The meeting had been set for 9:00 a.m. via a calendar invite. The teacher was asked to meet with the coach to begin work on the coaching cycle.

Feelings of anxiety and frustration filled the teacher as there was a lack of clarity around what the meeting was about and why there was a need to work with a coach. The coach also felt nervous, not having previously worked with this teacher and with the added urgency to work with all teachers in the building.

As instructional coaches, we have a very vital role- to support teachers to be their most successful selves. The coaching role often gets mired in compliance and forced collaboration (which is really not collaboration).

Many times, the coach is asked to work with teachers in the building and the teacher feels like they’re being forced to work with someone that they may or may not already have an existing relationship with. This structure can lead to awkward scenarios and eventually resistance from both the coach and the teacher.

The coach is well-intentioned, excited to support teachers with new and innovative strategies they’ve learned, but if the approach or posture is one of “changing someone,” no amount of excitement will lead to an organic relationship.

We must approach our relational work differently and the narrative must shift from “how can I get teachers to change?” to “how can my actions connect to others’ intrinsic motivational flows?”

The coach approach should be guided by how teachers want to learn and grow. Here are a few examples of how to tailor your approach for different types of learners:

Create an inviting, positive, and fun environment:
With the important work required of teachers and the pressures they often face, following this principle carries more weight than ever before. Sharing ideas and discussing learning standards and instructional strategies are pertinent for this environment. But when it comes time for creation and critical thinking, don’t force everyone to “be productive” or “create a deliverable” in a forced collaborative environment. This concept segues into the next key action.

Provide structured quiet time:
Many collaborative meetings are filled with lots of talk time and a just little to no think time. Quiet time is best for reflection, contemplation, and creation. Quiet time can also mean alone time, depending on what your team members need. If you carve out an hour of time with your team, and your objectives for that meeting require complex thinking or creation, set aside at least thirty minutes for quiet time.

Identify and share personality types:
Coaches can find many personality assessments online that can help them decide on the best way to assess and illuminate personality types and strengths. Not only is this beneficial for advocating balanced collaborative processes (talk time vs. think time), but it will also be pivotal in working one-on-one alongside teachers. Once teachers share their personality profiles in a trusting environment, you’ll begin to sense mutual understanding and respect among team members.

Stock image of two smiling women having a discussion in a cafe.

Coaching goes beyond the sharing of new ideas or modeling instructional strategies for teachers. Successful instructional coaching results from learning how to actively construct and refine meaning from the teaching experience, and to support teachers in fully exercising an individualized expression of themselves.

Because of the sense of urgency that exists in the role of the coach (I have 50 teachers that must be supported all in one year!), there might be a tendency to rush or force a coach-teacher relationship that isn’t yet there. We must stop actively reacting and pursuing, and instead just be quiet. It reminds me of discovering the wildlife here in my home in Maine.

When we moved here, we kept hearing about Black Bears. It was fascinating to think we might stumble upon one while taking a walk through our woods. A couple of months of winter passed and not one black bear, not even a moose. And then one day, we found him, or rather, he found us. It was 2 a.m. in the middle of a cold winter’s night. One of our security cameras caught him casually walking up to and looking through our front door! He sniffed around a bit, found our bird feeder, climbed up a column on the front porch to get a good snack, and then moved on.

I’m reminded of how our own being, our spirit, is like that of the black bear (we named him “Ro-Bear-to” by the way). He wasn’t discovered by walloping through the woods yelling, “Mr. Bear, Mr. Bear, come out, come out wherever you are!” He is clever, independent, knows what he wants, yet is also reserved and sometimes shy. We can best find ourselves under the quiet stillness and in the comfort of trusting and positive environments.

The lesson here for coaches is that we have to honor the natural progression of a relationship, letting trust build through experience and time. Instead of barging into their classroom, find casual places (teacher’s lounge, coffee shop, etc.) to chat, asking them how their day is going, affirming them on the positive things happening in their classroom. Eventually, as sincerity becomes the foundation of the relationship, the coach and teacher can make light speeds of progress because of the relational work that was already in progress.

What have you done to nurture new coaching relationships to ensure success? Please share.

To learn more about Everyday Instructional Coaching:

Seven Daily Drivers to Support Teacher Effectiveness (Instructional Leadership and Coaching Strategies for Teacher Support), check this out.