Written by Gen
Asking classroom teachers to trust a literacy or instructional coach is a big deal. Some teachers will love it right away, others will be tentative, and there will be those who resist. The only way to be a successful coach to all three types of teacher reactions is to truly, in your heart of hearts, be completely fine with each kind. To understand that entering into a relationship where you share how and why you teach the way you do is an awfully big ask. In previous posts about creating 100 Positive Experiences as a coach, we have explained that the quickest way to shut down a new teacher-coach relationship is to lose the trust of the teacher. To create and maintain trust, I feel strongly that the teacher must feel that you support her at all times. Following are a few ways to support teachers at all costs without compromising your own pedagogy.
Support the Teacher Even When You Don’t Agree
This doesn’t mean that you have to fake agreement or keep your own thoughts to yourself. It’s your job, after all, to help the teacher learn and grow in their knowledge of literacy and instruction. It’s the teacher, however, who is on the line if results don’t pan out, so, if you disagree, avoid preaching about why and ask questions instead. For example:
“In what ways do you see ______ helping students to _______?”
“Are there any components of (insert information about instruction/literacy) that you feel we could incorporate?”
“What outcome(s) do you expect if we were to try it this way?”
“How can I help you with your goals?”
You may find the teacher becomes more receptive to other ways of teaching and thinking just by talking out their ideas, but if not, you can still support the teacher without agreeing with every teaching move by thoroughly debriefing after the teaching. You’ll want to use non-judgmental language, such as:
“You had wanted the students to ______. Looking at (resource/tool/information), how close are they to the goal?”
“Did the students respond the way you expected?”
“In what way would you like the responses to have been different?”
When visiting a lesson, your job as a coach is to scribe everything the teacher says, and what the students’ responses are. Then, when you debrief, you have a non-threatening third-point to look at to recall the way the students responded. You haven’t recorded anything except precisely what the teacher and students said.
Support the Teacher Even When it is Contradictory
This one might not sound fun, but if you are in a situation where teacher trust in coaches is low, it’s necessary. Teachers are under a lot of pressure to prove that their performance is “highly effective” from many different places: parents, principals, district administrators, the Board of Education, state government, etc. It is so very important for the teachers to know that they have the coach’s support during all of the meetings that come along with teaching. Sometimes, the teacher might say something that doesn’t mesh with what you’ve been discussing during your individual coaching sessions and meetings. It might even contradict something you’ve indicated previously. As hard as it is, you must try hard to avoid defending yourself. You may have had a misunderstanding, or the teacher may not feel comfortable in front of this particular group of people, but whatever the reason, you must not contradict the teacher in front of others.
- Support, not Report: If you are included during a meeting where a teacher is meant to share data, teaching decisions, etc., is to remember why you are there. If you have data or information that doesn’t line up with what the teacher has stated, this meeting is not the time to bring it up. If you want the teacher to trust you, then you must not let her think that you will contradict her during meetings where her performance is under a microscope.
- Consider all coaching sessions and visits completely confidential: It is best to avoid bringing up anything that was discussed in your individual coaching sessions during meetings that include other teachers or administrators. Confidentiality is paramount even if a teacher does not specifically request it. So, when you are both at one of these meetings, you should never find yourself saying things such as, “I thought you said…” or “The last time we met, we discussed…”
- How you can contribute during meetings:
- Help the teacher clarify
- Support what the teacher is saying with your professional resources
- Contribute to the group’s brainstorming when it’s time to create an action plan
- Ask questions rather than making statements. For example, instead of saying, “We should focus on _____,” say, “What do you think is the most important thing to focus on?”
Support Must be Demonstrated
Trust between the teacher and the coach is the key to a successful coaching relationship. Telling a teacher that you are there to support is not enough. Everything you do and say should send the message that you are an ally to the teacher. Demonstrating to the teachers that you support them no matter what again and again will be crucial positive experiences that will help to build the trust needed to do the important work of finding the best instructional practices for students.