No matter how many coaching conversations you’ve had, there are always opportunities to improve and refine your coaching practice.
As we look back at the many coaching conversations we’ve had, we have identified our top 5 most important elements that we think are essential for every conversation. Read them below and then let us know – do you agree? Are these your top five? Or would you put something else on the list before one of these items?
Perhaps the most important tip today. Once size doesn’t fit all in a coaching relationship. It’s not a conveyor belt where teachers walk through your office and you conduct the same meeting again and again but with different people each time. Every conversation, every collaboration needs to be customized for each teacher.
As experienced teachers, we all know how much teachers have to prep for each class and we have to prep as coaches too! As we mentioned in our last blog post, part of this prep is getting to know each teacher individually, and getting to know them so well that you can almost anticipate their needs, as Carrie Zimmer mentions in our recent #coachbetter SPOTLIGHT episode.
To make this happen, you will likely have to do some pre-planning and pre-thinking about how this conversation could be personalized for this teacher. If you know they love stopping for coffee, suggest a meeting over coffee. If you know they’re stretched extra thin, make sure you make the meeting time and location convenient for them and be very focused with your time management during the meeting. If you know they prefer to get away from their classroom for a meeting to be able to focus, invite them to your space or a shared space like the library. Ultimately, every conversation shouldn’t be exactly the same. The more you put into it, the more you get out of it.
We don’t want our coaching conversations to feel like an assembly line. We do want our teaching colleagues to feel respected, valued and understood. We can do that by prepping for each meeting, so that the teacher feels like you really thought about them as an individual. Ideally we want them to have that moment of “yes! My coach understands me and my needs!” every time you meet.
The role of the instructional coach can be different in different schools, and many teachers have worked with a variety of coaches in their careers. This means that there are many different interpretations of exactly what coaches do. To make sure that both you and the teacher are on the same page, it’s important to set the groundwork for your conversation.
There are a couple of elements that might be worth clarifying, including:
It’s a good idea to make sure you’re both on the same page before realizing later that you and the teacher had different ideas about where the conversation was going to go.
Good questions to ask set the groundwork for the conversation include:
To have an effective coaching conversation, it’s important to allow the teacher to be the focus. This means we have to listen more than we talk. It can be difficult sometimes to not jump in and offer advice or suggest a solution or strategy, but it’s more important to get a better understanding both of what the teacher needs and what kinds of solutions they already have from their own experience.
A majority of your coaching conversation should be listening to the person you’re working with. To help stay focused (and to clarify) on what the teacher is saying (rather than listening to the voice in your own head or thinking about what you might want to say next), you can try paraphrasing what the teacher has said before continuing your conversation.
As you listen, you might also consider asking some questions like:
One of the key ways coaching can fail is if we view our role as fixing the teacher. That’s not what coaching is about. Coaching is about understanding a teachers needs and goals and walking the path with them to take their next steps.
Therefore, one of the aspects of having a successful coaching conversation and relationship with a teacher relies on that person knowing you’re not evaluating them. This is important to help encourage further conversations with teachers. It can be hard to remember in the moment, when you are so enthusiastic about what a teacher is sharing, but even positive feedback, such as “great idea,” is still evaluating their progress. Try using non-evaluative language as much as possible by focusing on student learning outcomes.
Along these lines, a great way to ensure you’re not evaluating and to help empower the teachers you work with, you can promote a growth mindset, by using phrases like:
One of my personal pet peeves is when, at the end of a meeting, there is no closure or follow up. It can feel like you just spent a solid chunk of time with no tangible outcomes or actions – and even worse, you are usually thinking about all the other things you could have done with your time. Don’t let that happen to the teachers you coach!
At the end of each meeting, make sure to take a few minutes for closure and setting next steps. Usually this means that both the teacher and the coach have action items based on the day’s conversation. This is also gives you a perfect opportunity to set the next meeting – to follow up on these tasks. Plus, it gives you a clear focus for your next meeting too!
At this time, it’s also nice to take just a moment to allow the teacher to reflect on the conversation. To help them recognize and articulate that the time spent in a coaching conversation was valuable for them. You can ask simple questions like:
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