I recently read an article about coaching with the title, Instructional Coaching – A Springboard not a Scarlet Letter, and this phrase has stuck with me. While practicing coaching skills with a teacher at my school, I quickly realized that because we have a strong foundation of trust built, the conversation focused on how to deepen student learning and choice in a meaningful way. While researching how to best coach him, the resources I read kept coming back to the foundations of trust leading the way. I have come away with understanding that the springboard is trust and the wings that keep ideas from crashing are the questioning techniques that deepen the thinking for both the coach and who is being coached. Throughout our conversations, trust was at the heart of the conversation and collaborative conversations were made possible by a collective perspective that our partnership would strengthen ideas and strategies for deeper student experiences. Though I did not gain this trust from a coaching relationship, it still drove home the importance of this trust being the backbone of collaboration and
Right away, we took the time to align our perspectives on technology use in the classroom and strengthening student voice and choice which resulted in the coaching sessions to focus on using Seesaw as an assessment tool for student understanding. Throughout our first coaching session, I quickly realized that one of the hardest habits for me to break was to just give ideas and advice outright. We have spent the last year just swapping ideas, collaborating on class projects, and giving each other advice. I realized after that session, that I needed to brush up on practicing my questioning skills and deepen my understanding of how to ask thoughtful clarifying questions, probing question, paraphrasing, etc. Another task that I cavalierly brushed past was establishing norms and procedures which would have helped me to slow down and truly coach versus just giving advice and ideas.
Our continuing coaching sessions focused on student reflection and what was working and not working when using Seesaw. Throughout these sessions, I realized that my focus on using questioning techniques more deliberately helped me to watch his own shift in thinking and that I could help guide his own ideas into fruition – and he said as much! Once I slowed down and didn’t focus on trying to solve a ‘problem’ he was having, he was able to talk through his own noticing and wonderings and from there conclude what his next step should be. It was very beneficial for me to explicitly practice active listening and focus on questioning in order to watch the process unfold into a solution that was fresh to both of us. It was an important reminder that as a coach, coming into the conversation without preconceived ideas for solutions is what leads to a solution that truly makes sense for the teacher and students, not the coaches imagined scenario that is not based on real situation within an educator’s classroom.
During our final session, he was moving the project into the next stage of student research. As he explained some difficulties he was coming up against, he specifically asked for additional instructional technologies that could support student learning. Since I was working through a class about accessibility and inclusion, I was able to coach him through using Immersive Reader as a way to have better student access to research resources for the variety of reading levels within his classroom. This was an interesting shift in the coaching relationship because throughout the previous sessions I was training myself to take an approach that was not telling him specific solutions but because this was what he was specifically asking for, it seemed appropriate. It made me think more about when to give advice outright and when to focus on helping to guide. It seems this is a delicate balance for a coach and reminds me that coaches need to be tuned in to the variety of needs for each relationship and how flexible and adaptable coaches need to be. The questions it leaves me with are when should coaches give advice and when should they refrain from advice? My guess is that there is no clear answer but instead is the intuition that is gained from practice in the field.
The biggest takeaways from this coaching experience and learning about the ISTE Coaching Standards was the importance of trust, collaboration and how students should be at the center of the work between coaches and educators. When trying to shift negative teacher perspectives on what having a coach means, the idea of a coach trying to ‘fix’ a teacher seems like the biggest obstacle to overcome. Since this experience had the safety net of me being a teacher not an official coach within our building, this is an area that I did not get practice in. The resistance of being coached will be one that I could come across if I choose to pursue coaching. Where I have experienced this is with technology integration so one way that I can help to lessen technology resistance would be to apply the coaching skills from this experience.