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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Why Don’t Educators Want to Be Coached?

By Peter DeWitt — August 01, 2016 5 min read
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It’s time for the Olympics. It’s always very exciting to watch athletes hit the biggest milestone of their lives. Going to the Olympics is a goal so many athletes have dreamed about but were never able to achieve. The Olympians we will watch with excitement, whether they get a medal or not, have all worked extremely hard to make it to the event.

One of the things that each and every Olympian has in common, regardless of what country they are from, is that they all have a coach. Some of these athletes have worked for years for a race that may only last a matter of seconds, and their coach has been with them every step, shot, swing or stroke of the way.

If coaches are so important....why is it that many teachers and leaders don’t want to work with a coach?

Bringing Their A-Game
Last week I had the great fortune of working with coaches in the Lewisville, Texas Independent School District. Right when I walked into the packed room of 80 coaches and facilitators, I could tell it was going to be a great 3 days. They were laughing, leaning in, and pushing back on things that I suggested.

At one point on the last day of the Jim Knight Instructional Coaching Institute, I thought about all of the great coaches I have been able to learn from in my personal experience as a former runner (and now jog walker!), and my professional life over two years as someone who runs coaching institutes from time to time.

And I wondered why so many have a hard time getting into classes.

Over the years I have had the luxury of working with colleagues and mentors who have helped me grow. The teachers I worked with as a principal helped me grow as a leader, so I wonder why it’s hard for teachers to let coaches into their classrooms? I wonder why it’s so hard for leaders to let coaches into their buildings?

As I flew away on my very delayed flight, I reflected on the 3 awesome days in Lewisville and thought about the reasons coaches get the held up palm of the hand...rather than an open door welcoming them in.

I’m sure you can add to the list (feel free to in the comment section), but...

Is it:
Teachers don’t need coaches - Perhaps many teachers believe their advanced degrees are enough so they don’t need a coach. After all, if teachers paid for their degree and worked hard to achieve it, maybe they think they don’t need a coach. With that philosophy, Olympians like Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin must believe that just because they have been to an Olympics or two already, they no longer need coaches.

Critical friends all already in place - Perhaps a teacher already has a “critical colleague” who comes into observe and provides feedback, and then they do the same for them. Sometimes critical friends work well when that critical friend provides great feedback, but others times that critical friend may just stay in the “land of nice” and only provide praise. This dilemma of praise over feedback can happen with coaches as well, but is it possible they can invite the coach into the partnership to see if their critical friendship is already working?

Coaches only work with teachers in need of growth - This is a strong misperception in coaching programs. Most teachers believe coaches only work with “weak” teachers, when the reality is that coaches can work with anyone. What doesn’t help this situation is when coaches are not prepared to work with strong classroom teachers and offer little effective feedback to them when they get the chance. If coaches are going to go into rooms to help all teachers grow, they need to make sure they’re prepared. Additionally, this misperception of only working with weak teachers is supported by principals who only allow a coach to work with someone they believe is weak. Great coaches work with everyone.

Lack of an understanding of what coaches do - Sometimes building leaders and teachers don’t understand the role of the coach (Read 5 reasons schools should have instructional coaches). It is really important that coaches have a clearly defined role (Knight) and that everyone in the district understands that role. Perhaps that clarification can help move a coaching program forward in a positive direction.

Coaches being used as compliance officers - This is a huge issue that coaches and teachers have to grapple with. I have heard from coaches and teachers across the country who say they are put in this position. They are asked to make sure everyone is pacing at the same time, and it puts the coach in a bad position, and it makes teachers less likely to want to work with them.

The coach - A bad...compliance-based...top-down coach, or one that lacks expertise, will not make it very far with teachers. Teachers are very protective of their classrooms and students. Additionally, they are very busy, so they don’t want to spend time with a coach that can’t help them grow.

The teacher - Sometimes teachers don’t want adults to see them in action because they’re insecure. Other times they don’t want to work with another adult because they believe they know it all, or can handle it all, already. Additionally, there are teachers who are un-coachable, which is the administrator’s job and not the job of the coach.

The culture of the building - Last but not least, a coaching program will not happen without a positive school climate. The school climate is how students and teachers feel when they enter into the building. School climate is about how much they are engaged and valued through dialogue and curriculum. The culture of the building is what dictates whether that will happen. At some point a positive school climate should overcome a negative school culture that has been created over years of top-down issues. If the culture of the building is more about rule following than risk-taking, an authentic coaching program will be hard to develop.

In the End
If leaders supported coaching programs because they understand the value, teachers will support coaching because they understand the growth that could come out of the relationship. Coaches can help teachers grow, and their coaches can grow in the process.

In less than a week we start watching the Olympians, and see glimpses of their coaches on the sidelines. We will feel a sense of excitement watching so much hard work coming to fruition, and think about how proud the coach must be to work in partnership with the athlete. And then the next morning we will get up, walk into our classrooms and close the door behind us leaving the coach on the outside.

Coaches, like those in Lewisville, are helping me to see that closing the door with them on the outside would be a very big missed opportunity.

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is the author of several books including the forthcoming Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most (2016. Corwin Press). Connect with Peter on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground 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.