Here’s a little snippet from my new coaching book – it’s the first draft! 

Am I on the right track?  Does this make sense?  What do you think????

You know, one of the most interesting things I’ve found about coaching is that in trying to “build buy-in,” coaches will avoid giving feedback. They get into classrooms and write things in a notebook and take notes on what they’re seeing, but they are intimidated by giving feedback. And the very act of now giving feedback is exactly what makes teachers feel like coaching is evaluative!  When you’re taking notes and visiting the classroom and never talking to or debriefing the teachers, they’re likely assuming that you’re running to the principal and saying, “Oh you’re never going to believe what I saw in John’s room!”  You’re not evaluating, but the lack of feedback sure makes it feel that way!

What this does highlight, however is that coaches tend to struggle with how to get the ball rolling with coaching an individual teacher.

Even though I advocate a form for coaching, does not mean that I believe that the coach needs to be in full control all of the time – we would not build capacity through coaching if the coach did all of the work!  I see that a hybrid of the coach bringing structure to the coaching and the teacher being the central figure in carrying out the work is the only way to get results.

Here’s what that might sound like: “Our principal has identified these three things as our high priority focus areas for our school.  Which one do you think you need the most support on or which one are you farthest along that we can refine?”

I believe in giving teachers options for coaching, but starting with, “So what would you like me to help you with?” is too vague.  I suggest you go right in and say, “Here are our principal’s goals, here are our school’s goals or our district goals.  What makes the most logical place to start?”

Now you may be thinking, “This is all good and well, but our principal doesn’t have any goals!” So, here’s how we handle that: Make it up.  Say something like, “So you know the principal Mr.  Johnson has said several times that we’re really focusing on improving the quality of feedback to kids.  How do you feel about that?  How’s that going?  Where do you think we ought to start?”  Make it up.

What I mean by “make it up” is, take the principal’s or district’s instructional focus (even if it has not been reinforced and folks haven’t been held accountable for implementing it!) and refer back to it as if it were reinforced and held accountable by the leadership.

Most of the time people will believe you when you “make it up” – or refer back to the district’s goals.  Most importantly, it gives you a starting place.

Perhaps you schedule a short time to chat with every teacher and ask them about the two top priorities in the district and where they would like to start.  Or you use the data as a conversation starter such as, “There are two trends in your grade level’s data that are showing that we need to make adjustments…where would you like to start?”

Where I start to get uneasy is when a coach asks a very open-ended question like, “What would you like me to work on with you?”  The answer to a big question like that is typically that the teacher wants to work on something that they already know how to do!  So by giving options, we see focus increase and resistance decrease.  We have to get rid of the myth about coaching that if we give a form to it or provide teachers with options for focus, then we are being evaluative.  That’s just not true!