The Coaching Chronicles #2: Show up by paying attention
Updated: Jun 18, 2019
How do you show up as a coach?
One of the first requirements of an instructional coach is to be there. Not just physically but also cognitively and emotionally. Effective coaches character display presence. They show up fully each and every day with focused attention and intention. They know that coaching is not a job that allows one to mentally coast through the day, committing minimal mental resources to the challenges they face. As Susan Scott (2004) wrote, "One of the greatest gifts you can give to another is the purity of your attention."
When coaches attend to the present, they open their senses to all the nuances of the classroom and the teacher they are coaching. More than that, being fully present signifies worth and value to others. This becomes obvious when the opposite occurs. By showing up physically but not mentally, those who share space and time with the coach are degraded. They begin to wonder, "Are we not important enough? Does the coach not take this seriously?"
Author and speaker Jon Gordon, in his book The Energy Bus (2007), shares ten rules for fueling your life with positive energy. Rule #2 speaks to being present: desire, vision, and focus move your bus in the right direction. Coaches do what they do to move instruction forward. They work to improve teaching and learning so that students are more successful. This requires desire, vision, and most of all, focus. Showing up 80% of the time isn't good enough because teachers, students, and administrators deserve coaches who are all-in.
In their work Coaching with Powerful Interactions, authors Jablon, Dombro, and Johnsen (2016) present a coaching frame for early childhood instructional coaching. The first step in that frame is to be present. They describe the core of intentionality as having inner quiet to allow oneself to think and make decisions with maximum clarity and effectiveness. Before coaches look at their notes, access their resources, or plan a model lesson, they must first and foremost show up.
When holding critical conversations with teachers, Susan Scott (2004) recommends against struggling for approval or attempting to persuade. Instead, the coach and the teacher interchange ideas and sentiments. The foundation of this interchange is a coach's attention to his or her inner thoughts, disclosing them, and inviting the teacher to do the same. Whether it be during instruction, conferencing with a teacher, or planning before or after school, a coach's presence signifies the value he or she places on the interaction.
Everyone has filters through which they see the world: effective coaches pay attention to their filters. Attention serves as the filter between what coaches and teachers want to have, their intentions, and their actions (Kee, Anderson, Dearing, Harris, & Shuster, 2010). If coaches pay attention to effectiveness in classrooms, that's what they'll find. If, however, they look for errors, missed opportunities, and weak pedagogy, those too will abound. People tend to find what they are looking for.
The first step coaches must take in order to find positive change in the classroom is to expect it. While it may seem a simple task to adjust their filters, it's in fact more complicated than just flipping a switch. Whatever filter is held by the mind is constantly being reinforced because the brain is looking for evidence to confirm it, which it does extremely efficiently, on a second-by-second basis at the unconscious level (Rock, 2006). Attention to one's filter allows a coach to begin to choose how to see a classroom.
Filters not only affect what is seen but also what is heard. Holding a true dialogue between coaches and teachers is difficult because communication is interpreted through assumptions or filters. People hold onto their assumptions tightly, which are tied to their worldview, so challenges to assumptions become personal challenges to one's worldview (Knight, 2015). Being present allows a coach to pay attention to their teacher, take a deep breath, and put judgments and filters on hold. This creates authentic listening and clarifies the many facets of the situation (Jablon et al., 2016).
Finally, one of a coach's top priorities is to build self-confidence in teachers yet it's hard to do that when they are focused on weaknesses instead of strengths (Rath & Conchie, 2009). By believing that all teachers have strengths and moments of effectiveness, the coaching interactions are fueled by positivity rather than through a deficit approach. One barrier to maintaining this approach is what one coaching approach calls static (Jablon et al. 2016). This interference, caused by a coach's filter, leads to reacting, instead of being proactive, and results in a lot of activity with minimal results.
To quiet the static, coaches can take a perform a quick self-diagnostic of their attention by asking and answering a few questions: how can I adjust to fit and connect with the other person? Adjustments can take the form of using a different tone of voice, changing the pace of the interaction, varying the energy level or the number of words being spoken, or even monitoring facial expressions. The other question coaches can ask to quiet the static highlights the other focus of attention: how am I feeling right now (Jablon et al., 2016)?
In addition to paying attention to their filters, coaches must also be cognizant of their emotions. The attitudes coaches hold about their teachers and their work, plus the feelings and emotions they experience and convey, greatly impact those with whom they work (Jablon et al., 2016). Coaches build strong partnerships with teachers by being fully present and watching how others bid for emotional connections, such as the questions they ask, giving a look or making a gesture, or even making physical contact (Knight, 2015). These bids, when positively responded to, can serve as the foundation of a collaborative relationship.
A powerful mindset that coaches should cultivate is one of positivity. Jon Gordon's (2007) Energy Bus Rule #3 states that you fuel your ride with positive energy. A coach's positive energy and vision must be greater than anyone's and everyone's negativity. Their certainty must be greater than everyone's doubt. A person's gift to the world, according to Gordon, is their presence of feeling good, being happy, and bringing this to others. Being around happy and positive people makes others feel the same way. When coaches feel happy, they coach from power. When they feel bad and try to feel good by pleasing others, they only give their power away.
One key that coaches should keep in mind is that they, not others, make themselves mad. They, not others, create their emotions. When dealing with strong emotions, coaches can either act on them or be acted on by them (Patterson, Grenny, Switzler, & McMillan, 2012). In between any stimulus and response is a moment. Within that moment, coaches can choose how to react and how to feel. With deliberate practice and reflection, coaches can increase the space of that moment to better manage their emotions.
A coach's character serves as the foundation of his or her work. One component of character is how the coach shows up to the work. Is the coach fully present? What filters are being used? Is the coach focused on positivity and moments of effectiveness? How are the coach's emotions affecting his or her performance and attitudes? When a coach is fully present and pays close attention to filters and emotions, the focus rightly lands on the teacher and instruction instead of on the coach.
The next installment of The Coaching Chronicles looks at the intention of coaches and looks at how coaches can show up with for either the right or the wrong reason.
Gordon, J. (2007). The energy bus: 10 rules to fuel your life, work, and team with positive energy. John Wiley & Sons.
Jablon, J., Dombro, A. L., & Johnsen, S. (2016). Coaching with powerful interactions: A guide for partnering with early childhood teachers. National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Kee, K., Anderson, K., Dearing, V., Harris, E., & Shuster, F. (2010). RESULTS coaching: The new essential for school leaders. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Knight, J. (2015). Better conversations: Coaching ourselves and each other to be more credible, caring, and connected. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Patterson, K., Grenny, J., Switzler, A., & McMillan, R. (2012). Crucial conversations: Tools for talking when the stakes are high. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Rock, D. (2006). Quiet leadership: Six steps to transforming performance at work. Harper Collins.
Rath, T., & Conchie, B. (2009). Strengths based leadership: Great leaders, teams, and why people follow. New York: Gallup Press.
Scott, S. (2004). Fierce conversations: Achieving success at work & in life, one conversation at a time. Penguin.