by Dr. Mónica Lara
Have you ever been in a situation where you know your presence is not welcome?
“Please be brief, and tell me what you need to say quickly. I have a lot of work to do.”
I’ve heard that line several times, sometimes with words, but other times with body language.
When I first began coaching, I used to ask myself: Why do I do this? Is it worth all the mental and physical exhaustion? Am I just spinning my wheels without reaching a goal? After several years of coaching, I have reached one conclusion. My problem at the beginning was being too worried about myself and about getting my feelings hurt. I didn’t want to be rejected or feel like a failure. It took me a while to realize that the center of coaching is not the coach. The center of coaching is the teacher.
Why do teachers reject coaching?
In my experience, when some teachers hear that they have been selected to be coached, they take it personally and misunderstand the goal, confusing “ongoing support” with “a need to fix their weaknesses.” Also, teachers have a full plate and they are afraid of getting “extra stuff” to do. Others don’t have time for “fluff.” Time is of the essence, and they must take advantage of it to accomplish what they have to do. Similarly, others have never received true coaching and have only encountered “rescuers.” In some cases, unfortunately, these well-intentioned and successful educators (selected as coaches with little or no training) who have been assigned the role of “coaches” spend their time trying to solve teachers’ problems by telling them what to do, taking a “this worked for me” approach to improving instruction.
Throughout the years, I have had the privilege of coaching dozens of teachers, and I can proudly say the experience has been a very successful one.
So through this blog post, I would like to share FIVE IMPORTANT PRINCIPLES I use as a focus for coaching teachers:
- BUILD RELATIONSHIPS. Be genuine and focus on the teacher. I briefly introduce myself and let them know that the goal of the coaching sessions is not to evaluate their performance, but to have conversations for self-reflection on their craft as teachers. Then, I continue by requesting that teachers “Share something about yourself. It can be personal or professional.” Many teachers are surprised by this. Especially when I ask them to push their notebooks/lesson plans aside for a moment. Building trust by showing that you care is important. This will really help when it’s time to set expectations.
- EXERCISE GOOD LISTENING SKILLS. Don’t take too many notes, and maintain eye contact as much as possible. Taking notes can be distracting for both the teacher and the coach. Writing one-word reminders is sufficient to for noting details to make personal connections to at your next coaching session. Do not take over and begin sharing your life story: “Me too, when I was a teacher…; I also like…; One thing I remember…” Remember that the session is about them and not about you. If they ask, just say: “Let’s talk about you for now. You will get to know more about me throughout the year.”
- IDENTIFY TEACHERS’ GIFTS. To continue keeping in mind that coaching is about teachers, I follow by asking them several questions: “What is something you do really well?” If they seem stuck, I give them examples. Things you do in your classroom, with your students, with parents, with relationships, with routines, etc. What is something you have done you are proud of? Some teachers struggle to focus on the positive things happening in their classrooms. I remind them that the focus of these coaching sessions is to talk about what is working and not what is not working.
- SUPPORT THEM WITH GOAL SETTING. I move on to say that I am aware of the goals established by administrators (accountable conversations, objectives, complete sentences, etc.) and that my visits are to support them with those goals. I continue by asking them: “What is one goal you have as a teacher? What are some things you are doing to meet the school-wide/administrators’ expectations?” If they seem not to have any at the time, I tell them not to worry and I help them think of something small. It can be as simple as reading a page of a selected resource. I always ask them to write down their goal. You can use it to begin future meetings: “What was the goal you established last time we met? How is it working?”
- EXPECT THEM TO GROW. Every teacher has the potential to grow. Do not listen to anyone’s negative opinions. Just like we want teachers to have high expectations for students, we need to have high expectations for teachers and believe in our heart that they have the potential to grow and become the best teacher version of themselves. I have seen amazing results, even with teachers who seem to be reluctant or uninterested during the first coaching session.
After all these years coaching, I have learned one especially valuable lesson. Just like any other human being, teachers have a story to tell and a need to be heard. During well-conducted coaching sessions, teachers realize that it is a time for THEM to reflect on their own practice and to share their struggles, gifts, and love for the profession. All we have to do is let them use their own voice. I truly believe that we can make a difference one teacher at-a-time.
Ready to learn more from Dr. Lara? Register for her upcoming training, ¡Toma la palabra!, in Houston, TX. Presented in Spanish, this training will provide teachers in dual language and bilingual classrooms with an opportunity to practice their academic Spanish as well as research-based, actionable strategies for helping their students’ develop oracy and literacy in both languages.