Building Best Possible Coaching Relationships - Steve Barkley

Building Best Possible Coaching Relationships

I’ve recently read Michael Bungay Stainer’s How to Work with (Almost) Anyone. The focus of the book is on working relationships that are happier, more successful partnerships. He labels these partnerships as “best possible relationships” (BPR) that are safe, vital, and repairable. Hear Michael describe safe, vital, and repairable here (4:22 to 6:53). As I read and reflected, I thought that many parallels could be made to the “best possible coaching relationships.”

Bungay Stainer identifies five questions to use in a Keystone Conversation for building the best possible relationships:

  • What’s your best?
  • What are your practices and preferences?
  • What can you learn from successful past relationships?
  • What can you learn from frustrating past relationships?
  • How will you fix it when things go wrong?

Here are insights that emerged for me as I read through the structure and purpose of the questions, considering my coaching role:

# 1 What’s your best? This question focuses on a strengths- based approach. Your best is more than what you are good at but also what strengthens you. “You will be happier and more successful if you use your strengths more of the time. When you and another person tell each other what your strengths are, you gain information about how your BPR can bring them out in both of you.”

Here are some questions I use to uncover a teacher’s satisfactions in a pre-conference setting:

  • What’s been a recent rewarding experience for you as you witnessed student learning?
  • If you had full control of the curriculum, how much importance would you place on today’s content? Why?
  • How do you describe your teaching style?
  • What do you want students to learn with you that isn’t in the curriculum?
  • How do you decide what learning goals to set for your most advanced students? …your most struggling learners?
  • What do you know about your students that impacts your planning? What would you like to find out about your students? Why?
  • If the school hadn’t adopted this program, how would your instruction be similar or different from your current practice?
  • What elements from the school’s vision do you think are most present in your classroom? Why?

#2 What are your practices and preferences?

“Over time, you’ve developed and refined how you work (teach). Some practices you’re aware of. They’re common sense to you but possibly quirky and perhaps even inexplicable to others.”

This fits with my desire when coaching to do what I call observing through the teachers’ eyes before I observe through mine. Knowing a teacher’s style and expectations is helpful. As an example, as a teacher, I panic when my students are quiet. For me, their interaction with each other and me around the material is how I measure engagement. As a coach, I can read another teacher’s classroom as less engaged because I don’t hear student voices when the teacher was focused on a style more based on self-reflection. Knowing the teacher’s expectation causes me to observe more closely “what is happening?”

The more I can show my understanding and appreciation of a teacher’s style and preferences, the more open I find the teacher to exploring other perspectives.

#3 and #4 What can you learn from successful past relationships? From frustrating relationships?

As a coach entering a relationship with a new coachee, uncovering a teacher’s past experiences with coaching can help me shape my coaching approach. Here are some questions I might use:

  • Can you tell me about a coaching experience you’ve had that was empowering? What made it so?
  • Was there a time that being coached didn’t “feel good”? What do you think generated that impact?
  • Are there questions you like a coach to ask or not ask?
  • Receiving coaching feedback can be uplifting or defeating. What have you experienced in the past that impacts the way a coach’s questions or feedback impacted you?
  • Engaging in coaching can have a cost in time and emotions. What outcomes from coaching make those cost worth it for you?

#5 How would we fix it when things go wrong?

“By understanding that it will break and talking about it before it does, you’ll be better able to notice when its failing and repair it together.”

Knowing the role of trust building in coaching relationships, I frequently stress this statement in my work with school administrators and coaches, “Say what you are going to do, and do it.” (This is true for teachers with students and parents, too.) If I say what I am going to do and my actions appear to you as not matching what I promised, either I have made a mistake, or you have misinterpreted my words or action. If we can agree in advance on how to raise the issue when that “incongruent sense” emerges an understanding or a quick fix and return to trust are possible.

I’d be interested in hearing what connections you find with your coaching work and the building of Best Possible Relationships.

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