In today’s educational landscape there are new pressures, unrelenting accountability, and polarizing scrutiny on our teachers, students, and administrators. Yet, the collective “we” are expected to implement, revise, and innovate.


While this may seem intimidating, we need trusted partners that can support, push, encourage, and reflect with us in order to cultivate this new frontier.  


We all deserve a Thought-Partner!


When I think back to becoming a Literacy Coach, I can remember worrying about so many parts of my new career. How do I develop my schedule? How do I get teachers to work with me? What can I do to stay current?


These questions were so crucial to my early success. However, there were two questions that I left out and, quite frankly, didn’t address until my 6th year as a Literacy Coach. Why am I in this role? And, what do I believe to be true of myself, education, and coaching? What came next is the most vital element to my life’s work and will forever be the blueprint to which I live by. It started with two words: Thought Partner.


Throughout my entire career, I’ve had talented people who’ve inspired me, fostered my growth, and pushed me to think and lead in ways that I wouldn’t dare dream of on my own. I thought about what having a coach meant for my development. Having a talented coach in my corner allowed me the space I needed to reflect in the most meaningful ways. I needed a partner that engaged me in dialogue as we explored the depths of teaching reading and writing. I relied on my coaches for support when I was pushing the boundaries of my craft. I was drawn to coaches that treated me as an equal and felt as though they were learning from me too. My craft was enhanced as a result of these partners and my current body of work is under the direct influence of these experiences.


As I think back on these most influential people, they all had one profound impact on my development. They allowed me to think and grow alongside them. They allowed me to be completely vulnerable, they allowed me to trust and be trusted, they gave me open and honest feedback, and most importantly, they provided time and space for me to think about the possibilities and opportunities of growing my craft.


Next, I was able to tease out the principles and values that made me feel successful when I was in a coaching/partnership relationship and begin developing my own Mission Statement. I turned to the resources from Jim Knight and those outlined by Elena Aguilar in The Art of Coaching. This basic template supported my thinking down a path of self-discovery and reflection that now guides my day-to-day reflections and growth.


I then began to expand my thinking around my belief and mantra of what having and being a Thought-Partner really means to me and my role as a coach. Here is what I came up with:


Partnership Learning Vision and Mission Statement


My core values are:

  • Equality: Coaches and teachers are equal partners
  • Choice: We should have choice regarding what and how we learn
  • Voice: Professional learning should empower and respect the voices of teachers
  • Dialogue: Professional learning should enable authentic dialogue
  • Reflection: Reflection is an integral part of professional learning
  • Praxis: We should apply new learning to our real-life practice as we are learning
  • Reciprocity: We should expect to learn alongside each other
  • Trust: Trust defines a partnership and creates space to chart new territories for growth
  • Compassion: Meeting people where they are requires compassion, an IC’s responsibility is to understand with compassion
  • Curiosity: Seek to discover what others see and understand that may be different from my own point of view

My definition of coaching is:

A coach partners with teachers for job-embedded professional learning that enhances teachers’ reflection on students, the curriculum, and pedagogy for the purpose of more effective decision making. (Toll, 2014, p. 10)


I partner with teachers because:

  • Everyone deserves someone that they can think with in order to grow their craft.
  • The collaboration between equals can increase learning outcomes for all stakeholders.
  • Coaching/Partnership Learning inspires people by helping them recognize the previously unseen possibilities that lay embedded in their existing circumstances



I partner with people to learn and explore the possibilities for reaching our fullest potential. I partner with teachers, students, and leaders to uncover the ways of learning and decision-making that reveal new territories for growth and development. I partner with people to support and think alongside them as they discover their own voice and comfort in this profession in order to transform teaching and learning for the benefit of all stakeholders. We all deserve someone to ‘think’ with in order to explore possibilities and develop new areas of our craft. We all deserve a Thought-Partner!


The connection to my vision and the principles that guide my way of being allow me to truly live out my WHY. So, this leaves me to time to consider ways to encourage others to develop their vision statement and supporting them in establishing their why. I keep a copy of my statement and principles, along with a few quotes I believe to be true of coaching, in my binder.  I refer to it often and share my beliefs with those around me. It keeps me focused, it keeps me grounded, it keeps me living out my work in the most meaningful ways possible.


As you develop your principles and vision, consider those who’ve partnered, coached, or mentored you either in or outside of our profession. What was it about the way that they interacted with you that supported your learning? How did these people challenge you to think differently about your craft? The people that influence us most have qualities and characteristics that we desire in a partner. It’s helpful to reflect on these elements as you craft your mission statement and core values.


So, how will you connect with your purpose and principles this year? Are you living out your WHY? Share your thoughts with me on Twitter @bsepe7


Brian Sepe is a passionate instructional/literacy coach in Buffalo, NY. When not being an amazing “coach” he is husband and a dad to two great boys!

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