Education Opinion

Five Coaching Rules to Live By

By Elena Aguilar — October 07, 2018 3 min read
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There’s so much advice, suggestions, and tips and tricks for coaches, but here are my top five rules. These keep me grounded and effective as a coach. When I think back over the last decade of my coaching, these are what stand out as the rules I need to live by, the guidelines that have led to the best coaching conversations. Here they are:

  1. Honor the person in front of you--and remember that it’s all about the kids. It can be easy to get caught up in adult stuff (drama, dilemmas, needs) - and those are real and we can honor them. But let’s also not forget that we who are coaches and teachers and leaders have tremendous privilege and that we’re in this for the sake of the young people who show up in our schools every day. Coaching is about both the teacher and the students, and “both/and” is a hard thing for us humans to hold. But we can.
  2. Compassion is a mighty weapon. It can slice through resistance and open up paths. It can bring people together--teachers with their students, teachers and parents, colleagues, principals and teachers, coaches and coaches. Wield compassion and you’ll be surprised. And you know what? It feels better. An open heart is scary and we’re not used to it, but it feels better than a closed, hard, angry heart. Practice, practice, practice--because compassion is like a muscle that just needs strengthening. And you know what else? Compassion will cultivate your own resilience.
  3. Listen, listen, listen. People just want to be heard. Being a coach can be so simple, so easy. Just listen. When in doubt, listen. When you are struggling to connect, listen. When you feel frustrated, listen. When someone is upset, listen. Stop talking. Stop trying to fix someone. Stop searching for the smart/best/most brilliant question and just listen. When I’m in a coaching conversation and I don’t know what to do--I don’t know how to best help my client--I tell myself, “Elena, just shut up and listen.” It always works.
  4. Scaffold, Chunk and Use a GRR. Many coaches were effective teachers. Much of what worked when we guided the learning of children works when we facilitate the learning of adults. Problems of change are problems of learning--and coaches guide learning. One of the biggest mistakes I see made when guiding adult learning is that coaches (or administrators) direct, and say, “Here’s the curriculum guide, go teach!” And that’s not facilitating learning. When you’re working with adult learners, use many of the same strategies you used with kids--scaffold the learning, chunk it, and use a gradual release of responsibility. Modify your tone and approach, of course because adults don’t like to feel infantilized, but use many of those same strategies because they work on big and little people.
  5. Take Care of Yourself. Take time to reflect on your practice, to read and learn and grow as a coach. Take time to explore your own beliefs and ways of being. Take time to have conversations about equity and race and injustice. Take time to be with and understand your own emotions. You must do this self-care and learning at the same time as you coach--and before you coach. Go into a coaching session as calm and grounded and collected as possible. Go into a coaching session clear on your intentions and goals for the meeting. Go in clear on your own stuff and what you need to put to the side and who you need to be for your client. Take care of yourself because you deserve self care, and because your client needs for you to take care of yourself--so that you can be the clearest, most available coach for them.

Let me know if you subscribe to any of these rules, and how they work for you!

Photo taken by author.

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