Episode 30: Level Up Your Coaching 6: Where do coaches / does coaching fail? And what can we do about it?
Listen to Episode 30
Welcome to Level Up Your Coaching! We interview 2 school leaders, 2 teachers, 2 librarians and 2 counselors to get their perspectives on coaching. Hearing perspectives from school leaders, counselors, teachers and librarians is a great way for coaches to better understand their impact on the school community.
In today’s episode, our panel of experts will share their responses to the question, “Where do coaches / does coaching fail? And what can we do about it?”
As coaches, we’re always working to improve our practice, and we can often be the hardest on ourselves for our mistakes.
Bonus: Watch the video of this episode on YouTube!
Our Guest Panel of Experts
Hearing the outside perspectives from teachers, counselors, librarians and school leaders about when and how coaching fails gives us a very clear lens to use to examine our professional practice. It can be challenging to identify areas of growth for ourselves, but using these conversations as a starting point, we can all start to prioritize next steps in our professional learning.
When Does Instructional Coaching Fail? And what can we do about it?
Rebekah (School Leader): I think you can fail when a person doesn’t have hustle and if a person doesn’t have really good relationships with people and doesn’t know the kids. I think those are three really important things that I need to see coaches do. I need them to have hustle and to just go make those connections and go do their thing and like come back and tell me this has totally worked or this didn’t work, what can we do? I just need to know that that’s happening. I need them to know the kids because if their goal is to make sure that every kid is learning, they need to know the kids so they can’t just sit in their office during downtimes. They have to be sports coaches or they have to be on playground duty – you have to know the kids because otherwise as a teacher I’m like, you don’t know them – who are you to tell me what Kai needs (I picked Kai because that’s the Japanese version of John). Teachers don’t have time for people who don’t know their kids. They also just need to know their stuff and be flexible with it. Thick skin also can’t hurt.
Tico (School Leader): Number 1. When they don’t show themselves to be competent. It’s silly if you don’t know what you’re talking about. You have to be an expert in your eld. That’s just like a teacher. Relationships matter. Engaging lessons. If you don’t know what you’re teaching or talking, that’s a problem. Coaches need to know what they’re talking about. They have to be seen as being competent. Number 2. They have to build the relationships. They have to have connections with the teachers around them. Number 3 is the integrity piece. That’s just really important. So it sounds like I’m going back to a previous answer. It’s that answer works for that question too. The opposite of that answer is how they fail. I’m looking at that question from a teaching perspective and I want to look at it from a leadership perspective. I lose faith in coaches when they’re not self starters, when they don’t have initiative. If I have to tell coaches what to do and what the priorities are, I feel like, I’ll just do it myself because you’re supposed to support me and part of that is taking stuff off my plate but I know that we’re going in the right direction and then you’re helping us move forward so if you don’t have initiative, if you don’t have energy, if you’re not a self-starter, those things are tough for a leader to have a coach like that. I have to micromanage. If I’ve got to tell you how to do your job, that’s not great. I want to hire someone who knows what the job looks like, is going to be able to manage themselves, set their schedule and then tell me that this is why I’m doing this schedule, this is where my priorities are because I think this is how we’re going to move to school for it. I’m like, yeah, sounds great. Remember I said the “orchestra kind of analogy” – a little more of this, a little less than that. That’s great, but give me the plan that we can work off of. Don’t make me write that plan. Don’t make me tell you how to do your job. That would drive me nuts.
Niki (Counselor): It fails if you don’t understand the process. I think it fails because, quite naturally ,sometimes you’re just thinking, “oh, please just tell me what to do, I need someone just to tell me what to do. I’m really not sure, please give me ve solutions and I can go and do them.” I think if you’re just perpetually trying to coach and not recognize someone’s different need than that’s not going to be healthy. Also, if somebody feels threatened and there isn’t a culture where your intention is positive, it’s not going to work so well. I also think it fails if there isn’t time for it. I know we were saying I could have some casual conversations that can turn into coaching or just a really kind of a reflection that can be quite brief – but I think it’s good to have a bit of a pause button and be able to really think carefully about what you want. Maybe if there isn’t any time given to it and it’s all just casual and ad-hoc, that’s also not so great. This is kind of obvious really – investing some time in it, investing culture in it. Understanding that that’s not always the appropriate way to have the conversation. That’s not always the what’s needed. I think they’re probably things that would be problematic.
Adam (Counselor): So some of this goes back to the pedagogy that many international schools are based around, which is that spirit of inquiry. If it seemed to be like they’re the answer people or they’re the prescribers, (do you know what I mean?) It really is that two way street where I think,
“okay, I think I understand what you’re looking for. I’m not sure I’ve got 100 percent, so kind of correct me where I’m wrong, where I don’t know and let’s explore some of these things and I’m going to, I’m going to send those to you.” I’m thinking about the process that I went with nding my case management platform that I’m using now, but it’s like I’m going to send you some models and you know, we have some free memberships to these. We’re also happy to pay for these, but I don’t want to pay for that now because I’m not sure that’s what you’re really going to want.”
That openness of discovery is, is really key. I think where people, (and we’re again going back to the idea of not being vulnerable or not feeling safe) but if people can be vulnerable with the process and be like, “look, I don’t really know where this is going.” Because often that’s really true, we don’t know, even if we think we’ve got the best possible solution, we really don’t know how that’s going to resonate with that person until they have a chance to kind of try it on and work with it for a bit.
Kim: Yeah. When coaches are the experts as opposed to the learners alongside, is when it doesn’t work.
Adam: Right? I mean certainly there’s that area of expertise and that’s a, that’s a tricky balance. I think that comes with some level of maturity and experience, but it’s like, “okay, here’s what I’ve got, let’s work with this together.”
Merilyn (Teacher): For me, I’ve always had a positive experience, but what I’ve heard from other people who have been in cases where coaches are pushing people having the perception that it’s technology for technology’s sake and not really understanding that this is a new piece of technology, but what does it actually really doing? Why are you making me do this? When you aren’t able to see what the benefit is for that shiny thing. I think that maybe that sometimes comes because the teacher themselves might have a bit of a wall up or a blockage or not necessarily so open to new things because as a teacher you are in a state of flux all the time. Everything changes. At schools I’ve been at previously, the report system has changed every year. Sometimes the unit plans change every year and so this kind of thing can really grate and get people down. So if you’re in a school environment like that, it’s easy for teachers to say, “look this is one more new thing I don’t want to have to deal with – you can’t sell it to me.”
I think the only real solution for that is building personal relationships with people. I think that’s key for almost anything that you need to achieve in a workplace. Without those relationships being positive – it’s the ground floor, you won’t be able to achieve anything without that.
Jabiz (Teacher): Human beings are social and cool and weird and dysfunctional and the way we interact with each other and the way personalities work, plays a big part. Here’s an example: We use the seven norms of collaboration as a way to kind of function in meetings and things like that, but I nd them really, really irritating because I’ve been in situations where things are functional and I don’t feel like we need that framework because that stuff has kind of organically happening. That meeting will be, “what norm of collaboration are you gonna work on today? I don’t know, I’ve got to see what’s going to happen. I’m not going to pick one at this point.” I think some people might have to have that because it’s really difficult for them to interact with people in a way that’s not easy going and organic. Or in one team they might have that trust and that rapport, but when they’re on another team it doesn’t work that way. So that’s, I guess, this long winded answer. I’m trying to think my way through it. It’s this idea of personalities can be one major problem and so those personalities and relationships take time. So if a coach comes in without having built that relationship and that trust and that rapport and kind of has an agenda and that’s going to squash it pretty quickly.
To answer your question – some advice for coaches is – you have to kind of get through the personal stuff rst, (I don’t mean personal like into people’s business), but get those personal, social connections and then come in with the other stuff. If you come in day one like, “hey, by the way, with this rubric, I think this is going to make you a better teacher, why don’t you do this?” And the person’s not into that – then they’re gonna be like, no way – get away from me!
Danny (Librarian): As far as when coaching fails, I think it’s when you don’t seek to understand before being understood. When you push and you shove and you just go “oh, I have this fun new thing that you will love. It’s perfect for what you’re trying to do” without actually listening to what they need or where they’re at and where they’re comfort level is and what they’re doing with the kids and where their kids are at. Sometimes you can have a teacher that is quite tech-savvy or whatever, but they realize that they have a class where, if you’re doing too much tech, it doesn’t work for that group. So it’s not pushing, it’s not shoving, it’s listening and understanding before being understood on an individual level.
Katy (Librarian): When I was thinking about this, one of the things that came to mind was when as a coach, I try to do too many things. I think when coaches are spread too thin. I can easily apply this to to an IT (edtech) job. If you come in and it’s your job is to make everyone in the school a magical edtech wizard, that is never going to happen! It depends on how many kids and how many teachers that you have. So I think, really in the beginning, especially targeting what is it that you’re going to focus on and what are your priorities? What are the goals that you want to accomplish? And I did say what goals that you want to accomplish but really identifying what are the goals that the school needs you to accomplish, that needs to be done for teaching and learning in your school , that needs to be done for the students and the community. So figuring out how to identify that in the beginning is really important. Of course, conversations with your admin are going to be helpful because they have a bird’s eye view of the school. You need to get into the ranks and talk to the people. Sometimes it’s as simple as beginning the start of the year with,
“Hey, my name’s Katie, here’s what I can do for you. Books are great. By the way, use a post-it because we’re an IB school and we love them and put them on the whiteboard on your way out and tell us, what can I do for you? What would you like help with related to reading research or building community in your classroom?”
And then be able to collect some of that data to gure out what you’re going to focus on. I think that the biggest mistake is spreading yourself too thin. I also think that coaches who struggle sometimes with being effective often are also people who struggle with managing their time really well. Because as a coach, if you promise to do these things for me, then you need to be able to get those done. And if you spend your entire day in meetings with people making plans and then you don’t have any time to create those resources or collect those items or get those plans together – people won’t come back to you again.
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