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Blog Jan 12, 2017

The Power of a Post-It

By Sarah Wechsler, Instructional Coach, New York City

At Turnaround, we strive to share tools and strategies with educators that cultivate a safe environment, reduce stress, increase engagement in learning and accelerate healthy student development and academic achievement. And in my specific role as an instructional coach, I work directly with staff every day through small group sessions and individual coaching. But none of the work we do can be successful without relational trust. It is the foundation and driver of our work in schools. Working with respect, personal regard, integrity and high competence creates trust within the school community, allowing us to bring and manage change initiatives that support the whole school community.

Last year, I had the opportunity to work with an elementary teacher who felt very overwhelmed. She was hesitant to be part of a coaching cycle because she thought it would mean more negative feedback and pressure. At first, she wouldn’t even let me into her classroom to observe. I felt her hesitation from the first time we met. To ease the tension, I tried to get to know her on a more personal level. We bonded over music. I found out that she was a rock and roll groupie. She showed me photos of herself with Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and memorabilia. I could feel her hesitation ease as we spoke. Showing respect and personal regard for her interests and life opened the door for relationship building to begin.

To build even more trust, I would leave this teacher “love notes.” This is a strategy Turnaround instructional coaches often use when visiting classrooms. When observing, we write all of the effective strategies we see the teachers implementing on a post-it and leave it behind for them to read at their leisure. A simple post-it becomes a powerful, colorful and sticky reminder of hard work and success, in the midst of all the mandates, negative feedback and pressure to constantly improve performance.

I used this strategy with the hesitant teacher. For the first few weeks with my music-loving teacher, the only thing I did was observe and leave a love note. I wanted to give her space to read and reflect without the pressure of immediate follow-up. In just a few short weeks, post-it notes became the catalyst for engaging coaching conversations and co-creation of classroom procedures and expectations. Her closed door and hesitation turned into a trusting relationship and she opened herself up to coaching and support.

Her classroom made a dramatic shift over the course of the year. It moved from a place that was unstructured and noisy, to a calm, organized and positive learning environment. I worked with the teacher on positive reinforcing language and she helped her students understand the importance of sitting safely, listening actively and raising one’s hand to participate. Establishing these procedures and expectations ensured a smooth transition from lunch to learning and increased engagement during her lessons. The highlight for me was when she invited our CEO, Dr. Pamela Cantor, to observe her classroom. Dr. Cantor even remarked to me what a safe and joyful learning environment it was.

Toward the end of the year, the teacher and I had a conversation to close out our coaching cycle and highlight accomplishments. She mentioned the power of my post-it notes. Turns out she had kept them all and they had become a daily reminder of her strengths and progress. She even told her students about them and said that positive feedback helps everyone grow and persevere. The post-its reinforced her personal understanding of feedback and motivated her to give her students just as much positive feedback as she had received.

Never underestimate the power of a post-it.