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Writing Coaches of Montana has a lot to say about how great our communities are. 

Growth Mindset, September 2022: The Joys of Coaching

The Joys of Coaching…

…are many. I have volunteered as a Writing Coach for ten years, and I am
looking forward to the new school year. How many times have I coached? A
lot, during visits to middle schools and high schools throughout Missoula,
Bonner, Condon, Florence, Stevensville, and Hamilton.

One of the joys of being a coach is simply meeting students -- the eighth
graders tackling their first persuasive paper, the seniors polishing a research
paper, students confronting for the first time a literary analysis. Last year, a
freshman high school class was reading and analyzing John Steinbeck’s Of
Mice and Men. The four students with whom I worked were all struck by the
power of the book, noting that it was a really good story, even if it was
written so long ago!

One of the joys of being a coach has been to interact with students, always
showing respect for them as individuals and valuing what they bring. The
students with whom the Coaches work come from diverse backgrounds, and
their writing skills vary tremendously. Many students, regrettably, have had
little opportunity to interact one-on-one with an adult who is neither teacher
nor parent. Sometimes, this personal interaction with a coach can lead
quickly to building trust. Two vignettes spring to mind. Some years ago, a
middle school student told me about how she had been affected by the death
of an infant sister two years before and, through tears, said she had never
shared her feelings of grief with anyone, even her parents. We talked about
how hard it can be to grieve. A few years later, a high school student was
doing an analysis of Crank, by Ellen Hopkins, a jarring tale that addresses a
number of serious social issues including, for example, physical abuse, drug
and alcohol addiction, and parental abandonment. When I asked the student
why she selected this book, she replied “because it reminds me so much of
my own family.” We abandoned her paper and talked about her personal
situation, at the end of which she thanked me. What a privilege for a coach to
have such opportunities.

One of the joys of being a coach is that I have learned something every time I
have coached, without exception. An eighth grader had been assigned a
persuasion paper on gun control. His ‘hook sentence’ was the best I have
encountered: “The AK-47 is not a fashion accessory.” A high school student
hated writing. His first love was skateboarding, and he eagerly demonstrated
for me several skateboarding techniques, using the miniature skateboard he
had with him always. By the end of our time together, he was eagerly jotting
down ideas for his reflective paper on personal expression. I did not,
however, rush to the nearest skateboard park!

One of the joys of being a coach is seeing students make progress, noting the
smiles and the gleams in the eye when they suddenly grasp a concept that had
been elusive. Or challenging students in a positive way about the sources they
use for a research paper, helping them understand how to distinguish a
reliable source from the dross that floods the internet. Or laughing with –
never at – students when we together discover a humorous anachronism in
their papers. Or admiring the honesty with which some students acknowledge
the very difficult home situations they experience, and the gratitude they
show when a non-judgmental adult shows some degree of empathy.

One of the joys of being a coach is seeing the skill and dedication that public
school teachers bring to their classrooms, and the way they foster each
student’s learning.

I hope these few observations help convey the richness of the coaching
experience. To serve as a Writing Coach is a joy. It is also a privilege.

–Herbert Swick