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Education Opinion

How to Ignite Educators’ Willingness to Change

By Elena Aguilar — February 06, 2017 2 min read
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Do you coach people who sleepwalk through days of teaching or leading? Are you looking for a way to wake up your coachees, ignite their commitment to change, and spark their passions?

Engage them in a conversation about their purpose, their why, their dreams of the legacy they’ll leave. Such a conversation can kindle the soul of an educator and make them more receptive to coaching and changing.

What is your why? Why do you do what you’re doing? How long has it been since someone asked you about your why? Since you sat and reflected and rambled about it for half an hour? Since someone listened to that story with complete attention and got excited by what they heard?

Ask your coachees why they do what they do.
Ask them why they became a teacher.
Ask them how they want their students to remember them; how they want one specific student to remember them when he or she is graduating from high school. Here’s what I say:

“Tell me about a student whom you find challenging, but about whom you see some positive aspects, perhaps there’s something you appreciate about him or her.”

And then after the teacher has told you about this student, I say:

Tell me a little more about him/her."

And then I say:

I want you to imagine that ____ is graduating from high school (or college if I'm talking to a teacher who teaches 11th or 12th grade) and he/she gets in touch with you and invites you to his/her graduation. And you go. And you're sitting there in the audience right behind his/her family and when ______ crosses the stage, he/she looks out and sees you there. And he/she gets a huge smile on his/her face. And in that moment, how do you want him/her to remember you?"

And this question ALWAYS delivers a jolt, and sometimes results in a watery welling of the eyes, and often I can see that sometimes recalcitrant teacher melt in front of me. And their heart pours out and their Why emerges and we both see the teacher-they-once were (perhaps when they started teaching, their heart all open and soft and vulnerable). And I understand why their heart got a little hard over the years--teaching is hard business. But my job is to reconnect them with their why. And then our work is much easier.

Ask the people that you coach: Who do you want to be in this world? Who do you want to be for your students?

Statements of being can sound like any of these:

  • I want to be a force of hope and inspiration
  • I want to be an advocate for equity
  • I want to be kind and loving
  • I want to be courageous and compassionate
  • I want to be a source of healing
  • I want to be someone who believes in the potential of every young person who walks in my door.

Statements of being can sound like a mission or vision statement, but they’re generally shorter and more direct. They feel good to say.

Asking these questions and offering your clients an opportunity to share their why and their legacy is a reflection of your belief in them. Just by asking the questions you are communicating a belief that they have something worthy and wonderful inside them. Listen openly. Ask a few questions. Appreciate them for sharing. And then see if they want permission for you to coach them in that area. Here’s what that sounds like from me:

I hear that you want your students to remember you as caring and as someone who taught them a great deal. Are you open to having me coach you on this? To helping you to connect these ways of being to how you show up and teach every day?"

Your teachers will say yes, if they trust you.

And then I say:

So, in order for _____ to know that you care about him, how might you welcome him in to class tomorrow? How might you modify your lesson plan for tomorrow so that _____ is sure to learn a lot?"

This is backwards planning. The vision has been set--both the teacher’s vision for themselves (how they want to be remembered) and a vision for the student (that they’ll learn a lot and feel cared for). So what needs to happen so that this goal can be reached?

And what’s happened is that you’ve got the teacher bought into the planning—because the best parts of them have been activated, their vision for themselves has been reignited.

Just try. And see what happens. And before you head out to coach, take a little time to reflect on your why. How do you want the teachers that you coach to remember you?

The opinions expressed in The Art of Coaching Teachers are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.