We know the number one priority for every instructional coach is relationships: building them, maintaining them, and making them at the forefront of what we do.

And every school year brings us closer to having those deep professional conversations with more and more of our colleagues as we build on the year before.

We also know that sometimes it’s easy to build coaching relationships, and sometimes it’s a little more challenging. This blog post (and upcoming 5 Min Friday video) was inspired by a question in our #coachbetter Facebook group: “How do you build relationships with ALL teachers? Even those that are resistant to coaching?” Today’s post, and this Friday’s video will highlight 6 strategies that can help you push forward, not just with the easy connections, but also with the ones you need to work on over time!

In addition to the question in our FB group, we recently conducted a survey of instructional coaches, and the results showed that one of the top challenges was working with teachers who are reluctant to be coached. We know that even though some teachers may be reluctant now, it usually just means they’re not quite ready yet.

It’s important to remember that those teachers that are not quite ready to work with you may see you as a representation of change, so it may not be about you (or even about coaching) at all. It might be about their concerns over the unknown changes that this coaching may bring.

As we share these 6 strategies below, you’ll see that the first three are your foundation for relationship building, and they are a good place to start with all teachers. The second three are more targeted towards those teachers that you perceive to be reluctant to be coached.

Let’s get started!

6 Strategies to Build Coaching Relationships with ALL Teachers

1. Make (or Find) a Personal Connection

Coaching isn’t exclusively about teaching and learning. It’s about relationships. Even if we stand on opposite sides of an educational debate, or we find ourselves disagreeing at faculty meetings with a specific colleague that we need to coach, teaching likely isn’t the only thing we’re passionate about. So look for opportunities for personal connections to build a personal relationship. It doesn’t need to have anything to do with school. Maybe you both like running, or traveling or peanut butter! Whatever it is, find a personal connection that can help you open the door to conversation.

Once you start having conversations about something non-school related, you might find you have more in common than you think. Those personal connections and ongoing conversation builds trust. Over time, you can begin to take the trust into the educational field and start talking about teaching and learning too. Don’t rush it! But once you have a personal connection, your teaching colleague will likely start to see you more as an individual than a representation of change.

2. Validate and Respect Their Concerns

One of the biggest challenges in being a coach is your enthusiasm for the content you’re coaching can sometimes make it hard to see the legitimate concerns of teachers. In your passion for your curricular area, you may not be able to imagine what the resistance could be.

If there is a teacher who is resistant to be coached and you know they have specific concerns about it, approach them, seek out their opinions, listen to their concerns and discuss them with respect. It might be that they misunderstand the goal or it might be that they have a legitimate concern. Either way, the important part is to have a genuine conversation.

Once teachers feel they have been heard, they will be more likely to listen in return (side note, this goes for all different areas of life, not just coaching!). If your conversation goes well, you can ask for permission (or state outright) to question their concerns, and be clear when you’re offering contradictory thinking. I often say things like “I have a contradictory thought, can I share it with you?” or if we have a good rapport, something more like “brace yourself, I’m about to offer a controversial opinion”.

These conversations might get a little heated, so it’s critical to be aware of the emotions in the room – as you’re managing your emotions, you need to be sensitive to those of the colleague you’re trying to coach. In our upcoming #coachbetter podcast and Spotlight episode with James MacDonald, Senior Vice President of Education at GEMS Education, he talks about the impressive skill (and value) of coaches who can manage the emotions in the room, often called Emotional Intelligence.

3. Be Available / Be Visible

As we all know, teaching is incredibly busy. In our #coachbetter conversations with teachers (especially those who used to be coaches), the number one thing they reflect on is just how much busier they are than they remember from when before they were coaches! They often wish the coaches would just come to them, rather than expecting that teachers have time to schedule and attend meetings.

We might not be able to always be in a teachers classroom just when they need us, but we can:

  • Hang out in the teachers lounge during break.
  • Have lunch in wherever teachers eat.
  • Walk the hallways and pop into classrooms before or after school.
  • Schedule classroom walkthroughs when teachers are actually available for a chat.
  • Do pop-in observations with teachers who are interested in your support and feedback.

The key here is to see teachers, and be seen by teachers. Be part of their environment rather than forcing them to be part of yours. In essence, you are doing what they need, rather than what you think they need.

4. Find Their Superpower & Appreciate It

Every teacher has something they are amazing at! It may not be something you prioritize, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important to them, or to their students. Find that thing that this colleague does extremely well and let them know you noticed! If you have an opportunity (and they would be receptive to it), you might even find a way to share this amazing superpower with other teachers. To demonstrate that there are great things happening in every classroom – even if they aren’t working with you (yet!)

If you think this teacher would benefit from some validation of their teaching expertise, and perhaps that could be one of the reasons they are reluctant to be coached, you can also use this as an opportunity to be a learner. Sometimes teachers are reluctant to be coached because they see you as an “expert” and they are intimidated. This is a chance to be vulnerable and ask for them to teach you something they are great at. If you demonstrate your willingness to be a learner, they might also be willing to do the same with your content area too!

5. Respect Their Style & Expertise

This is a tough one. Sometimes there are teachers that are already doing pretty much exactly what you would coach them on, but they are still reluctant to work with you. It can be hard to tell why they wouldn’t want to work with you, because you might feel you already see eye-to-eye. But, there could be other reasons that just are not apparent to you.

In this case you might want to simply recognize and respect their style and their wishes to “just get on with it”. Not everyone wants to be in the spotlight, not everyone wants to push every boundary. If they’re already making things happen in their classroom and they don’t want to do that in collaboration with a coach, that might be ok. In essence, try not to mess with what’s already working.

By giving them some distance, and continuing to work with others, you might be able to build a curiosity about the value of working with you, and allow them to come to you – instead of you always pushing in to them.

6. Connect With a Friend or Trusted Colleague

This is my most strategic suggestions in this list. If you have tried everything else and nothing has worked, this is my next step. Every teacher at school has at least one friend or trusted colleague. Instead of trying to work directly with the resistant teacher, find their friend or colleague that you know can open the door for you and work with them. Don’t let them know that you’re doing this to gain access to their friend, because likely both colleagues will benefit from your coaching, just start building a relationship.

The goal here is to build trust via networking. It’s likely that you will always struggle to work with the resistant teacher in this scenario, but you might be able to influence their classroom practice through a friend. Of course, you can extrapolate this out through layers of friends if you’re really struggling too. This is a long term strategy, and only works if you really know the interpersonal relationships of the teachers on your staff.

Final Thoughts

There you have it! 6 strategies for working with all teachers. From the open minded, to the least likely to be interested in working with a coach! 

If you try any of these strategies let us know! If you have your own tried and true strategies, please share with us in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you!

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