The most general piece of advice I consistently give to novice coaches (those in their first five years of coaching) is to stop talking so much in coaching conversations. Ideally, coach-talk should account for somewhere between 10 percent to 33 percent of a conversation. The ability to do this emerges from a deep understanding and belief that your role as a coach is not to fill someone else’s head with ideas, advice, or direction. Your role is to facilitate reflection.
The reason why coaches need to talk less is connected to the purpose of coaching. Do you know what your district, school, or organization’s coaching program intends to do? What the program’s values are? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, consider a conversation with your program’s leaders around articulating these programmatic elements. And then temporarily insert your own values, vision, and purpose for coaching into this gap.
One of the primary goals of transformational coaching (the model I practice and train others in) is to empower educators to make decisions on their own that further the learning and success of all children. In order for this to happen, the coachee needs to refine their reflective capacities. They must be independent thinkers. They must learn how to solve problems on their own. They must learn to see their own areas for growth, and to identify ways to move through those.
Why You Need to Stop Talking
If you talk too much in a coaching conversation, it’s likely you’re offering advice, sharing ideas, providing heaps of feedback, or sharing your opinion. This will not create an empowered, independent thinker. You can do a little tiny bit of this&msdash;selectively offer an idea, piece of advice, or opinion—but maybe not more than once each session.
You’ll find it easier to stop talking so much in conversations if you strengthen your trust in your client and in the process of coaching. Believe that your coachee can figure out the problems they’re encountering in the classroom. Believe that they are smart and capable, committed and receptive; believe that they want to learn; and remember that they know themselves best—they are your best resources for figuring out how to provoke deep learning in themselves.
Remember that you’re on the same side—you both want to see growth and learning. Sometimes I’ve seen coaches get entrenched in an adversarial position with a client, seeing them as “resistant,” wondering how to “make them change.” Short end of the story here is that this perception doesn’t work—if your client feels like you want them to change, they’ll dig in their heels and you will experience resistance. Change your perception to change your reality—you’re on the same side.
So What Do You Say?
Recently I recorded a conversation I had with a principal I coach. Here’s what I said during our one hour call:
- Where would you like to start today?
- That sounds really hard. What else came up for you?
- What do you hope you’d do next time something like this happens?
- Tell me more.
- What did you learn about yourself as a leader from that experience?
- What else did you learn?
- And what else?
- I remember when this happened a year or so ago and how you responded then. What’s your memory of that time, and how do you see your response then as different from now?
- Tell me more about that.
- How do you see your growth?
- How do you wish you’d responded?
- What do you think impacted how you responded to her?
- I agree with your thoughts. Yes, try that.
- What’s most important for you to remember from this conversation?
And that’s it. There was some silence. And I also said “hum,” “oh,” and “wow” a number of times. But it wasn’t uncomfortable.
I had to listen very carefully, identify reflective question that would best help this principal move deeper in his thinking, and I had to edit my words so that my questions were clear and sharp. But then I didn’t have to do too much. It felt remarkably easy. The principal, on the other hand, said at the end of our conversation, “Wow, that felt like a mental workout!”
When I’m coaching, I still have to remind myself that I don’t need to solve other people’s problems, that if they can’t see a way through it, that’s okay—I don’t need to find a way, I just need to guide them to uncover a way. Every time I’m tempted to tell someone something, I ask myself how I might be able to guide them to their own next step. And sometimes, it’s as simple as asking, “What do you see as some viable next steps?”
You don’t need to tell your own stories or give too many ideas, resources, or suggestions—you need your client to figure these things out on their own. Sometimes it can be helpful to share a resource—but more often than not, I see coaches doing this way too much and I see clients getting overwhelmed by resources, ideas, and suggestions.
Trust that if you hold a safe learning space, and ask some good questions, your coachee can learn and grow. (You can find some good questions to ask here). Trust in the process of coaching—change won’t happen overnight (nor will that new teacher figure out every challenging element of teaching in six weeks) but coaching, when done well, works.
Gather the Data
Curious how much time you talk during a coaching session? It’s pretty easy to figure out. Audio record your next coaching session (just use the memo feature on your phone) and then count the minutes and seconds of your talk!
And then make a goal for your next coaching session to reduce your talk. For a fun challenge: See how little you can talk. And then see what happens.
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.