Archives before September 2018

Inspiring Directors to Become Instructional Leaders

By Pat Lukens, Gateways Consultant
January 31, 2018

Teachers Learning TogetherWhat does good teaching look like? What will help motivate an Education Director to help her faculty grow? What needs to be said, and what can remain unspoken? 

Coaching directors and teachers is definitely the best part of my career as an educator. I recently had a gratifying response from a young teacher to his first coaching session. He heard me, asked good questions and beamed with each new idea. In writing this article, I began to reflect on the background of knowledge and experience that allowed me to have this uplifting conversation and on what information I can pass along to others to enable similarly positive experiences.

To my mind, the most important element in coaching educators is knowing what good teaching looks like. I spent many years gaining experience in classrooms, and I built upon that knowledge by taking a course with Research for Better Teaching called Observing and Analyzing Teaching. That curriculum helped me learn what to focus on, how to identify skills (both present and hidden) and how to talk about what I observe. Developing each of these proficiencies has allowed me to better communicate with other educators.

And there’s that word: communicate. Coaching, at its core, is about establishing strong lines of communication. We may be able to identify some elements of teaching that are working well and others that we want to improve; but sharing these understandings in a way that another person can truly hear them requires a wholly different set of skills. I always emphasize that the key to coaching is building a trusting relationship with the person you are coaching, in addition to helping directors build trusting relationships with their faculty. 

I use techniques I learned long ago at a CAJE seminar on active listening, led by Mel Silberman. Much of my time as a coach is spent listening to the teacher I am working with and deciding when to jump in. I am a big believer in the Oreo cookie method of offering feedback to educators: If you need to say something negative, be sure it’s sandwiched between some positives!

I have found that it is critical to get to know the people I am coaching and determine how much feedback they desire. Some educators want to hear everything, both good and bad. Others will shut down and get defensive at the first negative comment. It is about getting to know one another. Once I really begin to understand a teacher, I can plainly see both their strengths and their challenges.  In fact, I have discovered that it is often more productive to encourage a teacher to play to their strengths, rather than focus on remediating things with which they are not comfortable.

Education is a giant matching game involving the curriculum, the students and the methodology. And the most important thing a coach can offer to educators is a large tool box of methods and approaches. Unlike a teacher, the coach needs to pull things out of her tool box that she might never use herself. Even if that tool doesn’t play to the coach’s strength, it could be just the thing to help a teacher to get over that challenging hurdle!


How I Have Benefited from Coaching

By Alison Lobron, Inclusion Coordinator, Temple Dorshei Tzedek, Newton, MA
January 31, 2018

Two years ago, my synagogue’s religious school created an Inclusion Coordinator position, and I have been fortunate to occupy this role since its inception. Working as an Inclusion Coordinator is exciting and challenging. There are times I encounter situations where I don’t know the best way to proceed.  Collaborating with a coach from Gateways has been an invaluable learning opportunity for me this year. 

Each time I meet with my coach, I share some challenging interaction or problem I’ve been wrestling with since the last time we met.  My coach listens patiently as I describe the details of the situation. Once I’m done sharing, she asks very specific, clarifying questions. Through our discussions, I am often able to see the situation in a new light, and find a path forward towards a solution that is much more thoughtful and creative than I would have come up with on my own.

While this problem-solving process would be valuable in and of itself, my work with my coach goes deeper than that. This year, we chose to focus together on the development of my own personal leadership skills. And so, while each coaching session starts with a careful study of whatever case I bring to the table, the session does not end when the problem is resolved. 

Throughout our sessions, my coach will always ask me, “What skill or special lens are you bringing to this situation? How does your lens help you see the situation in a way that is different from your colleagues or constituents? How can you effectively communicate what you are seeing?” These discussions have helped me appreciate my own skill set in a new way. My work with my coach has also given me confidence to advocate for my position at times when I might otherwise have given in to self-doubt. My coaching sessions will come to a close at the end of this year; but the impact of my work with my coach will be part of my professional identity for years to come.


Why Everyone Needs a Coach

By David Farbman, Director of the Center for Professional Learning
January 31, 2018

Coach and educator giving high fivesIn an insightful and moving TED talk, renowned surgeon and author Atul Gawande tells the story of the challenges faced by obstetric clinics in northern India and how he and his team sought to improve their depressingly poor outcomes. On the surface, the effort is about training the healthcare workers to improve their medical routines. The lesson he draws from this endeavor is not a medical one, however. Instead, he speaks to a much broader question about how to stimulate improved practice among professionals. His answer? Get a coach. In fact, Gawande argues that a lack of coaching throughout one’s career leads to a leveling off of skills and getting stuck in the status quo.

Without labeling it such, Gawande is clearly promoting a Growth Mindset, the belief that every individual is capable of—and should commit to—getting better at what they do.  And, in his telling, the best way to get better is to have coach, someone you trust to give you specific, actionable feedback.  He cites professional athletes, musicians like Itzhak Perlman and himself as prime examples of professionals at the highest levels of talent and capacity who, nevertheless, depend on coaches to get even better. Having another voice of experience at one’s side to point out where you can adjust your technique or re-orient your perspective is not a sign of weakness; rather, in Gawande’s words, it bestows “value” on what you do.

Gawande’s TED talk is a perfect way to frame the pieces in this month’s collection, which describe how Gateways’ experts, who collectively coach dozens of educators in the Boston region and beyond, continue their own growth as educators and practitioners. We also hear from an education director who is receiving coaching and reflects on how this process has transformed her own practice.  Theirs are stories, too, of depending on other experts to help hone one’s own expertise.

As we begin our celebration of JDAIM—Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, this message of continuous improvement resonates particularly strongly. After all, awareness of disabilities and efforts at inclusion are nothing more and nothing less than taking stock of the potential in each individual to contribute to the larger whole.  This is the essence of special education: We apply specialized methods to support those students who may not respond to typical educational approaches in order to elevate the learning of every student, no matter their challenges. And, ultimately, special education is simply good education—a bedrock principle that underlies all of Gateways’ work.

This February, during JDAIM, take a moment to consider the following question: If we encourage our students to reach beyond their assumed limits, would we not do well to do the same as educators?


Strategies I Use in Coaching

By Sherry Grossman, Director of Coaching and Consultation
January 31, 2018

My work as a coach began as a supervisor, director and mentor to bring out the best in each individual. After years of nurturing leaders in schools I sought out training to take my coaching to a new level with the Coach Training Institute (CTI) in the Co-Active Coaching model developed by Laura Whitworth, with Karen Kimsey-House, Henry Kimsey-House and Phillip Sandahl outlined in Co-Active Coaching: New Skills for Coaching People Toward Success in Work and Life. For more information see CTI’s website  and took my skills to Gateways.

How does Coaching work? Coaching begins with YOU, your values and your vision. Co-active coaching can help you sharpen your focus and create the life you want to live as a professional. Coaching clients look at their life and their work and are willing to discover their choices rather than simply solve problems. 

Coaching differs from therapy. Coaching focuses on the present and future while therapy includes more work on the past. The content and process remain confidential and may use some similar techniques. In truth, several therapists trained with me. Coaching can be done over the phone or in-person, while most therapy sessions take place in-person. In coaching the client and coach design and re-design their alliance together. Coaching starts with the belief that people are creative, resourceful, and whole and the coach holds the client accountable to plan and act confidently beyond sessions.

Coaches offer a new way of ‘seeing’, ‘listening’ and ‘being curious’ about every single interaction.  They ask provocative, powerful and direct questions. They wait for the client to find his/her own answers.  Working toward developing a flexible perspective means being able to stand strong in different viewpoints. These two playful yet serious strategies serve as tools to tackle challenging situations:

1) Put the problem or topic being faced in the center of a virtual “pie” on the floor.  Invite the client to stand in her “integrity” space and speak to the issue from there.  Then walk across to the opposite ‘pie’ piece and speak from the most uncomfortable stance. Together the client and coach draft a map of the results and continue walking through several different perspectives facing the same issue.  Label each pie (perspective) piece and crystalize the characteristics of each perspective.    Make a choice about which stance works best to address the issue.  The client decides when and where to confront the challenge and then reflect with the coach!

2) Each of us has different internal thoughts that can get in the way of our success.  These negative voices can be called ‘gremlins or saboteurs’. They often take up too much space in our brains. When my coach asked me to write about and personify my saboteur, I ended up labelling this gremlin my ‘woulda coulda shoulda”.  Each time I tried to wiggle out of a tough situation I had to stop and remember that I could choose to kick my gremlin outside of the coaching room/session and practice using my strong and bold stance.

Coming up with a new approaches to the same challenging situation during a coaching session brings a sense of curiosity and new energy to forge ahead rather than a barrier to action.

Who Seeks Coaching? People in transition, professional educators, teaching team members and school leaders seek positive life and leadership changes in a space where their voice and ideas come first. Given a shift in personal or professional goals, changes in relationship(s), a new professional in a new position facing very challenging situations in the classroom, feeling the deep desire to create balance at work/ in life, and coping with a major loss, transition or change.

In the words of a client: “My coach listens with her whole self.  She reminded me of things I had said last week, last month and last year. The life lessons we worked through help me not just personally, but they give me incredible insight in how to be a professional special education teacher who really “listens” to her students.  I am so grateful for our time together.”


Coach As Personal Trainer

By Beth Crastnopol, Director of Professional Development Initiatives
January 31, 2018

Personal trainer t-shirtI began personal training with trepidation. After all, I’d always exercised even if it was a ‘light’ version. Sure, I was hesitant to push myself and I never seemed to make any gains but I also did not get hurt. I decided I would give this a try in an attempt to get a little stronger and stave off age related injuries. The first thing my trainer asked me was, “So what are your goals? What do you want to accomplish?” I had no clear idea but slowly, through questioning and discussion, we were able to come up with a plan for improving my fitness. Over time, we would refer back to those goals and Audrey, my brilliant trainer, would carefully guide and coax me to try things that were out of my comfort zone, always meeting me where I was at the moment by listening to my thoughts and monitoring my progress. As it turns out, this was life changing for me. I found myself willing to take risks and grow beyond what I would have imagined.

Teachers and school leaders have complex and demanding jobs. Frequently, they do not have job-alike peers to consult or collaborate with on a regular basis. It is easy to get stuck in familiar patterns and resist change. Even a motivated school leader may not have the time or bandwidth to devote to self-improvement. Conflicts with board members, parents, or teachers can become overwhelming and it then is easy to lose track of our main priority, the students. They don’t necessarily need someone to tell them what to do. But, a leader can benefit from another professional who can listen with an objective lens and guide a process of self-reflection and planning. A coach can provide that lens while offering support and expertise.

As I worked with my trainer, she started each session checking in with me to see how I was progressing and what aches and pains were impeding progress. As a coach, I always start sessions in the same mode. The coaching sessions need to be guided by the participant. Where I often started with concerns about a sore muscle keeping me from exercising, teachers I work with will talk about the problem they may experience in their own work with a colleague or a student. Just as my trainer watched me performing exercises and guided me to improve my form, a good coach can listen to the problems encountered, ask probing questions to promote self-reflection, and come up with plans for improving ‘form’ to enhance progress.

Teaching or leading teachers is extremely challenging work that can be frustrating. Working with a coach can be a priceless gift for self-reflection and learning.