilities and Relationships
Chapter 6 in the Building Worlds "Green Book" offers an excellent introduction to coaching. In some respects, the following is an "echo," yet we try to provide some insight based on working with Baldwin County public school children.
What does it mean to be prepared as a Public Achievement coach? First, your own understanding of active citizenship is important. Review the Public Achievement Course Student Civic Learning Outcomes. What is expected of you is what you can expect of your students. Obviously, elementary school students will respond to a more simplified version of valuing community knowledge and analyzing information relative to issues and problems. Coaches benefit from developing an understanding of community conditions and issues, teaching and classroom management strategies, and the many activities and resources that make for productive PA sessions.
Establish a Coaching Presence
First impressions are critically important. Coaches must set the tone for the team. There will be plenty of time to develop rapport with your students and have fun, but it is helpful to establish clear expectations. The YES program is designed to be rigorous with the expectation that students and their teachers will be devoted to academic and personal enrichment. Public Achievement focuses on citizenship development, an enrichment endeavor that has the capacity to help students develop life-long civic skills. Clearly explain how PA and YES combine to contribute to the students' lives and present the goals for your work with the students.
Develop a Relationship with Each Student
Find a way to spend time with each student individually. While your coaching partner is conducting an exercise with the rest of the students, spend some time in one-on-one conversations. You might want to split the group in half and provide for each coach to meet individually with half the students and then compare notes with your partner. It is imperative to understand something about your students' lives and interests.
Subdivide the Group into Smaller Teams
Divide and conquer has a militaristic tone, but the first full Public Achievement year revealed that classroom management requires smaller coach-to-student ratios. There are reasons why armies have companies, platoons, squads, and buddy arrangements. The purpose is quite simply to create the best conditions for safety, accountability, loyalty, and a common commitment to the mission. PA is most effective when pairs, triads, and small groups work with their coaches to achieve their objectives. Identify students who exhibit innate leadership skills and give them specific responsibilities.
Prepare Lesson Plan A
Coaches should endeavor "to take their A game or plan" to each session. What are the session objectives? What do you want students to learn or accomplish? How might the lesson be a steppingstone to the overarching Public Achievement purpose? Creating a lesson plan with clearly identified goals, strategies, and time segments is critical.
Prepare Back-up Exercises and Activities
Always have a Plan B and Plan C. Be prepared for the sessions that do not go according to plan. If your group needs to run off some energy, an active game is a good idea. On the other hand, in order to focus the group, you might have them flip through a New York Times and choose a photo that makes an impression on them and as a group discuss their findings and reasons for choosing the photos.
Facilitate and Educate
Facilitators ask good questions. Review the Green Book (pages 56-58). At the same time, coaches gather resources and information about the school and community in order to be prepared to respond to students' concerns and questions. Coaches walk a "fine line" between having their students define the issues that are relevant to the public and drawing upon their knowledge of community dynamics and issues to educate the students.
Be Flexible and Value Failure
Scientists and inventors acknowledge that they experience failure more frequently than success. We learn by our failures. PA is about trial and error. In many cases we are frustrated, but frustration and difficulty in overcoming inertia and creating momentum in civic life is part of the process regardless of with whom we work. Young, old, and middle age, formally educated or not, natives and newcomers, coaching and leading groups of people rallied around a common cause is hard work. Your flexibility and willingness to experiment with a variety of coaching strategies will enrich your experience.
Success and achieving goals is not as illusive as we might think if we use the analogy of "mining for gold." Embedded in dirt and rock are the valuable nuggets of insight, "A-ha moments," and student contributions that make sessions rewarding. It is vitally important to affirm your students for their good work. Be honest. False praise is shallow. However, as your reflect on your sessions, engage the students in thinking about both positives and negatives. Some coaches use incentives, like candy! Consider a healthy incentive, a sticker, pencil, or if food is important, fruit.
Keep it simple. What went well? What did not work? What could we do better? Provide five minutes to evaluate every week and jot down the answers to your evaluation questions.