Revisiting the Foundations of Coaching
By Nicole S. Turner
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What makes Coaching special?
As we wrap up the school year and set ourselves up for reflection, let’s come back to the foundations of coaching. But first, let me tell you a story.
This past weekend I traveled to visit my mom for an early Mother’s Day visit. I shared a loaf of delicious, crusty, homemade sourdough bread with her and she desperately wanted to make her own. She stopped trusting online recipes after the dough she made was too sticky or didn’t rise. The instructions I gave over the phone couldn’t capture the nuances of how the dough should feel when poked or prodded.
In a fit of frustration, she was ready to give up. “Next time I visit, I will stand next to you in the kitchen, poke and prod with you, and you will make a successful loaf, all on your own.”
This experience captures the true foundation of coaching – a trusting partnership where the coach both empowers and supports the teacher in the pursuit of a goal.
My mom’s first barrier to breadmaking was her lack of trust in the anonymous recipe writers. “They don’t know my kitchen, the type of yeast I’m using, how humid it is here. Why should their recipe work for me?”
We hear comments like this from teachers all the time. “Admin haven’t been in my classroom. They don’t know my kids!”
The most powerful thing you can do to establish trust is to listen and validate. Teachers need to know that you are on their team and that you understand what they’re going through.
In one coaching cycle I shared a story about a project based learning unit that totally flopped with one of my teachers. Almost immediately, she became more open to conversation about how to make her project better. She connected with my experience and knew that I could empathize with the challenges she was facing.
While my mom and I were baking together, I pinched the dough she had just mixed. “It needs more water.” She looked at me skeptically, “but then, how am I supposed to knead it? It’s gonna glob all over my hands.” “Don’t worry. I’ll show you a different kneading technique that works for me.”
Why would she believe me? Firstly, she had sliced through my crusty loaves to reveal a perfectly pocketed crumb. Secondly, I had knowledge of a fix for the perceived roadblock.
As an instructional coach, teachers need to see that you have the knowledge and experience to guide them through challenges. If I can show a teacher that I’ve struggled through the same thing and I have a strategy for overcoming it, they become willing to take the risk.
Change from the Inside Out
I spewed instruction after instruction over the phone but still – the bread was too gummy, too flat, solid as a rock. Even though my mom trusted me and knew that I could make a delicious loaf, verbal instructions were not enough.
You might be the greatest teacher in the world, with years of experience, and the ability to give crystal clear guidance. And yet, the teachers you work with might stay stuck in a pattern of no growth.
The power of coaching is that the support is embedded in the practice. Teachers can implement changes on their own, with you by their side. This allows them to experience what the strategy feels like in the classroom. It gives them the opportunity to hear and see how their students react to it. They know when it’s working.
When we were in the kitchen together, my mom could try the new kneading technique, feel how the dough stiffened into glutinous fibers as the stickiness dissipated. This feeling would stick with her when I wasn’t there to check the dough with her.
That day, my mom baked a beautiful loaf of bread. We both smiled as we spread melted brie across the perfect crumb. While we were both proud of her success, that day was not the real test…
Great coaches practice the “I do – We do – You do” gradual release model. In this model, you might first demonstrate a strategy for the teacher, then co-teach it together. Ultimately, the teacher needs to be able to implement the strategy on their own.
The next few times my mom baked, she called me for advice and validation. I knew we had finally achieved the goal when she texted me a picture of a perfect loaf that she made all on her own.
The Bottom Line
You’ll wear many hats as a coach but your strength is in these foundations. Inspire your teachers to keep growing. Give them confidence in you, the process, and themselves. Gradually pull back your support as they learn to achieve on their own. And, as hard as it is to wait for your delicious dough to rise, be patient.
Looking for ways to increase your Coaching Foundations?