Instructional coaches must be masters at recognizing and communicating their coachee’s greatest assets to aid in transformations that lead to authentic growth. This can be challenging. As a coach, you are trained to have a critical eye, and as an experienced educator, you may first see what isn’t working in a classroom before you notice what is working. Coaches and their coachees will benefit greatly when a coach focuses first on what is going well in a classroom and not on what needs to be fixed. Recognizing your coachees as skilled educators and conversing with them as such establishes rapport and, more importantly, builds trust. Only when coachees accept that you are there to help, and not to criticize, will change begin to unfold.
Here are five key strategies for validating your coachees and their work:
1) Provide authentic praise. Most people, children included, can recognize artificial praise. When you’re offering positive feedback, a key rule is to be specific and acknowledge action. For example, “Even though you took over this classroom from another teacher just two weeks ago, you’ve already managed to learn the personal interests of several students. That’s great!”
2) Be sincere. When a teacher is really struggling, it might be challenging to find positive things to talk about after an observation. When you feel this way, remind yourself that there’s always something of value in your coachee. Look for that thing of value, whatever it might be. Maybe she has an authentic smile. Maybe she gives clear instructions. Maybe she made a mistake and was able to laugh at herself. Whatever detail you choose for offering validation, be sure it’s something you truly appreciate about your client. That way, the praise will be sincere.
3) Pay attention. Sometimes, the simple fact that you’re holding mental space for your coachee’s work can be a powerful validation. When you are observing in a teacher’s classroom, be as attentive as you would like your own students to be. Don’t spend your time looking down at the papers on your desk or worse, your phone. When you’re engaging in one-on-one conversation with a teacher, practice being an active listener: make eye contact, use your body language to show you’re engaged, and paraphrase to show your understanding.
4) Be a mirror. Remember that it’s possible to offer an observation without adding a value statement. For example, “I noticed how you spent a few extra minutes with Regina during the lesson today,” or “I see that you listed the day’s objectives on the board before the lesson.” These statements can function as praise and, even more importantly, can validate your coachee’s work by giving them the opportunity to reflect on and further discuss their choices.
5) Practice empathy. Finally, remember to view your coachee’s work through a lens of compassion and empathy. Teaching is hard work for which little validation or support is traditionally offered. Consider how your coachee experiences and expresses emotion. Consider, also, how her life experiences may be influencing her teaching and her beliefs about students. Then, use that information to connect with your coachee and help her grow.
Validating your coachees is a great way to model how teachers can positively validate and build trust with their students. By establishing trust through these five strategies, you’re demonstrating techniques your coachees can use to build relationships with students.
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.