Teachers’ Expectations of Coaching | Steve Barkley

Teachers’ Expectations of Coaching

I recently posted this statement on Twitter and received more likes and retweets than my posts generally receive:

Teachers engaging in peer or instructional coaching isn’t adding to their plates. It’s supporting them with what’s on the plate that can best impact student learning. Critical for teacher agency.

you matter phrase handwritten on school blackboard

In an earlier blog, Empowering Plate Redesign, I described that while a focus on taking things off of teacher’s responsibilities (second-order work) was important, assisting teachers in focusing on teaching that builds satisfaction was equally critical. I described the need to engage teachers in conversations where they can identify what brings the most joy in teaching. Then, encouraging, supporting, and designing for more teachers to focus time in those areas.

Where do teachers find their moments of greatest satisfaction teaching? What can we as leaders do to generate a greater likelihood of those moments occurring? Adam Grant, speaking about overcoming the languishing impact from COVID describes our need to sense ‘mattering’; knowing that we make a difference in other people’s lives. Mattering can lead to peak experiences. Coaching experiences should increase one’s recognition of mattering.

Here are some responses that appeared on Twitter and my pondering responses.

What a great way to reframe the experience! I’ll be sharing this way of thinking with all who will listen!

Reframing is a phrase that I often employ in coaching as well as in problem-solving. Change frequently requires looking at an issue from a different viewpoint. Heather Lyon highlighted this in a blog Reframing Change.

When people hear about change, there is a mindset of uncertainty and discomfort; when people want change, however, there is a mindset of desire and longing (in which case the word change could be synonymous with “improvements”). In fact, change is often very much wanted and valued.

I have pushed reframing coaching to be seen as something teachers deserve rather than need. Coaches can work from pictures of a teacher’s desired future for her students.

“Except when it’s taking place during the time we normally would be doing other required things…meaning those things get pushed to our unpaid time. Sincere question: are you in a k-12 classroom currently?’

I am not currently in a K-12 classroom. Leaders supporting the generation of time options for coaching and teacher collaboration is important. Teachers working as team members often can create that time for each other. All my teaching years were spent in schools that had heavy peer coaching models in place along with teachers’ shared responsibility for student success. Those experiences are what led to my last 35 years being focused on supporting schools in providing those experiences to more teachers. The complexity of teaching has dramatically increased across my years in education and COVID has multiplied that complexity.

Teaching needs to be a team sport.

But what do you do with the teachers that call this, “Busy work?” I struggle with this as a new building leader so I’m legitimately looking for insight.”

If teachers are seeing working with the coach as “busy work,” the coaching is missing being driven by the teacher’s agenda. Coaching needs to uncover the teacher’s desire for something that she wants to happen that isn’t happening now. This could be reaching a single student or finding ways to generate more time for individual conferences with kids. My phrase for this is the teacher’s agenda. In an earlier blog, Coaching Conversations: Uncovering Teachers’ Agendas, I wrote: “Coaching conversations, where the teacher’s agenda emerges and develops over time, increase understanding, build trust, and promote vulnerability and risk-taking. The teacher’s agenda includes the beliefs, values, and thinking behind the teacher’s decision-making.” (The blog includes sample questions for exploring agendas)

A building leader should work with the instructional coach to define the roles of coaching for staff. Sometimes a coach’s tasks can be described more as mentoring or even close to supervision. These roles can provide value. The key is for the teacher to recognize that more of a “peer” coaching element is available. In this case, the teacher receiving the coaching is totally in charge.

This video clip helps define those roles.

ONLY when it is done correctly. I have learned that the IC position is about listening and supporting. It is much like a counseling position: a distinct specialty. It takes distinct, special skills to be effective. The role must be understood.

This comment certainly connects with my experiences. Across all my years in coaching, I have increasingly learned the need to keep sharpening listening skills. This includes hearing what isn’t said and paying attention to body language and voice tone. My wife has recently completed a degree in counseling, and we have had many connecting conversations around her counseling training and coaching training.

When I have the opportunity to coach coaches, my understanding of the need to slow down and listen effectively as a coach is reinforced. I believe that often a coach’s desire to be “helpful” has one looking for a solution or an improvement to move toward and thus missing hearing things that are important to the coachee. This can create an understanding gap. Following the teacher’s thinking can increase the teacher’s reflection and vulnerability leading to insight and growth.

Listening is a way of offering others our scarcest, most precious gift: our attention.

Adam Grant

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