Encouraging the Coaching Conversation

Much can be done in the non-verbal postures and the verbal word choices of coaches to promote a coaching environment. What are some things you’d want the environment to communicate? My list includes:

Collegial– we are learning together

Non- Judgmental– we can disagree with what or how to make improvement, but we all want to improve

Inquisitive– lots of “I wonder” and “what if’s” emerge

Risk Taking– its OK if what we implement doesn’t work, we will repeat or try something else

Fun– while improving learning outcomes is hard work it’s important that it be enjoyable and a collegial partnership can increase the pleasure.

Nonverbal- I arrange the seating so that the person I am coaching is seated with close enough proximity so that the teacher can read my notes as I write. I often more deliberately show a visual representation of what I’m thinking to the teacher for confirmation. “So if I created a T-chart like this and recorded your feedback statements and the students’ responses, you could use the information to explore your impact.” I believe the sense of “shared notes” reinforces the message I that I am being guided by the teacher I am coaching. This differs from the nonverbal of a desk between us.

pic aug 7

Verbally, I avoid certain words and phrases:

Help– I avoid asking, “How can I help?” and avoid the word help during coaching unless the teacher uses the word in her request to me. If the teacher says, “Can you help me with this?”, then I am comfortable using help in my response at some point. The word help can suggest to people that the coach is at a higher or more advanced level than the teacher. Instead I might ask, “What do you want to make happen?” or “What observations could I collect that you can use to answer the question you have about student engagement?”

Problem or Struggle– I sense these words carry a negative connotation for some folks. They can interpret my labeling of something “a problem” as an evaluation of them. “I noticed you struggling to get the students focused” suggests a negative evaluation. I tend to tackle these situations by asking the teacher where she would have liked a different student behavior or response than the one that occurred. “What were you thinking and considering when you asked the students to begin the writing activity? How did that compare to what you observed?”  Whatever words the teacher uses in the description I am then comfortable using in our conversation.

words have power with related word cloud hand drawing on whiteboard

But, However, Yet– these words often are used to connect two thoughts. The first thought is generally a positive/agreeing one: “The activity did raise lots of energy and enthusiasm from the kids.”  The second statement is often an additional idea you want the teacher to consider: “The activity took a lot of time and not everyone understood the purpose.” When the two phrases are connected with but or however, the reinforcement of the first positive one is often negated by the second statement.

“Planning the questions to guide the lesson was important but there were few critical thinking ones included.”

I generally use the positive statement and then pause, waiting for a response from the teacher: “Planning the questions to guide the lesson was important.” The teacher might say, “I have seen the improvement in learning from my planning” or “That does increase student engagement.” At this point I know the appreciation of the positive was noted by the teacher. I often then follow with a question that can lead into the point I’d like to raise. “Which questions do you think most engaged the students in critical thinking?”

If I use the two statements together I use a period or “and” between them:“Planning the questions to guide the lesson was important. Including more critical thinking questions may have extended the learning.”

Have you thought about? Have you tried? – These close-ended questions tend to corner the responder. If I am asked, “Have you tried having the students work on this in groups?” and I haven’t and say no, I either have to offer to try it or defend why I wouldn’t. If I tried it and it didn’t go well, I may feel compelled to confess to my “failure.” I tend to use a more open ended question or maybe even a statement: “As I was observing I wondered what the impact of doing that task in a group or pair might be?” Or, “How do you think the outcome would change if students paired to do the activity?” The open question or statements tend to provide me with more of the teacher’s thinking which guides my direction.

I approach pre and post coaching conferences as conversations rather than investigations or reports. I want to communicate interest in the teacher’s thinking and practice. Consider how your nonverbal messages and word choice support the environment you want to create.

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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…