Whether you are an instruction coach, teacher leader, administrator, or other educator who supports classroom teachers, you may have has a situation where your conversation had the opposite effect of what you intended.
Rather than teachers feeling empowered and energized, perhaps they felt exhausted and stressed. In the book Better Conversations, Jim Knight states that effective conversations should be life-giving (2016). All too often in the world of education, our conversations sap the energy of classroom teachers. How can we do better at encouraging our colleagues? Here are four ideas to energize your coaching conversations.
Don’t Make Too Many Suggestions
Have you been in a situation before where you really felt like the expert? Perhaps, you dominated the listener with all of the wonderful things you know, and you soon recognized a look of boredom or stress take hold of their faces. Sometimes we can say too much. We can overwhelm our conversation-partners with too many resources, ideas, or strategies. In coaching conversations, it is better to first ask a teacher if he or she wants suggestions. If he or she agrees, share two or three possibilities, and then ask which of those seem most promising. This discussion strategy also encourages the teacher’s agency.
Learning Forward and and the National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future report entitled Moving from Compliance to Agency: What Teachers Need to Make Professional Learning Work states that “teacher agency is the capacity of teachers to act purposefully and constructively to direct their professional growth and contribute to the growth of their colleagues” (Calvert, 2016). Asking the right questions can help teachers reflect on what their next moves should be. As results of a positive coaching conversations, teachers make self-directed plans for improving student learning based on careful considerations of their students, content areas, and classroom contexts. Agency begets confidence, which begets the energy we need to tackle challenges.
Listening is not always easy. Our monkey minds often take over – thinking about all the things we have to do. Technology can be a distraction. The call of the laptop or mobile phone often interrupts our continuous attention to the person with whom we are speaking. Imagine that you are a teacher who has trusted someone enough to discuss the hard struggles in your practice – that perhaps you have shared with no one before — and your conversation partner decides to check their Facebook accounts at that moment. Trust erodes, and you have a hard time opening up like that again. Attentive listening can really improve the effectiveness of coaching.
Use the Teacher’s Language
As we listen to teachers set goals and reflect on progress, we must remember that the goals are the teachers’ goals, not ours. Teachers may know exactly what they want to accomplish, but they don’t always speak in educational research jargon. That’s OK! It isn’t our job as coaches to turn the teacher into our “mini me’s.” They do not need to speak as we do. It is our job to partner with teachers to empower them. If the teacher expresses an idea or strategy, but doesn’t use the terminology you are familiar with, simply use the teacher’s language. Over time, if the more correct terminology is needed, it can be weaved into the conversation.
Conversations should be life-giving rather than energy-draining. Small shifts in how we speak and listen can make a big impact for teachers and their work with students.
Kathy Perret is a co-author of ASCDs The Coach Approach to School Leadership: Leading Teachers to Higher Levels of Effectiveness. She works as an educational consultant who specializes in training and ongoing support for instructional coaches. She is the co-moderator of the weekly #educoach Twitter chat on instructional coaching and is the author of the popular education blog Learning is Growing, where she shares her passion for empowering and inspiring educators so they can influence student learning. Connect with Perret on Twitter @KathyPerret.
Kenny McKee s a National Board Certified Teacher who currently serves as a high school instructional coach in the Buncombe County Schools district in Asheville, NC. His interests include teacher leadership, blended learning, disciplinary literacies, and instructional coaching. He is the co-creator of ASCD’s #EdAdvBecause chat, and he was a 2014 ASCD Emerging Leader. Connect with him on his blog (kennycmckee.com) or on Twitter (@kennycmckee).