The Coaching Chronicles #6: Importance of character
Updated: Jul 6, 2019
In the previous editions of The Coaching Chronicles, four aspects of a coach's character were explored through the lens of how they show up each day. Coaches must pay attention to their filters and emotions as well as approach each day from a position of respect, not superiority. Additionally, coaches must monitor their beliefs and conversation habits while never forgetting the importance of listening. As coaches attend to these areas, they increase the quality of their presence and their impact on teachers. The next component of a coach's character that bears scrutiny is their integrity. If the first three rules of real estate are location, location, location, I would hazard that the first three rules of coaching are ethics, ethics, ethics.
Before coaches can implement their craft, they must connect with the teachers they work with. The foundation of that connection is character. Coaches must demonstrate trustworthiness, honesty, and reliability. If the quality of their character was to be put on trial in a court of law, they would have the burden of proof for providing enough credible evidence of competence and dependability. Teachers give trust to those they can rely on, to those who follow through and keep their word. More importantly, they have faith in those who are there when they need them (Jablon, Dombro, & Johnsen, 2016).
For coaches to fulfill the promise of their position, to powerfully impact teaching and learning, they must also demonstrate an integrity regarding their schedules. The choices they make about how to allocate their time demonstrates their intentions. If they seek to improve student learning, their daily routines will reflect those aims (Killion, 2009). Coaches have much more flexibility to set their schedules, since, unlike teachers, they don't have a group of 25 students relying on them to be present each morning at 7:45 a.m. This freedom comes with an addition job description, however.
Whether coaches are cognizant of it or not, they serve in leadership roles. Their positions require them to develop tremendous patience, compassion, humility, attentiveness, and a willingness to listen deeply (Aguilar, 2013). Though their main task is to work alongside teachers, partnering with them to improve educator capacity and student achievement, that does not negate an important reality. They are leaders in their schools and districts, and a position of leadership bears with it a weight of trust. As Uncle Ben told Peter Parker, "With great power comes great responsibility."
A key component of teaching is accountability. Whether it be with state and federal guidelines, district and school initiatives, or prescribed curriculum programs, teachers face an onslaught of demands every day. When coaches hold themselves accountable for their time, their behavior, and their conduct in general, it encourages teachers to do the same. People in general respond to accountability; the best performers do so even more (Covey & Merrill, 2006). If coaches don't hold themselves to high standards, how can they honestly expect teachers to implement their suggestions with fidelity?
Because coaches have the responsibility to deliver results, more than simply pedagogical and content knowledge is needed. Coaches must demonstrate attitudes, behaviors, and skills that elicit the best from each teacher they work with. Coaches show leadership when their actions match their purpose, values, and beliefs. When alignment exists between who a coach says she is and her behaviors, people follow. Teachers respond not to perfection but to coaches who make honest commitments to constantly improve their own behaviors and provide them with opportunities to reach their own potential (Kee, Anderson, Dearing, Harris, & Shuster, 2010). As John Maxwell is oft quoted, leadership is influence.
In his work with professional athletes and high-performers in business and other field, Jim Loehr (2012) goes to great lengths to describe positive habits and mental models for achieving anything in life. One component his work has found to be invaluable is self-esteem. Instead of simply believing in oneself, however, the foundation of self-esteem is extremely important. Any confidence, whether high or low, that is contingent on something beyond one's control is fragile. Instead of gauging worth by evaluation results, student test scores, or Twitter followers, coaches would do better to focus on their character.
A stable, healthy self-esteem is contingent on two things. First, it flows from the energy and time one expends to build specific character strengths. For example, cultivating kindness, gratefulness, or persistence does wonders to properly stabilize one's self-worth. Secondly, the alignment of one's energy and behavior with highly specific, enduring personal values also generates positive self-image components (Loehr, 2012). As coaches develop their character and reflect on their contributions to education through the filter of ethics, they gain influence, gravitas, and power.
More than just building self-esteem, however, a focus on building character also leads to success. Achieving great things in education through ethical conduct is a win for the coach, the school, the teacher, the students, and the world in general. More than simply raising test scores or meeting certain performance thresholds, coaches must always be mindful of the price of success. Who do they become as a consequence of the pursuit of their goals? Who have they become as a consequence of the chase (Loehr, 2012)?
To truly succeed as coaches, and even simply as human beings, moral strengths of character are mandatory. By establishing the primacy of character in their work lives, coaches can and will reap rewards above and beyond recognition and accomplishment (Loehr, 2012). Coaches of character will inspire generations of teachers and students to lead lives of purpose based on truth and human dignity. No matter how skilled coaches are in powerful conversations or instructional techniques, teachers and students alike pay more attention to behavior than words.
Teachers will eventually forget what coaches said and the lessons they modeled. What will be imprinted onto their memories will be their overall impressions of the coaches. The people coaches are, and the values they stand for, will stand long after shared resources are discarded and conversations are over. To maximize their positions, the importance of character must be emphasized.
The next edition of The Coaching Chronicles explores integrity, both its meaning and the foundation it rests upon.
Aguilar, E. (2013). The art of coaching: Effective strategies for school transformation. San Francisco, CA: Wiley.
Covey, S. R., & Merrill, R. R. (2006). The speed of trust: The one thing that changes everything. Simon and Schuster.
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.
Killion, J. (2009). Coaches' roles, responsibilities, and reach. In J. Knight (Ed.), Coaching: Approaches and perspectives. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Loehr, J. (2012). The only way to win: How building character drives higher achievement and greater fulfillment in business and life. Hachette Books.