Creating a strong relationship between an instructional coach and teacher is not a simple task. In fact, starting off a successful coaching relationship is a lot like blind dating. Two people who don’t know each other get paired up in hopes that a special bond can be formed. You have similar networks of people that believe it will be a good match and both parties experience mixed emotions – excited but nervous. But educational leadership coaches don’t get to walk away at the end of the night and never see that person again if chemistry isn’t immediately ignited. Like any new relationship, there is a lot of potential, and how the relationship begins makes a huge impact. Luckily, there are some things a coach can do in order to form a positive connection quickly and avoid common relationship bumps! Here are a few tips to make sure the coaching relationship starts strong:
Share past coaching experiences: Most of us have an idea of a coach in our minds based on previous personal or professional experiences. For some, these may be positive but for others, they may not be. These lingering memories stay with us and form different expectations of a coach’s role. Sharing our stories, core values, and goals for instructional coaching will establish a mutual understanding from the onset.
Provide two-way feedback: One of the main jobs of a coach is to give feedback, but it is just as important that coaches receive feedback from the teachers we are working with. It is intimidating at first, but being open to constructive feedback is essential to building trust. Challenge yourself to be bold and ask those you coach how the relationship is going and what you can do to support them better. This can be done through surveys or during coaching conversations. By putting ourselves out there, we’re also modeling the vulnerability we hope our teachers will embrace.
Listen without judgment: As we listen to others’ challenges, it is natural to immediately want to offer up recommendations to fix things. As a coach, we can even feel tremendous pressure to have the ‘right’ answers all the time. But it is important to listen as fully as possible to the teachers we work with to understand the complete context and help facilitate the problem-solving process. When that lightbulb goes off in our heads with suggestions, write down the ideas instead of immediately sharing them aloud. We must listen patiently without interrupting.
Problem solve together: It is essential that coaches work alongside our teachers instead of always providing answers. While we may have suggestions for what has worked for us or has worked for other teachers we have coached, there is never one right answer to a problem. Instead of indulging the ideas that we already have, ask probing questions to build teachers’ capacity to solve their own challenges. Always keep a few questions ready to go, such as: “Can you say more about that?,” “What have you tried?,” “What do you think?,” and “What outcome do you think that’ll have?” Problem-solving together will create a true partnership with your teachers.
Laugh: Teaching is often stressful, so sharing a good laugh allows us to remember the fun parts of the job. Invest the time to ask questions or tell stories unrelated to work. We often feel that using our coaching minutes to do this is unproductive, but in fact, it’s extremely important. Forming connections before diving into deep discussion about complex challenges will lead to more positive interactions and productive conversations.
While every teacher-coach relationship is different, these tips have proven to be successful in establishing trusting relationships quickly. Do you have more coaching tips? Share them with us on Twitter by tagging us at @EdElements and @AshleyP_EE!