Education Opinion

How Can I Coach A Resistant Teacher? Part 3

By Elena Aguilar — May 06, 2013 3 min read
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Many coaches have written asking for advice on how to coach resistant teachers, and they note that many of those teachers are “veterans.” What is it with these older, entrenched teachers that makes them so difficult to work with?

A Perspective from Fullan and Hargreaves

Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves offer an interesting framework for thinking about resistant teachers. They suggest that most teachers can be located along two axes--one of commitment and the other of capability. Early career teachers have low capability and sometimes higher commitment. Mid career teachers often have high capability and higher commitment. And late career teachers can have higher or lower capability, and sometimes, lower commitment.

They identify four groups of teachers in the late career bracket:

  1. The Renewed (the high capability, high commitment)
  2. The Disenchanted: teachers who were enthusiastic about change and may have supported 3-4 change initiatives, but then the change initiative ended or was thwarted: the principal left, the funding ended, etc. They became disenchanted.
  3. The Quiet Ones: 30% of people are introverts. These teachers can be mistaken for resisters, but they’re not. They’ll work well with a few colleagues.
  4. The Resisters and the Reprobates. There are a few like this.

Hargraves and Fullan lay out this framework in order to advocate for increasing teacher support in the mid-years. They say the “Golden Cell” is from 4-8 years of teachers, and even up to 22 years. These are the most committed and most capable teachers. Hargraves and Fullan suggest that we increase support for these teachers, and not the resisters and reprobates.

I find this framework useful for a couple reasons. First, before we decided that a teacher is “resistant” we want to make sure we’re not confusing him or her with a “quiet one” or someone who is disenchanted. As I said in Part 2 of this series, coaching is not the remedy for the Resisters and Reprobates. But coaches could be effective with the Disenchanted.

Coaching the Disenchanted

A disenchanted teacher can be coached. With this group of teachers, you’ll need to start with some committed, deep listening. I have found that when I’ve coached disenchanted teachers, I’ve tried to hurry this stage--come on, let’s get to the work, I find myself thinking. But in order to get to the work a coach will need to help this person process the disenchantment and find some other ways to think about those experiences. We can find ways to help teachers think about change in a way that’s empowering and motivating, so that they aren’t acting like a resistant teacher and so that they’re open to improving their practice.

Here are some questions you might ask a “Disenchanted” teacher:

  1. Tell me about what happened.
  2. What feelings come up for you when you think about this change?
  3. Has change like this happened before in your teaching career?
  4. Tell me about that time.
  5. Tell me about who you were when you started teaching?
  6. When you engaged in that first, second change effort?
  7. Who do you want to be going forward?
  8. What kind of impact do you want to have on your students? On your school? On your colleagues? How do you want them to see you?
  9. Are there other ways to interpret the experiences that were disappointing or disenchanting?
  10. Are there any other stories you could tell about what happened?
  11. What might happen if you released some of your disappointment? Would you be willing to try?
  12. How do you want to remember the final years of your teaching career?

If you coach a disenchanted teacher, you’re going to need a lot of patience and compassion. It can be done and it’s worth it for the overall health of the school and for the individual. Remember, a disenchanted person is experiencing a lot of pain and grief and possibly despair. If he or she is receptive to coaching, or to having some conversations with you, you could be very helpful. Coaches need to reach deep into our bag of tools to work with these kinds of people.

Tomorrow I’ll offer some more specific tools for this kind of work.

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