In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, Steve looks at the characteristics of effective helpers and their connections to coaching.
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Steve [Intro]: 00:25 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley ponders Out Loud podcast. For over three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with educators at all levels, both nationally and internationally. I invite you to listen as I explore my thoughts and learning on a variety of topics connected to teaching, learning, and leading with some of the best and brightest educators from around the globe. Thanks for listening in.
Steve: 00:52 Five characteristics of effective helpers. My wife, Michelle, is a successful school administrator, having developed her own strong coaching skills and having created a culture of coaching in two different school buildings. Michelle is currently completing a master’s degree in counseling and engaged in one of her recent courses, she suggested that I take a look at her text because she was identifying elements in her studies that she thought connected quite strongly to coaching. The text is titled “Learning The Art of Helping: Building Blocks and Techniques” and the author is Mark Young. I’ll provide the rest of the details for the book in the lead-in to this podcast. It didn’t take me long – within the first 20 pages, I came across one of the first elements that I thought would be great to share in this podcast. The author, having studied many writers and researchers’ work on identifying people who are successful helpers narrowed his thinking down to five critical characteristics, which I’ll outline in this blog and comment on how I see the connections with coaching.
Steve: 02:25 The first characteristic is that an effective helper has a positive and accepting view of other people. “He or she accepts people who are different from him or herself, and is not judgmental about other people’s lifestyles, values, cultures, and religions. He or she wants to help others and believes that people have the desire to change. The help or must be able to communicate his or her non-judgmental attitude as well as warmth and caring.” I’ve done previous podcast and blogs concerning the importance of a coach uncovering teachers’ beliefs and value systems, uncovering what teachers identify as important contributions that they want to make to their students and then finding ways to recognize and appreciate that attribute. I might use the term personalize it.
Steve: 03:43 My finding after having worked with tons of educators over the past 40 years is that deep down inside, every teacher wants his or her students to be successful. And at times the teachers are dealing with difficulties, their tone and body posture and even their words might suggest something else to you as a coach. You might deal with actual rejection coming from a teacher to your coaching role. And I’ve always found that if I can step back and know that that element, that desire is there on the part of the teacher, it makes it easier for me to proceed. I believe the number of cases where that belief in value of wanting the best for students isn’t present – I believe the percentage is so small that your coaching work occurs best if you just assume as you begin to work with a person that that value is there even if it’s not early recognizable.
Steve: 05:02 The second characteristic identified is that the effective helper has good self esteem and is him or herself a secure and mentally healthy person. “They are able to examine themselves critically. They have the courage to look at themselves under a microscope and can separate helping the client from boosting the ego of the helper. They make reflection and personal growth part of their lifestyles.” Whenever I’m asked what are some of the criteria that administrators should be considering when they’re interviewing and hiring people as instructional coaches, I put on the top of the list, the desire to learn. In an interview, a prospective coach who talks about seeing this opportunity as a great way of enhancing their personal learning is a much stronger candidate for me than the person who is overly excited about everything that they’ve already learned and anxious to pass that learning on to others.
Steve: 06:15 I describe frequently that the coach should be the most coached person in the building and that’s an element of vulnerability that should be modeled by the coach so that teachers recognizing that the coach is just as likely to ask the teacher for feedback as they are to provide feedback to the teacher. One way that some coaches build this into their repertoire is to continually make asking the teacher for feedback on their coaching, part of wrapping up a a post conferencing session. Taking that time to say, what did you find in the way that I provided coaching to be helpful and effective and what thoughts or suggestions do you have as to how I can increase my effectiveness as we continue our coaching relationship? In my coaching work, I tend to avoid using the word help unless the teacher uses it first. If the teacher says, “Steve, can you help me with this?”
Steve: 07:38 Then I’m likely to respond to be anxious to be helpful. But I avoid being the person to introduce that word help because the word itself can suggest a stronger person in a position to help someone less strong and there’s probably greater value in the teacher seeing a partnership so that the provision of feedback from coach to teacher and teacher to coach can both be effective. The third criteria that Young presents is that the effective helper has good self-care skill. The effective coach has techniques for dealing with stress management, time management, relaxation, leisure and personal self renewal. Important that the coach have those people in his or her lives that allow them that renewal space. Impossible for the coach to be providing the support that colleagues need if he or she is not having their own needs met. Just like the teacher who becomes emotionally stressed is not in a position to be providing the environment that students need within the classroom.
Steve: 09:06 The fourth criteria suggests that the effective helper is both creative and intellectually competent. “A renaissance person who appreciates both the science and the art of helping. The effective helper has specialized knowledge of human relationships, human motivation, and human development and understands how to create change. They have an insatiable curiosity to learn and grow in their skills and knowledge.” I truly believe that part of my strength as a coach comes from my curiosity, my amazement about the teaching and learning process. Years back, I read an article describing Larry King, the interviewer and the first part of the article – they ask other interviewers why Larry King was successful. And they described that he didn’t go into interviews looking to trap people. He went in and in open ended listening, found people anxious to tell stories that at the start of the interview, they did not have a plan in sharing.
Steve: 10:35 But the latter part of the article – they asked Larry King why he was successful. And his answer was curiosity. He said, “Curiosity didn’t kill this cat. It made him wealthy.” He described that he just had a general unique interest in the stories of the people whom he interviewed. And I find that true in my work as a coach. There’s just so many times that as I engage with the teacher in an in depth look at what the teacher wants to have students do, experience, process during a learning activity and how the teacher plans his or her behaviors to cause those student behaviors. How the teacher considers options that might need to be implemented based on the responses that she gets. And then going into a post-conference where the teacher is reflecting on what happened and most importantly, what did the teacher learn during the teaching learning activity and how can one move ahead with that?
Steve: 11:56 I’m always recommending to new coaches if they will just allow their natural curiosity, their natural excitement for how learning occurs and the role of the teacher in that process, that curiosity combined with intent listening, really magnifies the value of coaching conversations. The fifth characteristic that Young identified was that of courage. He identifies two facets of courage. The first one is the ability to listen, “unflinchingly” is the word that he posed and I like that. There may be times where the picture the teacher is painting of students or of the classroom can be an unnerving one to the coach. The teacher’s perhaps a disgruntled disagreement with the system or even with his or her engagement in the coaching process themselves can require a coach to hold back from jumping in, especially if you’re feeling defensive and truly listen through everything that the teacher you’re working with has to say.
Steve: 13:29 And the second element of courage that he identifies is found in the need to be willing to take risk and action without the security that some of the other sciences offer. “Because human behavior is relatively unpredictable, effective helpers must have the courage to help in situations of uncertainty.” I like those words because it for me really matches the image of teaching. What part of teaching is science and what part of teaching is art? How do I look at effective teaching practices? How do I look at the best research practices and still know that I can’t guarantee how a student is going to respond and working with that unpredictable and that case of uncertainty is in my mind, part of the magic of being a teacher and the idea that the same is reflected in working as a coach. A coach knowing that a process, a strategy that you successfully used in coaching two or three people you find not being effective as you’re working with the next teacher and that willingness to perhaps at times fly without a net to uncover what will allow the teacher you’re coaching to reach his or her success areas.
Steve: 15:28 While these characteristics are part of what it is that a coach calls upon to be a giver of the gift of coaching, I suggest that the gift of coaching comes back to the person providing the coaching as deeply and as richly as it’s provided to the person receiving. Matter of fact, now, as I say that, I think at times it’s even greater. Similar to the teacher, often learning the most back in the classroom. Hope you found some things to ponder in this podcast. Thanks for listening.
Steve [Outro]: 16:16 Thanks again for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean and please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.