Creating Trust for Coaching

Elena Aguilar posted a blog in Education Week Teacher titled, How Transparency Can Build Trust, that provides examples for coaches dealing with ‘less than enthusiastic’ teacher responses to coaching services. As I have worked this month with two schools implementing new coaching programs, her closing paragraph ran very true to me:

“As coaches, we often experience what we perceive as resistance or push back, or even just suspicion, because teachers really aren’t clear on what coaching is or why it is happening–in your school or to them. Defining coaching and then sharing that definition with everyone in your context is a huge first step towards making coaching effective.”

 I, too, press leaders to begin a coaching program with a defining and possibly modelling presentation to the staff conducted by administration and coaches collaboratively. ACS International Schools in London and Doha are kicking off a new appraisal/teacher growth cycle that includes a peer coaching component.  Brianna Gray, Professional Practice Coordinator shared, “The leadership has brought peer coaches into our new Professional Growth program in direct response to our faculty’s concerns about the level of collegiality, growth, and impact on instruction/learning that they experienced previously.” Brianna provided staff with the following definition for peer coaching:


Coaches modelling their beliefs about coaching provides a powerful condition to encourage teachers to take an initial risk to work with the coach. Thus my statement that coaches should be the “most coached” people in the building. At ACS, the new peer coaches were asked to be coached twice in the next three weeks by other peer coaches. This provides a “safe practice environment” for coaches practicing coaching. It also provides coaches with personal examples to share in conversations with teachers: “Last week, my coach noticed……….and I can’t believe the quick impact that had on students’ focused attention.”  When my coach asked ………. I realized that ……..”. Coaches asking staff member to coach them is a great introduction to coaching for teachers.

Providing teachers with a role playing activity to experience coaching can also help demonstrate the “values of” and “why” behind engaging in peer coaching. As part of an introduction to peer coaching workshop I often pair up teachers and have them conduct a pre-conference after they have seen me model one. With very limited explanation and a little structure I have had these statements shared from that first experience:

My colleague is interesting – This statement generally, followed by audience laughter, was often shared with great sincerity. After listening to another teacher share the “thinking” behind an upcoming lesson, teachers saw each other in a new light. “I hadn’t realized the depth of your program and how it impacts kids.” “We realized for the first time that we share a very common value regarding what we provide students.”

  Someone just listened to me for seven minutes– again usually followed by laughter. Most teachers share that the opportunity to talk about their teaching whether at school or at home seldom receives the respectful “just listening” response that they receive in a coaching pre-conference.

 I think I just improved my upcoming lesson– Teachers often find that the reflection that occurs while explaining their instructional design to a colleague sheds new insights…. perhaps uncovering an overlooked opportunity for advanced learning. Sometimes the conversation provides a possible solution to a predicted problem.


Aguilar shares ways that coaches might respond to these teacher statements:

I’m just not sure about this coaching thing.

I don’t need coaching.

You’ve never taught what I’m teaching. Why are you coaching me?

Check her thoughts here.

Here are my thoughts on possible responses:

I’m just not sure about this coaching thing.

 What experiences have you had receiving feedback from evaluators, supervisors, mentors, coaches and others?

You want to know that this is a non-evaluative process.

It’s important to you that any time you invest in coaching has payoffs you value. …. (extend pause for a yes or a nod)   What would be an outcome that would be valuable to you?

 I don’t need coaching.

 The design of our coaching program is around deserve a coach vs need a coach. Like athletes and performing artist the top members work at the most complex level and can gain the most from observation and feedback.

What do look to achieve with your learners that is beyond your past attainments?

Can you describe a student for whom you are working too hard? You’ve invested a lot and not seen the learning growth you desire?

 You’ve never taught what I’m teaching. Why are you coaching me?

 Many coaching pairs find it easiest to start coaching outside departments. It helps the coach avoid the thinking, “How I would teach this?” and instead listen and support the teacher’s reflection and decision-making. You may seek an expert coach when you know there is a specific skill set you want to master and they have already mastered it. Part of my role can be to help find the right coach when needed.

The critical element in these settings is for the coach not to personalize the teacher’s question or statement. See it as a time to define the coaching program and goals. Avoid defending your role or position.

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Steve Barkley

For the past 35 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…