In my training workshops on coaching skills I stress the importance of coaches knowing the teacher’s agenda…. the beliefs, values, and thinking behind the teacher’s decision making. What are the options the teacher considered in planning for learning? As the lesson unfolded what did the teacher perceive and consider as decisions were made about feedback to students or “where to go next”? A general guideline I recommend is that as a coach know what the teacher is thinking before sharing what you as a coach are thinking.
Coaches’ questions assist in generating conversations where the teachers’ agendas emerge over time and increased understanding builds increased trust, promoting vulnerability and risk taking.
Example Coaching Questions:
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?
Two recent articles reinforced for me the focus on engaging teachers in these agenda uncovering conversations.
Christine Scudella wrote, Administrators’ Impact on Teacher Intrinsic Motivation, in ASCD’s The Working Lives of Educators, May 26, 2016 where she examined what impact intensive evaluation has on teachers’ intrinsic motivation. She also examined which administrator behaviors lead to positive relationships with teachers, despite evaluation mandates. She cites studies indicating that teacher-perceived pressures from administrators resulted in an introjected motivation for teaching rather than an intrinsic motivation and that intrinsically motivated teachers tend to perceive their administrators as “autonomy-supportive.”
Scudella interviewed teachers to identify administrator evaluation and supervision behaviors that they interpreted as being autonomy-supportive. Here are some of the indicators that I believe are connected to having “agenda sharing conversations.”
Conversations regarding teaching practices
Informal processes that facilitate a discussion of teaching practices that generate ideas
Feedback that allows for personal reflection and continuous feedback
An observant administrator in the process of teaching or understands the teaching process
Clear goals and plans for improvement
A positive and open relationship between the teacher and the administrator
Scudella reported, “The teachers I interviewed said autonomy-supportive administrators can create transformational relationships characterized by trust, care, listening, openness, and demonstrated confidence in teachers.”
Elena Aguilar wrote, Tackling Will Gaps: When a Coachee Doesn’t Want to Change, in Education Week Teacher. In an earlier blog she described “will” as desire, passion, or motivation. She cautions that frequently what a coach initially labels as unwilling is a coachee masking a lack of knowledge or skill and appearing to be disengaged or resistant. “…. coaches need to be cautious about concluding that someone has a will gap.”
Aguilar provides six suggestions for how to proceed when you perceive the coachee as having a “will gap”. I see three of them connecting with the concept of questioning to uncover agenda:
* Connect to core values
*Connect to school mission
* Ask questions
Here are some more agenda seeking questions that fit into being autonomy- supportive and/or working with a will gap:
If the building hadn’t adopted writer’s workshop, how much 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?
The school’s vision statement describes students developing collaborative skills? How do you build that into your classroom?
What role do you believe your relationships with students plays in their learning success?
School leaders and instructional coaches should look for many opportunities to raise these agenda questions with teachers. Professional Development, PLCs, staff meetings, coaching pre and post conferences and informal conversations all provide the chance for listening and gathering teachers’ agendas. Sharing that information back to the teacher can engender reflection and openness to change.