Podcast: Building and Earning Trust as a Coach - Steve Barkley

Podcast: Building and Earning Trust as a Coach

As teachers’ relationships with those providing coaching grow from a foundation of trust, teacher vulnerability and risk-taking increase which positively impacts teacher growth. I had an earlier opportunity to explore earning trust and building trust with Jonathan Mueller, an experienced international school leader. He shares that when you can build rapport through unconditional positive regard with somebody, it helps build and continues to earn trust with people. Here are questions teacher have of a coach: Do you appreciate and value me? Can you help me? Can I trust you? Unconditional positive regard for people as human beings is an excellent way to start.

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Podcast Transcript:

[00:00:00.270] – Steve [Intro]

Welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. As instructional coaches and school leaders, you have a challenge to guide continuous teacher growth that promotes student success. This podcast looks to support you with strategies from our experienced guests and insights that I’ve gathered across many years. I’m thrilled you’re here. Thanks for listening.

[00:00:26.760] – Steve

Building and earning trust as a coach. As teachers’ relationships with those who are providing coaching grow from a foundation of trust, teacher vulnerability and risk-taking increases, and that positively impacts teacher growth. I had an opportunity to explore earning and building trust with Jonathan Mueller, an experienced international School leader. Jonathan is currently the Primary Years Program Coordinator at Khaust School in Saudi Arabia, and he previously served as PYP Coordinator, Coach, and Vice Principal at the Western Academy of Beijing, China. Having read one of Jonathan’s blogs about trust, I asked him to describe the terms, “building trust” and “earning trust.”

[00:01:32.660] – Jonathan

So I think building trust and earning trust, they are two sides of the same coin. Both take patience and hard work. Building trust, I see as the foundation. When I think of earning trust, though, it’s something that really needs to be done continually over time. And I see earning trust as the currency. And earning trust happens when you follow through on what you say you’re going to do. If trust isn’t built with others, getting people to support you, be vulnerable, invite you in to support them, add value to them, and help them grow is going to be extremely difficult as a coach. So as a coach, building trust with integrity is a fundamental aspect of good coaching as well as leadership. And it’s important to understand that a strong foundation isn’t a luxury. It isn’t something that’s just nice to have. Also, I think of building trust as a way to get people’s positive attention. People buy from people that they trust, but earning trust and continuing to earn trust turns that attention into action.

[00:02:34.410] – Steve

In the piece that you wrote, you talked about unconditional positive regard. How does that fit into this trust process and trust as an outcome?

[00:02:46.050] – Jonathan

Yeah. So when I was looking at ways to frame the article and looking at different ways that I can start building a culture of trust, one of the things that I came across was this theory of, as you said, unconditional positive regard. So the psychologist, Carl Rogers, he published this theory in 1957. Essentially, what it involves is showing complete acceptance and support for another person, regardless of where they may be in their lives, what they say or do, and what emotions they may be expressing. So it really means caring for someone as a separate person. And when this happens, it’s a great build. It’s a great bridge for a coach to build a culture of trust with people. That it’s not about just what you can do for the organization or what you can do for students. It’s going in with the mindset of that, I value you and appreciate you as a human being. And when you can build that rapport through unconditional positive regard with somebody, it really helps build and continue to earn that trust with people because they feel that you value them. So in the coaching process and the people and colleagues that that I work with, essentially when I’m able to have the opportunity to work with them, they’re showing vulnerability and essentially asking me three questions.

[00:04:09.190] – Jonathan

Do you appreciate and value me? Can you help me? And can I trust you? And I think having unconditional positive regard for people as human beings is an excellent way to start. And that’s really how it connects to building an earning trust.

[00:04:25.130] – Steve

So the phrase that I frequently use, even if I connect it back to teachers looking at students and then school leaders and coaches looking at teachers, the phrase for me is knowing, that I need to know people in order to build that positive connection. I think I’m hearing that in what you’re describing. I describe the fact that we need to know our students and the students need to know that we know. I sense the same thing in my coaching relationships, that the person knows that I know them, I know about them, and that knowing them drives decisions and things that I’m doing within my work, just the way a student… I describe the fact that I want students to know the teacher works for them. They don’t work for the teacher. The teacher works for them. It’s their goals that are trying to be achieved. So very much as a coach, I want to convince the teacher, I’m working for you. We’re going to find out about the goals and the things that you want to achieve, and that’s what’s going to drive the work that I do.

[00:05:44.420] – Jonathan

Yeah, Absolutely. I think that’s one of the things that in starting off a coaching relationship and having that intake session, just having the opportunity where it’s like, we’re going to get to goal setting and we’re going to get to all that. Let’s just have a conversation. What drives you? What do you love to do? What is it about the certain people that you love that make them important to you? How do you believe that trust should be built with people? What is it that I can do to support you the best? And if you are able to do that with people and show that I’m here to serve you, I’m here to add value to you, and my only agenda is for you to be successful in whatever it is that you want to learn about and get better at. This is a really equal partnership. And I’m here to support you as best that I can. Yeah, it’s absolutely right. That just goes into showing people that they know that you care about them and them realizing, you know what? This person sees potential, and they’re here to help me. And I know that they’re going to give me their best effort, so now I’m going to give them mine.

[00:06:55.540] – Steve

I then asked Jonathan if he could provide some initial steps steps or practices for folks who are either new to coaching or experienced coaches who might be moving to a new school setting.

[00:07:11.640] – Jonathan

Yeah, I think a big thing is making sure that you talk to people about what your role is and that is, I’m not here to evaluate. I would love to have the opportunity to come in and just support you. And also, if you give me that I need to come in, I like to tell people that I work with, too, you might find this interesting, you might find this a little weird because you haven’t had the opportunity to engage in the coaching process before. But if you’re looking for me to do some type of observation, I’m just going to come in and look for the good. I like to do that the same as even if I’m not working in an instructional coaching capacity, but working with teams and building team dynamics. I want to help I hope you guys get better. I don’t have all of the answers, but I can come in and give you a different lens. And I just want to come in for the first one or two sessions and see the good things that you guys do in terms of working together as a team. That helps build that element of trust, either, where I’m not being judged and then sharing back, you guys do a great job at X, Y, and Z, and being timely, specific with that feedback.

[00:08:18.630] – Jonathan

Now, what are some things that you guys think that you would like to explore as a team? Or through that, with what I observed in your practice, what did you feel didn’t go the way that you wanted it to? Is that something you might want to explore?

[00:08:40.080] – Steve

There’s a caution I’d toss out there for new coaches, and that is, if I’m coming in to look for what’s exciting, I think you use the term what’s good, the critical part is to get people to tell you what that is before you go looking. That way it allows you to stay out of the evaluative role. If I come in and decide what’s good, I actually ended up entering into the evaluative role. But if you tell me what it is that causes you to be successful with this group of kids, and I can come in and look for what it was that you told me, and I can reinforce that, I find that builds that initial trust that they’re willing to risk. And then I can add a few more things to the list because I was able to first find what they said was important.

[00:09:41.200] – Jonathan

Absolutely. I also think, too, that if you come in with a, I’m going to look for the bad, it’s almost like me as the coach saying, I’m the expert, and I’m here to fix you. Teachers don’t necessarily need fixing. I don’t think there’s any harsher critic on a teacher than the critic themselves. They know where they want to improve, and it’s, hey, let’s get there together, and let’s make this fun in the process as well.

[00:10:07.920] – Steve

I’ve also found for new coaches that my beginning coaching sessions being built more around what it is the teacher is getting the kids to do and then backdooring from the kids really dug into that activity or the kids really got excited as you shared that piece of information. What do you think caused that to happen? And then it’s almost I can get the teacher to tell me why they’re being successful, and then I can reinforce those strengths that they laid out to me, and that allows me to take it another step further.

[00:10:55.280] – Jonathan

Yeah, absolutely. The coaching process, I think I describe it as curiosity curiosity, having a party. And when you’re working with those teachers and really getting into that first time, asking those questions, why do you think it works so well? They’re going to start figuring it out for their own. And you just see that brain working. And it’s almost like you catch a bug when you ask really, really good questions and then you see teachers thinking through it and actually coming up with their own responses. And it’s like, oh, yeah, I got this figured out. It’s almost like as you’re figuring out yourself and you see the excitement in them. It’s like seeing a light bulb on for a student when you’re a classroom teacher as well. It’s really cool. Love it.

[00:11:33.620] – Steve

It’s that same smile that I get to make when a teacher looks at me and says, “oh, that’s really a good question.” And then they got to pause before they respond. And you know that they’ve really gotten into what the real process is now. Because the real process is about what they figure out much more than anything that comes out of what we might tell them.

[00:11:58.490] – Jonathan


[00:11:59.810] – Steve

Jonathan, I’m wondering if you might have a story about some missteps or mistakes that have occurred for you in building trust and maybe how you worked around those.

[00:12:15.430] – Jonathan

Definitely one, I would say that at the beginning – when I first went into the role, I actually wasn’t necessarily sure what the role was, what it entailed. I’ve had to do a lot of learning over the last three to four years to really figure out what it means to be a coach. So I think that putting the goals of the organization ahead of the people. It took me time to figure out this idea of unconditional positive regard and appreciating people. And I moved from the classroom into the coaching role. And it’s like, all of a sudden, something switched for a little bit, where it’s like, I’m not in that anymore. How could I so quickly forget at the difficulty of the job? So that was one. The other one is consistency. I don’t think there’s a harder job than being a teacher or a harder career than being a teacher and working with kids and helping this learn. I don’t think there’s a more rewarding one either. And we all have good days and bad days. So as a coach, it’s really important that I maintain consistency in how I work with people in that the quality of the day cannot be the dictator of how I work, serve, and value others at all.

[00:13:24.640] – Jonathan

Continuing to have that passion and that compassion with and for people and showing showing that empathy and showing your appreciation with words and actions that people are valued, walking slowly through the crowd, asking for thoughts and opinions, and I really need to put my ego in check as well. I talk with people about, we need to drop our egos and work together, and yet I would find mine hiding in my back pocket. I could pull out when I wanted to. And it’s like, that wasn’t okay. So it was like aligning my actions with what I was saying.

[00:14:07.660] – Steve

It’s tough to hear a teacher’s resistance, perhaps to a direction that the system is headed in and not personalize it. And the real power of the coach comes from the ability to listen and think it through with the teacher. But as soon as it smacks at my ego, that becomes increasingly difficult.

[00:14:38.380] – Jonathan

I also think going back to the idea of somebody getting defensive or digging their heels in. It took me a while to realize that that is because of a lack of trust and rapport. So really internally processing that and being like, okay, I got some pushback here. I didn’t think that I was doing anything, being too bold or being too directive, but there was something that happened. So then going back to those conversations and just saying, hey, we’re here to work together. If I did something that caused that lack of trust or made you feel less valued, can you please tell me what that is? Because I want this relationship to work because we’re all on the same team. We’re all doing the best we can. And being willing to have that conversation and showing that vulnerability first, being the truster.

[00:15:32.960] – Steve

It’s actually the piece of asking for coaching on your coaching. So if you can begin to build into the process those times where you stop and create the opportunity for the person that you’re providing the coaching to, to provide coaching feedback back to you on the process, which again, we’re modeling exactly where we want to be with students. So the teacher’s ability to get coaching from the kids on what I could do differently here that would make my work of greater value to you as students. As a coach, I want to be in the same spot with teacher.

[00:16:13.260] – Jonathan


[00:16:14.270] – Steve

There’s another piece that you tugged for me when you talked about consistency. I would really reinforce that term, and then I’d stick another word with it, and that’s flexibility. So In the classroom, I’m looking for the teacher to be consistent and flexible, which means the kids know they can count on the teacher’s consistency, but also the teacher has the ability to be flexible when the need arises. And I think that in that coaching relationship, teachers can be looking for the same thing. I know I can count on Jonathan to do this, this, and this. I also know that Jonathan has got a bit of flexibility which says his agenda doesn’t trump the teacher’s agenda.

[00:17:07.300] – Jonathan

Yeah, absolutely. I think it also touches upon the importance of… coaching essentially is like staying in a dance with somebody, right? And feeling it out and where they want to go and making the right steps and asking the right questions to help guide each other. And a lot of what comes with that is competence as well. You can be as kind and caring as anyone and build that trust at the beginning. But if you’re not consistent and competent as a coach either, others won’t trust you and buy into you as a coach. I think this is when earning trust really starts to take hold. You show your competency by doing what you say you will be doing and doing it successfully. Competence is about a high-quality delivery, and part of that is having the flexibility to adjust to what the teachers need in time.

[00:17:57.580] – Steve

Jonathan’s views match up some new exploration I’ve been doing around the importance of mattering. When students know that they matter to their teachers and peers, a sense of belonging and self-worth positively impacts their learning and well-being. Now, the same is true for teachers. When colleagues, administrators, and coaches communicate mattering, teaching improves and positively impacts student learning. This is illustrated in the title of a book by Will Fang and Dolan, “Ensuring Teachers Matter: Where to Focus First, So Students Matter Most.” Be sure as a leader coaching others, to identify your coach whose trust builds your sense of mattering. I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions around building and earning trust in coaching. You can always connect with me at barkleypd.com. Thanks for listening.

[00:19:12.100] – Steve [Outro]

Thanks for listening, folks. I’d love to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter or LinkedIn at Steve Barkley, or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.

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