Listening Has Changed My Coaching

Aside from trying to be as productive as I can every day, listening - truly listening to people - has completely changed my coaching. Elena Agular talks about listening at length in The Art of Coaching (well worth the read, btw) and since I've made the conscious effort to listen first, I've seen fruits.

I stopped going in with preconceptions about progress or willingness to try new things. One unfortunate carryover from teaching is that I have expectations about specific teachers. So and so is hard to work with or this person will never change...I had shut down any possibility of working productively before I even walked in the room. Meeting people with the intent to listen rather than talk erased those expectations and allowed for positive conversations.

My ability to help people has increased. I don't limit this statement to technical help, which is certainly a component of my work these days. Asking questions and listening for context clues has allowed me to look beyond immediate problems and solve deeper issues, or at least identify issues to work toward solutions.

Summarizing the problem before offering solutions is critical. I stopped taking my computer to meetings with teachers because it leads to distractions. Or, if I do have it, I don't open it until we're working on a specific item. While we're talking, I have a notebook. I'm quietly making notes, looking for patterns and letting the teacher express their frustrations, ideas, or concerns without interrupting. I ask probing questions - "Why did you feel that way?" or, "What did [this thing] help you learn about your students' understandings?" - to draw out reflective thought. Before I start to talk, I take one minute to process my notes and state back, in my words, what they're experiencing. This catalyzes the rest of the conversation and helps us work together.

I can loop back to previous conversations and push toward growth. Since I have detailed notes (completely confidential notes) I can look back to previous meetings and probe next time we're together. Looping back to gently push toward growth on goals is easier because they're the teacher's own ideas. I'm there as a processing tool, not as the Owner Of Solutions.

In the end, I want to make sure I'm helping people in ways they want to be helped. I want to push them professionally by talking honestly about teaching - why we do what we do - to promote growth. If I can't understand what they're saying, it's a fool's errand.

Reflected Rocks flickr photo by Stanley Zimny (Thank You for 32 Million views) shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Rebooting My Coaching

I planned, and ran, a really unsuccessful series of PD for a group of teachers this year. Unfortunately, I wasn’t wise enough to accept the non-success until we’d reached almost a breaking point in the group.

The idea was to focus on instructional methods with, or without, technology. The problem was that it wasn’t what the teachers needed (or wanted) and I was too stubborn to look past my own biases and fix the course.

Instruction makes the difference in schools. Teaching a poor lesson with an iPad in your hand is just as bad as teaching a poor lesson without an iPad. With most tech rollouts, all of the focus is on the technology PD and little time or thought is given to how to build lessons and experiences which seamlessly incorporate the available tech. So, this PD focused on watching one another teach. If the lesson had tech in it, great. Let’s look at what worked and then try to incorporate those principles in our own practice. If it didn’t have tech, still great! What worked? What skills did the teacher show that can be incorporated into our practice?

I didn’t clarify the difference. The PD was labelled (partially my fault, but not completely) as “technology PD.” Week after week, I came in talking about teaching and they expected technology tips and tricks.

Making it worse, I heard indirectly that these workshops were going poorly and that most people dreaded the sessions. I knew they were tough - I was pushing boundaries and comfort zones. What I didn’t know was that people felt confused and frustrated. I had no idea the group felt that way because no one told me - not on feedback surveys each month and not in person when I asked.

We’re so afraid of hurting one another’s feelings about teaching that we don’t talk about what’s really happening. That has to change.

Featured image old jumper cables inside an old barn, frisco, texas flickr photo by coltera shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license