Baby Steps Towards Mastering Coaching Behaviors

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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

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  • 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).

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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.

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Future Questions:

  • 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?

Resources

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.

Setting the Stage: Establishing an Environment for Peer Coaching

A photo by Julia Caesar. unsplash.com/photos/asct7UP3YDE

“Leap, and the net will appear.” (Zen saying)

Overview

This fall I began my fifth year of teaching, a milestone in many ways. While I am still at the beginning of my career, I am no longer a “new” teacher.  I have greater confidence in my instructional strategies, classroom management skills, and collaborative relationships.  I no longer have slight dread while wondering how am I going to make it through the year but now find myself asking how can I shape myself into a phenomenal educator?  As I have been wondering this, an answer has presented itself in my module one explorations for my digital education leadership program.  This quarter, my cohort is looking at the role of peer coaching in the professional learning environment.  While my learning has been very general so far as I am just delving into this dynamic topic, it is clear that great educators are shaped by great educators.  So, if I am to become great and help others do so as well, I must work to create an environment that successfully integrates peer coaching into professional development.  

I start this exploration with a strong advantage as I get to learn about peer coaching from Les Foltos, an expert on the topic and one of my professors for the quarter.  In his book Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration, I was struck by how frankly Les explains that creating a successful environment for peer coaching requires educators to be extremely vulnerable.  In his introductory chapter he explains that, when confronted with a peer coaching opportunity, the learning partner hears, “my coach is asking me to open the doors of my classroom and to demonstrate want I know and what I don’t know.  My coach is asking me to take risks and make mistakes in public” (Foltos 2013). While I am eager to get into the intricacies of models for peer coaching, this point stopped me in my tracks.  It made me realize that, before I can understand what meaningful peer coaching looks like, I must first look at what elements are essential to establishing an environment where peer coaching can happen.  Without a safe learning environment, educators will not feel comfortable being vulnerable and therefore cannot open their doors to peer coaching opportunities.  

What is essential to creating a successful environment for peer coaching?

As is often the case, when I began exploring essential elements of a successful peer coaching environment, I was met with an overabundance of information.  After skimming through multiple blog posts, educator resources, and scholarly articles, I started to see many overlapping ideas and decided that, rather than reinvent the wheel, I would synthesize my findings into a comprehensive list.  Below are what I found to be the leading tips on creating a successful environment for peer coaching.

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What topics relating to peer coaching will I explore in the future?

All that I have learned this week has been both fulfilling and overwhelming.  Now that I have gotten to dive into the topic of peer coaching, I am aware of how much great information there is out there to explore!  Since this week’s blog post only scratches the surface, I wanted to take a moment to mention a few ideas that have started to spark in my head which I would like to look at deeper in the coming weeks.

  • Now that we have created an environment where peer coaching can be successful, how do we get teachers to “open their doors”?
  • What is the role of an instructional coach?  
  • What behaviors and strategies should an instructional coach master in order to be effective?
  • My school district currently has nine full time secondary level instructional coaches.  How are their roles defined?  What are the next steps my district is taking to create an environment for peer coaching?
  • How can we make time for feedback and reflection more valuable in professional learning opportunities?

Resources

Aguilar, E. (2011). Four Conditions Essential for Instructional Coaching to Work. Retrieved October 06, 2016, from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/four-conditions-instructional-coaching-elena-aguilar

Dupree, O. (n.d.). What is an Instructional Coach? Retrieved October 06, 2016, from http://piic.pacoaching.org/index.php/piic-coaching/what-is-an-instructional-coach

Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: Unlocking the power of collaboration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Gonzalez, J. (2016, September 25). How Pineapple Charts Revolutionize Professional Development. Retrieved October 06, 2016, from http://www.cultofpedagogy.com/pineapple-charts/

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/

Guest Post: Who Sits In the Big Chair? Reflections on Building Collaborative Partnerships with Teachers. Retrieved October 06, 2016, from https://yourinstructionalcoach.com/2016/09/07/guest-post-who-sits-in-the-big-chair-reflections-on-building-collaborative-partnerships-with-teachers/