The Coaching Chronicles #4: Monitor yourself
Updated: Jun 20, 2019
Coaching is a full-contact sport. It's not for the half-hearted or timid. On the contrary, it takes the complete commitment of the coach to be effective. Whereas some jobs can be maintained or fulfilled successfully with 50% - 75% effort, coaching demands attention to too many areas for tepid devotion. One area that many coaches might not even monitor is their body language.
Coaches must always be mindful of how their bodies and words demonstrate attention. When they maintain eye contact and incline slightly toward a speaker, they demonstrate respect and convey a sense of importance (Aguilar, 2013). If they look past a speaker or down at their laptops or notebooks during conversations, grimace or make grunts of irritation, or interrupt the speaker, they convey disinterest. Many coaching relationships stop before they ever get a chance to get started because of lackluster nonverbal communication.
In general, the way coaches carry themselves, the way they move and gesture, often transmits their values and motives louder than words ever could. Nonverbal communication reveals what coaches feel affection for, what they're interested in, what they want to control, and whether or not they trust their teachers. For coaches who want to maximize their effectiveness, they should monitor how they show up physically. Their nonverbal communication should match the messages they are sending to teachers through verbal and written communication (Knight, 2009b).
Yet more than monitoring their physical bodies, there are some non-corporeal areas to attend to as well. Coaches who desire to show up every day with power and purpose should also keep tabs on their beliefs and how they dialogue with teachers. Paying close attention to these two areas will continue to build strong relationships and strengthen student learning.
Coaches, to be effective, must remain detached from the ideas they share with teachers. If they become too emotionally involved in the changes they are trying to implement or the strategies they are suggesting, they'll see resistance to their ideas as personal attacks. The consequences of this misapplied belief could potentially be devastating, as they feel buffeted to and fro by any adjustments, modifications, or downright obstruction to their suggestions (Knight, 2009b). When, however, coaches can take a step back from their ideas and view them objectively alongside the teacher, molehills remain molehills instead of growing into mountains.
Even the best ideas will need to be adjusted to meet the needs of various teachers. This flexibility, however, does not mean that coaches throw their expertise and recommended strategies out the window at the first sign of resistance. Coaches should be willing to stand by their ideas since they have been put in their positions in order to share their knowledge collaboratively with others. There is a fine line, however, between steadiness and stubbornness (Knight, 2009b). Each situation is unique and calls for a varying degree of both in order to advance learning in the classroom.
Every interaction coaches have with teachers is an opportunity to reinforce the truth that the teacher is heard, respected, and appreciated. This is how children should feel as well. Coaches not only model behavior for teachers, they model a productive stance of openness to new ideas and beliefs about how people best receive instruction. Teachers are encouraged to reflect on their own practices when coaches demonstrate flexibility and collaboration (Jablon, Dombro, & Johnsen, 2016).
The ability to synergize with others and be comfortable with modifications to ideas one holds dear ultimately stems from a belief of equality. Coaches must continually monitor their own beliefs to track how they view the teachers they work with. The central idea behind instructional coaching is that all people are created equal. Coaches and teachers may not have equivalent experience or knowledge on every topic, but their opinions are both equal, valid, and worthy of respect (Knight, 2009a; 2009b).
How coaches position themselves when conversing with teachers also plays a large role in determining their relevance and their impact. Susan Scott (2004) notes that for fierce, or meaningful, conversations to take place, coaches must come out from behind themselves and into the conversation. Once engaged in a fierce conversation, coaches shouldn't cling their positions as undeniable truths. Instead, they consider their views as hypotheses to be explored by both themselves and the teacher, tested and examined objectively.
True dialogue is maintained when coaches continually work to improve their conversation skills. Specifically, coaches should monitor their position in relation to their collaborating partner during dialogue. Are they truly in dialogue, both contributing freely to a shared pool of meaning even though opinions differ and the stakes are high? Or, perhaps, have they or their partner stepped out of dialogue, having retreated into silence or violence? Silence results when one or both parties cease contributing to the shared pool of meaning, thus pausing or ending the collaboration. Violence, on the other hand, puts people on the offensive, resulting in an attack on ideas, the other person, or both (Patterson, Grenny, Switzler, & McMillan, 2012).
What coaches believe about their position in relation to the teachers they work shows up very quickly in their dialogue. When coaches see their conversation partners as equals, ideas flow freely undergirded by respect and mutual benefit. If, however, the perception exists that the coach is superior in some way to the teacher, resistance will flower like a desert cactus. Teachers, and people in general, resist ideas in top-down conversations because they perceive that they are not getting the status they deserve (Knight, 2015).
Finally, coaches should always keep in mind that modeling matters - what they say and do influences all outcomes. When people feel judged, they often become angry, fearful, or even anxious. Conversations within this dynamic shift from a healthy Let's have a conversation about your strengths and how you can use them to become even more effective to an unhealthy I'm the expert and I'm here to show you how to improve (Jablon et al., 2016).
Within the Team 6 coaching model, conversations and communications are themselves separate domains that influence coaching effectiveness. Those two domains, however, find their root in the character of the coach. The beliefs they hold about their position in relation to their teachers and the various roles within a dialogue create the foundation from which these two domains spring forth.
The final component of showing up is listening. Click here to read more about how listening flows from the character of a coach and is strengthened by certain principles and skills.
Aguilar, E. (2013). The art of coaching: Effective strategies for school transformation. San Francisco, CA: Wiley.
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.
Knight, J. (2009). Instructional coaching. In J. Knight (Ed.), Coaching: Approaches and perspectives. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Knight, J. (2009). Instructional coaching: A partnership approach to improving instruction. 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.
Scott, S. (2004). Fierce conversations: Achieving success at work & in life, one conversation at a time. Penguin.