I walked into a teacher’s classroom last week with the vaguest of intentions:

To see what was going on with her reading instruction… To try to “help out” with her small group work…

Thirty-five minutes later, I ended my work with the teacher certain she was more confused than before I’d visited her classroom. I felt horrible. It’s my job as a coach to help teachers get clearer and more confident about their work, not have them nod uncertainly and walk away with a jumbled assortment of “next steps.”

We’d kinda set an agenda for our work together. We’d been meeting as a grade to discuss how to best support first grade chapter book readers. We’d been discussing some ideas to support students to track the story structure and story elements on post-its as they read. I suggested I could come in one day to “see how it was going.”

So, how did it end in disaster unintended confusion? After reflecting about this a bit, I’ve come to the conclusion that it was my lack of clear intentions that inevitably ran us off course.

To see what was going on with her reading instruction… What was I looking at? What was I looking for? Was my intention to focus more on the students’ comprehension—in order to give the teacher a clearer picture of their understanding of the skills in question? Or was my intention to focus more on her teaching—in order to give her feedback on the clarity of her instruction or her questioning?

To try to “help her”… How was I intending to help? Would I be watching and note-taking, then sending her an email? Would I be co-teaching with her, taking turns leading the students in a discussion? Would we be trying “teach a little-talk a little,” pulling out of our teaching to discuss midstream how we felt students were performing?

This is Coaching 101 stuff, I know! But stumbling this hard was a reminder to me that intention is everything when we’re doing anything, really. Pausing to take a breath before we start, asking, “What is my intention for this moment, for these moments?” can make all the difference between clarity and confusion.