Coaching vs Directing

Working with teachers can be a delicate process. Especially when they have been teaching for many, many years. It can be difficult for a teacher to open themselves up to a person who is not in the classroom with them every day. You may find yourself in a position where you have been asked (by a principal, director, etc.) to coach a teacher who does not feel they need any “help”. It is important to remember that you are not there to “fix” their classroom, or their teaching practices. You are there to support and encourage them towards competency and confidence in self-reflection, self-correction, and the ability to generalize new skills.

Coaching is a partnership and a reciprocal process. It cannot be based on the coach’s “power” over the teacher, or a hierarchal relationship where the teacher implements actions from directives, intimidation, or a need to satisfy the coach. Collaboration can only be successful when there is mutual trust and respect. This happens by building a relationship with your teacher before, during, and continually through the process.  

Direct teaching, on the other hand involves a transfer of knowledge from a person with expertise to an individual. Actions are taken based on the observations and directions of the coach. Coaching involves reflective questions in order to build capacity. An example would be a teacher who has identified she needs help with a child who exhibits challenging behavior. The child will run through the classroom knocking children and toys on shelves over in the process. The teacher would like to discuss how to address the problem. With direct teaching, the teacher would be instructed on how to change the classroom environment to eliminate running lanes, how to create class rules, teach a replacement behavior, etc. With coaching, there would be a conversation with many reflective questions that enables the teacher to identify changes that can be made to make the environment more successful.

There are four types of reflective questions: knowledge and understanding; practice, outcomes; and evaluation. Knowledge and understanding questions help the teacher identify what they currently know about a certain topic. Practice questions help the teacher identify what they are currently doing in a certain situation. Outcome questions are intended for the teacher to think about the intended results. Questions involving evaluation ask the teacher to make judgements or decisions about the usefulness of opportunities in order to recognize what they already know or what they are doing and to recognize new skills they would like to learn.

No matter which type of reflective question you use, remember to use open-ended questions (who, what, where, when, why), rather than closed-ended questions (can be answered with yes or no). You are not instructing them on what to do, but are coaching them through the process of identifying areas for improvement. This approach works well with seasoned teachers as well as brand new teachers because you are involving them in the process. Coaching is not something that is being done “to” the teacher, but rather “with” the teacher.

Do you have a successful coaching story you would like to share? Or maybe a cautionary tale about a coaching mistake you have made in the past? Leave a comment with your story. I would love to hear from you!

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