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What Challenges do Coaches Face?

As I was reflecting on my coaching practice, I thought about some of the points mentioned by Jill Jackson in her article “4 Steps to Your Successful Coaching Model“. Her advice definitely resonates with my experience in my first year of coaching. However, I do disagree somewhat with her second point: Know Your Content. While “Knowing your Content” definitely provides credibility, I think if we are to help teachers become more independent in the classroom, we cannot be seen as the only expert. I can actually vouch for having more credibility with teachers by being in classrooms working with students, rather than in my office researching and looking stuff up. Both are important and you need to make time for each, but in your first year I definitely think face-to-face interactions count for more than simply being an expert.

Last year, my biggest fear was someone asking me something I had no idea about, and I realised that was silly. Of course I couldn’t know absolutely everything EdTech related! This year I’ve adopted more of a growth mindset approach when teachers ask for help. Occasionally I will, in their presence, say “I’m not sure, let me find out”, then Google the very question they are asking, so they can see how easy it is to find answers online. I’m open to letting them know that their question is a good one, and something I don’t know out about, but that the answer is within easy reach (usually via a youtube ‘how to’ video). I remember one time doing this and the teacher abashedly saying, “Oh I guess I could have done that too”. Since I’ve modelled this basic approach, I’ve noticed a slight drop in requests for basic IT support (creating new folders in Google Drive; Uploading a Youtube video to Blogger etc.) However, only about 10% of the teachers I work with have taken initiative in finding the answers.

This video, Thought Leadership, demonstrates the importance of focusing coaching time on the ‘middle carriage’ to encourage movement towards the ‘front carriage’. Modelling a growth mindset for teachers is one way to help them feel comfortable with the unknown, and hopefully encourage them to be tech problem-solvers themselves. An example of this happened last week when one PreK teacher approached me and said she had been drafting her fourth email of the day to me asking for blogger support when she remembered me googling to find answers. She had been trying to remove ‘recommended videos’ from the youtube videos she embedded on her blog. She proudly told me that she found a youtube tutorial video and after watching it all the way through was able to solve the problem. She was another teacher who just last year was a self-proclaimed ‘tech phobe’ with no understanding of computers. I definitely wouldn’t advocate ‘Googling’ as a primary focus for coaching, but I do believe modelling a certain level of comfort with the unknown, will help promote a growth mindset in teachers. As the Brain Pickings article describes:

“A growth mindset…thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.”

Throughout the Eduro coaching course, I attempted to differentiate between the 3 main coaching models: Cognitive, Instructional, and Peer Coaching. Considering my current coaching context I think the most effective approach so far has been a Cognitive Coaching model. My role as a coach is still fairly ‘new’ in the school, and just getting teachers comfortable using iPads in the classroom has been my main focus. For this reason, a model promoting “teacher autonomy, the ability to self-monitor, self-analyse, and self-evaluate” (ASCD Reflections on Cognitive Coaching), fits best for most teachers who are still in the so-called middle of the carriage.

A personal anecdote using Cognitive Coaching:

Mrs.Y and I had our second meeting this week and referring back to our original Google Doc meeting minutes was an effective way to start. Before meeting, I went over some of the topics we’d covered and also the action we’d agreed to take. We both realised many of the tasks are more long-term and so very little had happened since we last met. The one item that Mrs.Y was able to take initiative on was creating a google doc for iPad App revision. We have agreed that she will send this out to her team to complete at their next collaborative planning meeting, and then feed back to me.

We also revisited her plan for introducing the My Story app, and I asked again about what the process would look like for drafting their Public Spaces eBook. I helped her download Keri-Lee Beasley’s Design Secrets Revealed eBook, outlining the CARP Design Principles (I’ve described these on my COETAIL blog here). Mrs.Y was really excited about using these to guide her students as they designed the layouts for their ebooks. We also talked about creating a culture of independence in the classroom by allowing students to apply to be tech ‘experts’/helpers so they can help other students with certain apps. We discussed the possibility of building in some Digital Citizenship to align with the PYP PSHE outcomes and also their Unit of Inquiry on Public Spaces. There is a great video and lesson on Common Sense Media called My Online Neighbourhood that would be very relevant for her class, as they explore the Internet as another Public Space.

Throughout our coaching session I really tried to follow some of the Partnership Principles suggested in What Good Coaches Do. I maintained Equality with Mrs.Y, by allowing her to discuss some personal concerns that were happening within her class, and then we started by going back to the shared meeting minutes we created last week. I even clarified a few things we’d written and we both took turns going through the agenda items.

Next, I ensured Mrs.Y felt she had Choice in what we focused on. I started off by saying “I realise we had a discussed a lot last week and I’m not sure how much either of us were able to action. Which item do you want to focus on today?”. From there, she led the the direction of the meeting and had the opportunity to raise concerns and ask pressing questions.

Voice is something I would like to develop further. While Mrs.Y and I have a trusting relationship, I do like the idea of extending further and including videoing a lesson as an option for review and further development. While I am comfortable posing questions to the teacher (following more of a cognitive coaching model), I am less comfortable when I’ve noticed something I don’t agree with, and being diplomatic about improving an area. I prefer to focus on positives, rather than negatives of a lesson, but I know there are constructive ways of approaching difficult topics. Having a video of a lesson would really help with this.

Finally I really focused on Reciprocity, telling Mrs.Y how much I appreciated these meetings to develop my own coaching and also to develop our working relationship. She immediately fed back that these meetings have already improved her understanding of the purpose of iPads and have her ‘buzzing’ with ideas for how she can purposefully integrate tech in the classroom. It’s also been helpful because she is team leader, and wants to streamline how tech is implemented across the grade level. She felt these conversations allowed her to flesh out some of her thinking and refine her understanding of how iPads can and should be used.

Choosing a coaching model that works is a bit like trying on different hats: it depends on the individual, and the context. There is definitely no one coaching model for all conditions, and sometimes what I think will be suitable just doesn’t work for that particular day. Above all, maintaining a growth mindset has helped me be patient as I cultivate a unique coaching model that works for both the teachers and me.

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