Educational leaders working with instructional coaching, mentoring, professional learning communities, and professional growth plans are increasingly needing to address the topic of a trusting culture that promotes the vulnerability necessary for educator growth. Trust is needed for educator risk-taking.
My suggested starting point for leaders building this culture of trust is to, “Say what you are going to do….. and do it!”
Increasingly, I am finding job descriptions that blur the lines between evaluation, supervision and coaching responsibilities. What happens in each of these roles? What can a teacher expect and not expect? How does the observer’s role change in each of these? What responsibilities does the teacher have in each activity?
Since leaders have different roles at different times, how does a teacher know which role the observer is in at any given time? An instructional coach (IC) can function as a “peer coach”, responding to a request from the teacher for observation and feedback. On another occasion, the IC is more in the role of a mentor or technical coach providing feedback that the teacher may not have “requested,” on district data or technical feedback related to a school-wide professional development effort. In other cases, the IC can have a role very close to supervision when an administrator/evaluator suggests to a struggling teacher that he seek support from the IC.
It is much easier for the leader, who may be in each of these roles at different times, to build trust when:
- The staff knows which roles are in a leader’s job description. (This can apply to curriculum specialists, department heads, team leaders, instructional coaches, etc.)
- Everyone knows the responsibilities of the leader, teacher, and principal in various programs and processes. (Are teachers responsible to seek coaching input when a learner is struggling for an extended time? Are department leaders expected to identify a teaching deficiency and share it with a colleague prior to the problem arising in an evaluation?)
- Teachers know which role the instructional leader is in when working with them. (Trust is built when the leaders’ words, questions, and actions match the declared role. Principals can generate confusion when they blend “coaching approaches” into the middle of an evaluation conference. For coaching to be effective the teacher needs to have a vulnerability that is not usually present in an evaluation setting)
Understanding the function or role that a leader is in is key to a teachers’ understanding of messages being communicated. If a teacher hears this question from his principal during a feedback conference, how might he interpret it?
“Have you thought about…………………………………?”
If the teacher assumes the question is part of an evaluation conference, he likely senses that he should have thought about this or needs to think about it. Thinking that his response could be part of his evaluation, he considers, “What is the response the evaluator wants?” So, his response, “That’s a good idea,” may well leave the leader with a false assumption.
If the teacher assumes this is a coaching question, he may use it as a lead into reflection on this and other possibilities. “I do not think that my students have the necessary independent working skills for that to be an effective approach.” A coaching response to his reply must highly value the teacher’s thinking as the conversation proceeds. (I recommend coaches avoid these closed-end types of questions because they are often interpreted by the teacher as evaluative and frequently create resistance that closes off the desired reflective process)
Trust builds as our words and actions consistently match with our stated expectations of ourselves and others. Distrust occurs when our words and/or actions are incongruent with our declarations. If we do not express expectations, people search our actions looking for patterns that set expectations. We can speed up trust-building by clearly saying what we are going to do and then doing it.