Listening has always been a critical skill for effective coaching. I’ve connected it with questioning skills. Too often when coaches are conscious of questioning, they can get too focused on creating their next question and not really listen as the teacher responds. The pause after a teacher speaks is the time to consider how I will respond. Sometimes a coach’s desire to be “helpful” has one looking for a solution or an improvement to move toward and thus miss hearing things that are important to the coachee. This can create an understanding gap. Following the teacher’s thinking can increase the teacher’s reflection and vulnerability leading to insight and growth.
The importance of listening was reinforced by Melissa Cournia on a webinar from LearningForward, Learning from Coaches: Supporting Coaches in a Virtual World. Melissa, an instructional coach, at Bismarck High School in North Dakota shared the following about her Instructional Support Team:
What we are doing most is listening. We are listening to…
- Students and their families through the counselors
- Administrators and their vision
- Our teachers
- Department Chairs in their meetings
We are listening to where people are in their stages of concern to understand how we can best respond. We are also listening for silence. What are they not saying and what questions are they not asking? We are also listening for self- care.
In The Leader’s Guide to Coaching in Schools, John Campbell and Christian van Nieuwerburgh describe eight key coaching skills; three of which I think closely connect to listening.
- Being Present – There are few greater gifts we can give another person these days than being present. Giving full and focused attention is a powerful way to build trust.
- Listening Actively – Listening at a level that really hears not only words but also emotions is enormously affirming, generating insights and self-understanding.Listening in coaching isn’t a request for more information but rather enabling the teacher to listen to herself.
- Clarifying – Clarifying consists of confirming that the coach has heard and understood what the coachee has said and intended. The coachee should gain greater clarity herself from the coach’s clarifying process.
In training for coaches, I often combine an examination of questioning skills with conscious practice of confirmatory paraphrasing.
The Confirmatory Paraphrase is a statement rather than a question. After paraphrasing facts, feelings or thoughts, the teacher will usually confirm whether your interpretation is on target by answering “yes” or “no.” Our expectation with Confirmatory Paraphrases is to get a “yes” response, indicating that our understanding is accurate. A “no” response indicates that the interpretation was off and the teacher can add new information to produce understanding. Note that making your tone of voice go up at the end of a statement makes it sound like a question. The Confirmatory Paraphrase is not a question; it’s a confirmation… a statement. (Building Communication and Teamwork, PLS3rdLearning)
Confirmatory Paraphrases can clarify…
- Facts – what happened (details of event/experience)
- Feelings – emotions expressed verbally or nonverbally through tone of voice facial expression and body language
- Opinions – views and beliefs
There are three keys to forming a Confirmatory Paraphrase:
- Listen and observe carefully.
- Decide whether to describe a fact, feeling, or opinion.
- State your interpretation of the message you received.
Here are a few introductory phrases to guide you when you create a Confirmatory Paraphrase.
The problem is . . .
It was . . .
The fact is . . .
You don’t know . . .
You don’t have . . .
What happened was . . .
You are finding that . . .
Feeling: (blanks would contain an emotion word)
It sounds like you are . . .
You seem . . .
You feel . . .
You look . . .
I hear _____ in your voice.
I see that you are . . .
You think that . . .
You believe that . . .
It sounds like you are convinced that . . .
Your point is . . .
You are telling me that . . .
I hear you saying that . . .
Your suggestion is . . .
So, your view is that . . .
You want to . . . / You don’t want to . . .
You wish it were . . .
You hope to . . .
You would like to . . .
Teacher: “It’s frustrating to put so much time into planning and preparing an online lesson and then have students not carry out the tasks and some not even log on.”
Possible Coach Confirmatory paraphrases:
You are spending a lot of time preparing for virtual lessons.
There are numerous students not logging in for the synchronous activity.
You are disappointed with the outcome.
You are worried about how to proceed.
It’s feeling hopeless.
You think your planning time was wasted.
You sense that students (maybe parents) are not taking enough responsibility
You believe you need a different approach to designing the lesson.
I find that increasing confirmatory paraphrases and asking fewer (especially closed-ended) questions in coaching settings increase the sense of conversation. Paraphrases invite a response while questions require a response. During conversation the coachee tends to add more information and do more reflection, leading to understanding one’s own thinking more clearly.