Helping - Steve Barkley


Jim Knight’s new book, Unmistakable Impact: A Partnership Approach for Dramatically Improving Instruction is my current airplane companion. I am just part way in and can already recommend it for coaches and teacher and administrator leaders. In addition to sharing his own insights and thinking, Jim provides extensive lists connecting the reader to other authors and resources.

In Chapter 2 (Partnering), Jim identifies five simple truths about HELPING: Here are his five along with my thinking on each:

1. People often do not know that they need help.

In my work I label these folks unconsciously unskilled. They don’t know that they don’t know-all of us are unaware of some skill set that we are missing. Coaches create awareness. This could be done with data, video clips, modeling, observations notes, student work, etc. When we cause those we are coaching to become aware, we produce discomfort. That discomfort is often the motivation for change. (A stack of photos lead to my decision to start and maintain a weight plan!)

This is especially critical when working with GOOD teachers. Many leaders find it difficult to bring the discomfort of consciousness to these staff members. Being aware that my students could achieve more can make me uncomfortable continuing my current practice and start my exploration of alternatives.
2. If people feel “one down” they will resist help.

Jim states that skillful coaches create equality between themselves and their collaborating teachers. (pg 23). I recommend that coaches avoid using the word help (as in “How can I help?”) unless the teacher uses it first (as in “Could you help me design…?) One common phrase that I use in pre-conferences to avoid help is, ”What role might I play?”. My experiences match Jim’s truth- offering help raises the helper above the coached.

3. Criticism is taken personally.

When you suggest that a person change what one is doing, there is an inherent tug on the ego (“I’m not good enough”). In my pre-conferences I focus on identifying traits and values that are important to the teacher. I look for those items during the observation and share them during the post conference to build teacher ego. (See approval in an earlier blog) This often sets the stage for the teachers to do the thinking necessary for self discovery.

4. If someone else does the thinking for them, people will resist.

I use the “who is thinking” as an indicator of the difference between evaluation and coaching conferences. Evaluators observe, identify, analyze, problem solve, and suggest while the teachers listens. Coaches observe, question, paraphrase, ask “Why?”, and “What do you think?”. Thinking is empowering…asking me to think is uplifting.

5. People aren’t motivated by other people’s goals.

My description is that ideal coaches stop outside the door of the classroom, take off and hang up their agendas, put on the teacher’s agenda and enter. However, the best coaches can do is to work to understand the agenda of the teacher in pre-conference conversations. Then frequently and consciously look at the classroom through the teacher’s lens. An example is the secondary literacy coach who avoids stating to the math teacher, ”All teachers are teachers of reading(coach’s agenda).” She instead identifies the difficult vocabulary that the math text uses, allows the math teacher to describe how students struggle with word problems and share a desire to find strategies to increase student success (teacher’s goal). The reading coach’s goal surfaced as a connection to the math teacher’s goals. Partnership!

When I am asked how to identify teachers who would be successful coaches I recommend looking for people interested in learning about teaching and learning. When I enter your classroom interested in learning with you rather than helping you a partnership climate is easier to establish.

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One Response to “ Helping ”

  1. kemeigh Says:

    So true! I see many places where I have “oopsed” when talking to teaachers with my agenda at the forefront. There is so much “clean up” work to do when I start with my agenda and thinking rather than discovering the teachers’… thanks for making me ponder my approach and what I see as “help.”

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