Inspiring Directors to Become Instructional Leaders

Pat Lukens, Gateways Consultant

How I Coach Directors to Coach Teachers

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!

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