One statement that often causes me to roll my eyes is when people say, “well, it’s easier in theory than in practice”. I find this insight to be negative, dismissive, a way to throw in the towel before even giving something a chance. This being so, I cannot help but keep having this thought over the past few weeks as I have been learning about behaviors and communication strategies that an effective peer coach must employ. For example, I know that a good coach listens attentively without interrupting, yet I often find myself railroading other people’s thoughts with my own. I know that a good coach creates a safe space for learners to grow, yet I sometimes find that I come across as sarcastic or self-righteous, qualities I know can be very off putting, particularly in a learning environment.
Now is not the first time I have learned about effective communication and collaboration techniques. This topic, and many related suggestions, have come up in my k-12 schooling, in education and linguistics classes I took when I was getting my bachelor’s degree, in professional development opportunities, and in personal self-improvement scenarios. Why then, if I keep learning the same conversational and coaching tips, have I not been able to fully implement them into my communication habits? The simple answer is because it’s hard. Hard tasks take repeated, consistent effort. It takes grit and patience. This being so, I am excited that I have another opportunity to look at my coaching habits, to reflect on how I have improved, and to set some goals to keep getting better.
An issue I face every time I dive into the topic of effective communication and collaboration is that I am quickly overwhelmed–there is so much information on the topic available, so many “tips” and “tricks” and “how to’s”. Furthering my dilemma is that a lot of this information is good, valuable, I want to use it. However, I also know that people learn best through scaffolding, by breaking down the learning into manageable steps. So, while I am feeling very inspired to improve my communication habits in hopes of becoming a better learning coach (and person as a whole!), I am going to need to make myself slow down. This week, I am going to focus in on a few communication pointers that I know I need to work on, choosing tips I can easily and frequently implement. Once I get these down, I can look at the next steps to continue improving my communication skills.
Easy-to-Implement Communication Pointers for Peer Coaches
- Don’t interrupt: give the learner time to finish their thoughts–interrupting someone while they are speaking is not only rude, but I may not have the whole idea of how I can offer assistance of I don’t let them fully express their ideas.
- Paraphrase what the learner says: repeat back what the learner says as it demonstrates that the coach is listening and helps them process their ideas. For example, asking “is this what you mean” helps learners know whether or not they are being concise and accurate, and in turn helps them fine tune their ideas.
- Set clear norms and objectives: if all learners are aware of the behavior expected of them as well as the objective they are working to meet, the learning session will run much more smoothly. It will also be easier to reflect on the learning if the objectives and expectations are clear.
- Show, don’t tell: In an article titled “The Secret to Great Coaching, Les Foltos includes an analogy that I really appreciated. He explains that “coaches need to understand that their learning partners, like rock climbers, need to be able to act on their won when they reach the crux of the problem” (Foltos 2014). If a coach doesn’t let learners reach their own conclusions, they will become dependent on the coach. The coach must provide opportunities for self-discovery to help learners feel empowered.
- Ask probing questions: to help lead the learner to their own ideas, ask questions to spark their thinking. Rely on lists of question stems, or simply ask “why” or “please elaborate”–again, let the learner make their own discoveries!
Building Blocks of Trust
For the Google Hangout that was paired with this week’s study, one of our instructors, Les Foltos, asked us to look at the following list of behaviors that build trust in the workplace (Peer-Ed 2015).
Les asked that we take this information and build a diagram of our “building blocks of trust”, which should consist of a five-block pyramid with the behaviors we found to be the most important, or those that we wanted to work on improving. I am including my “building block of trust” below. I designed it similar to how Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is organized, with the behaviors at the bottom being essential before those above are attainable. As Les stated, my building blocks will change as my skills as a coach develop, so this is just a work in progress.
- How will I know when I have mastered these communication skills? What can I do to reflect and check in on my progress?
- I choose to focus on communication skills that I need to work on, but that I think most people could benefit from implementing too. What’s missing? Is there a big “coaching to-do” that I am leaving out?
Les, F. (2014, June). The Secret to Great Coaching. Learning Forward, 35(3), 29-31
Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: Unlocking the power of collaboration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Gonzalez, J. (2016, March 20). How to Plan Outstanding Tech Training for Your Teachers. Retrieved October 06, 2016, from http://www.cultofpedagogy.com/tech-training-for-teachers/
ISTE Standards for Technology Coaches. (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2016, from https://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches
Wicks, David and Foltos, Les. (2015). Building Trust: Behaviors that Build Trust in the Workplace. Seattle, WA. Retrieved October 17, 2016.