Coaching to Build Mattering - Steve Barkley

Coaching to Build Mattering

While reading an interview in Kappan where Angela Maiers described schools having a “mattering” problem, (“Kids think they don’t matter”) I found myself thinking about educators thinking they (teachers or school leaders) don’t matter.  Maiers posits that when students understand that they matter to their educators and peers, it fosters a sense of belonging and self-worth, which significantly impacts their academic performance, emotional well-being, and overall development. She argues that the traditional metrics of educational success, such as grades and test scores, often overlook the fundamental human need for connection and recognition. By prioritizing the concept of mattering, schools can create more inclusive and supportive environments that cater to the holistic development of students.

In How to Create Mattering at Work, Zach Mercurio reports that psychologists and sociologists find that mattering arises from two primary experiences: 1. Feeling valued by those around us, and 2. Adding value to those around us.

Maiers describes that mattering is our first instinct as infants. “Before we need food, before we need hugs, we are seeking someone who knows that we’ve arrived in the world. Newborns are looking to know that they are recognized and welcomed into the world. And from that moment on, that is our quest: to matter.”

Mercurio differentiates mattering, self-esteem, and belonging. “Self-esteem is confidence in our worth and abilities. Self-esteem is one internal outcome of experiencing mattering to others. Mattering isn’t interchangeable with “belonging” either. When we feel like we belong, we feel welcomed, accepted, and approved by a group. When we feel like we matter, we feel significant to members of that group — we feel seen, important, and needed through how others treat us. A sense of belonging increases the chance we experience mattering and vice versa.”

In their book Ensuring Teachers Matter: Where to Focus First So Students Matter Most, Wilfong and Donlan build on three important elements:

Attention: The feeling others are interested in or notice you.

Importance: The feeling of being important to others or subjects of their concerns.

Relevance: The feeling that others depend on you for any reason.

Concerning students in classrooms, Maiers stated, “You can’t force someone to matter. You can create the conditions for them to come to that conclusion, but they have to believe they have value. Look at behaviors that communicate to another person that they have value to you.” As I read these words from Maiers, I pondered coaching actions that can create necessary conditions for teachers.

  • In my initial work promoting peer coaching, I listed one of the benefits as the opportunity to celebrate teachers’ successes. Every teacher can point to that moment of magical student learning when you look around the room and no one is there to celebrate with you. As a coach its always great to see the teacher’s face when I can give a “thumbs up” during that moment while observing and revisit it again in a post conference setting.
  • I frequently encourage teachers’ peer coaching in grade levels above and below the student level they are teaching. This often leads to them recognizing how each other’s work has/is impacting student success.
  • When pre-conferencing I note words that the teacher uses in describing her plans, strategies, or desires and then use those words in post conferencing discussions. As an example, the teacher might mention students having fun with the lesson’s challenge or how she values students supporting and encouraging each other. Noting the words fun, challenge, support and encourage, I look to use those words. Coaches use the words of the teachers while evaluators use the words of the system.
  • Coaches’ questions and curiosity help to communicate mattering. The key is for questions to be open-ended and formed from your listening. “What has caught your attention lately?” “What have you found working with the new math program?” “Tell me about a recent classroom moment you’d want to celebrate.” A response to any of these questions can be followed with “Tell me more” or “What does that look like or sound like.”
  • Coaching provides great opportunities for the coach to be a learner, gaining insights from a teacher’s practice or from joint-thinking and problem-solving conversations with a teacher. When the coach shares what she is learning with the teacher, mattering is reinforced. Coaches can create opportunities for teachers’ skills and insights to be shared with other staff members, increasing the recognition of adding value to others.

Wilfong and Dolan report that mattering has a strong relationship with collective teacher efficacy which Hattie rates as a top influence on student learning. Building mattering for teachers is a worthy coaching focus.

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