What Challenges do Coaches Face?

As I was reflecting on my coaching practice, I thought about some of the points mentioned by Jill Jackson in her article “4 Steps to Your Successful Coaching Model“. Her advice definitely resonates with my experience in my first year of coaching. However, I do disagree somewhat with her second point: Know Your Content. While “Knowing your Content” definitely provides credibility, I think if we are to help teachers become more independent in the classroom, we cannot be seen as the only expert. I can actually vouch for having more credibility with teachers by being in classrooms working with students, rather than in my office researching and looking stuff up. Both are important and you need to make time for each, but in your first year I definitely think face-to-face interactions count for more, than simply being an expert.

Last year, my biggest fear was someone asking me something I had no idea about, and I realised that was silly. Of course I couldn’t know absolutely everything EdTech related! This year I’ve adopted more of a growth mindset approach when teachers ask for help. I will, in their presence, say “I’m not sure, let me find out”, then Google the very question they are asking, so they can see how easy it is to find answers online. I’m open to letting them know that their question is a good one, and something I don’t know out about, but that the answer is within easy reach (usually via a youtube ‘how to’ video). I remember one time doing this and the teacher abashedly saying, “Oh I guess I could have done that too”. Since I’ve modelled this basic approach, I’ve noticed a slight drop in requests for basic IT support (creating new folders in Google Drive; Uploading a Youtube video to Blogger etc.) However, only about 10% of the teachers I work with have taken initiative in finding the answers.

This video, Thought Leadership, demonstrates the importance of focusing coaching time on the ‘middle carriage’ to encourage movement towards the ‘front carriage’. Modelling a growth mindset for teachers is one way to help them feel comfortable with the unknown, and hopefully encourage them to be tech problem-solvers themselves. An example of this happened last week when one PreK teacher approached me and said she had been drafting her fourth email of the day to me asking for blogger support when she remembered me googling to find answers. She had been trying to remove ‘recommended videos’ from the youtube videos she embedded on her blog. She proudly told me that she found a youtube tutorial video and after watching it all the way through was able to solve the problem. She was another teacher who just last year was a self-proclaimed ‘tech phobe’ with no understanding of computers. I definitely wouldn’t advocate ‘Googling’ as a primary focus for coaching, but I do believe modelling a certain level of comfort with the unknown, will help promote a growth mindset in teachers. As the Brain Pickings article describes:

“A growth mindset…thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.”

Throughout the Eduro coaching course, I attempted to differentiate between the 3 main coaching models: Cognitive, Instructional, and Peer Coaching. Considering my current coaching context I think the most effective approach so far has been a Cognitive Coaching model. My role as a coach is still fairly ‘new’ in the school, and just getting teachers comfortable using iPads in the classroom has been my main focus. For this reason, a model promoting “teacher autonomy, the ability to self-monitor, self-analyse, and self-evaluate” (ASCD Reflections on Cognitive Coaching), fits best for most teachers who are still in the so-called middle of the carriage. Many like to feel ownership over their next steps and asking the right questions can help them get there. However, I do step in and provide some guidance or suggestions (Instructional Coaching model) when teachers ask for specific next steps, following an observation, joint feedback and co-constructed next steps with the teachers.

[This post is an excerpt from my EDURO: Coaching from Theory to Practice certificate course from 2015]

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