I was asked this question as I began an interview session at the Simply Coaching Summit — Quarantine Edition with Nicole Turner. My first response was to ask to change the question. I’m convinced that how coaching is the same is a much more important question. The critical components and elements of coaching that have been developed across the last twenty-five years are increasingly important during this time of rapid change in teaching. I read a veteran teacher’s comment as she began distance teaching, “After 25 years of teaching I feel like a first- year teacher.” What a challenge that suggests for instructional coaches! What an opportunity!
I have always stressed that vulnerability is a critical factor in a teacher gaining from an investment in coaching. Building trust increases vulnerability. Crisis creates vulnerability. People will respond to that vulnerability by either stepping forth and welcoming (even requesting) input from others or pulling back seeking safety in being invisible.
“Relationship remains the beginning point of coaching and its foundation. I keep bringing it up because this is the stage that more than any other is neglected, ignored, or considered to be unnecessary. Given that it’s the foundation, it can cause the most problems when it is taken for granted. The basic ingredients for the relationship are mutual trust, respect, and freedom of expression.” (James Flaherty, Coaching, Evoking Excellence in Others)
An empowered teacher who senses autonomy is more open to vulnerability. Christine Scudella uses the term ‘autonomy supportive’ for describing administrators who encourage teacher growth. “Intrinsically motivated teachers tend to perceive their administrators as “autonomy-supportive.” “The teachers I interviewed said autonomy-supportive administrators can create transformational relationships characterized by trust, care, listening, openness, and demonstrated confidence in teachers.”
In beginning coaching workshops, I pose this question: “You have a new teacher who is short on classroom management practices and short on instructional strategies. Where would you begin?” After I allow some time for participants to debate their ideas, I share my thought: “Whatever she wants to work on.” My reasoning is that the teacher will invest the greatest energy in making progress on a goal that she has selected. That initial experience builds the coaching relationship for continued growth.
This time of forced change for teachers is a time for coaches to do much more asking and listening than telling. The way to be responsive is to hear first what teachers are thinking, feeling, finding, wondering etc. This is critical modeling as it is an important that teachers approach their students in a similar fashion. Pushing tasks and assignments out to students without sufficient time for students to talk and share and sense autonomy can undo relationships and trust that are desperately needed for students to continue learning the content but perhaps even more importantly the valuable learning how to learn skills and life coping skills.
Aimee Skidmore, a secondary teacher at College Du Leman in Geneva, Switzerland is sharing a video journal of her daily experiences with teaching during school closure on LinkedIn. In a recent post she described uncovering the need to seek a balance between students’ social emotional needs and content. During the first week she describes substantially cutting the content to make sure that students are mentally “ok”. She has built social spaces into her online courses and is having some individual calls with students. She is sending a message that she is there for them. Aimee sees this as preparing students for future, ongoing success. I think her approach is a model for coaches to be considering in their work with teachers.
Jim Knight also took part in the SimplyCoaching Quarantine Edition and shared the importance of coaches leading with questions. His suggested question was, “Given the time we have today, what would be most important to you?”
Pre-Coronavirus I concluded a blog with these quotes. They seem very appropriate and maybe even more important today.
Care – “Having a personality of caring about people is important. You can’t be a good leader unless you generally like people. That is how you bring out the best in them.” (Richard Branson)
Vulnerability – “When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.” (Madeline L’Engle)
Trust – “Trusting someone doesn’t mean trusting that they won’t screw up, because they will, as you will. You simply trust them to do their best before, during, and after.” (Bruce Deel)
I’ll explore more similarities in the next few blogs. Up next- keep the focus on LEARNING.