Professional Development Opinion

Why Teachers Might Benefit From Transformational Coaching

By Elena Aguilar — December 05, 2018 3 min read
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Is your instructional coaching having the impact you want it to have? Is it impacting a teacher’s practice in a way so that it changes student experience and outcomes? If not, you may want to consider whether transformational coaching is what’s needed.

Classrooms exist within a school, which exist within a district, and so on. We don’t teach (or coach) in a vacuum. Rather, we are in an environment that is always influenced by and acted upon by systemic issues beyond the classroom. Transformational coaching takes this into account, finding the connections between the individual client’s beliefs, the institutions and systems within which the client works, and the broader educational system in which we live. Therefore, the goal is not simply individual change (say, in a specific teacher or a specific student) but broader, more significant change that transforms the very craft of teaching.

Here’s how a coach might address the three essential domains considered in transformational coaching:

Explore the individual’s beliefs, behaviors, and being. Begin by exploring your client’s language, nonverbal communication, and emotions, and consider specific ways in which these things affect relationships, performance, and results. Helpful strategies include asking probing questions such as, “Who do you want to be?” and recording and revisiting your client’s responses. You may also help your client gain perspective on how she is interacting with others by transcribing a lesson and asking her to evaluate which of her statements or responses reflect her core values and which do not. If this sounds personal, that’s because it is—you’re asking clients to evaluate opinions and feelings they may be very attached to. Try to be compassionate during this process: Withhold judgment and be a mirror for your client.

Address the institutions and systems in which the client works (departments, teams, and schools) and the individuals working within those systems (students, teachers, and administrators). A transformational coach thinks in terms of systems and attempts to address ways in which an individual or classroom problem can be addressed at a higher level so as to result in transformational change for children within the entire school or district. For example, a teacher might be frustrated by her inability to keep cellphones out of her classroom. Before considering individual punishments or even a classroom rule, a systems-thinking coach might encourage the teacher to consider the school’s policy on cellphones: Is it effective? Do other teachers abide by it? Perhaps there is a lax cellphone culture at the school. The client may feel empowered by addressing this issue with colleagues on a systems level rather than viewing this as an individual failure of classroom management.

Consider the broader educational and social system in which we live. From a systems-thinking perspective, it is important to be aware that there are often socioeconomic and political issues affecting the children our clients teach and the systems they teach within. For example, a teacher who is frustrated that her students aren’t doing their homework should be encouraged to look at the root cause of this behavior. She might find that students have too many responsibilities at home to complete homework or that they don’t have a quiet place at home to complete their work. While these specific issues may be beyond the teacher’s control, being aware of them should influence how she appropriately and equitably addresses the homework issue in her classroom.

Finally, the coach’s own willingness to examine her own beliefs and behaviors and to potentially change them according to what she discovers--is an integral part of transformational coaching. This type of coaching is not an act that is done to one person by another. It is, instead, a complex dynamic engaged in by both client and coach. For the client to truly experience transformation, the coach must be willing to learn and grow along with the client.

Here’s a one-page synopsis of this model for additional reading: What is Transformational Coaching.pdf

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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.