Ways of Working: Responsive Coaching Calls for Multiple Roles

Chris Hoyos, Abeo Coach 

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Coaching for instructional improvement is a strategy and resource that many schools and districts have put in place to support their adult learners. So what does it mean to “coach”? Skillful coaching incorporates many  highly nuanced roles and ways to work - when to probe, clarify, tell, show, and share - and moving fluidly and flexibly between them.  As I work alongside educators and continue to refine my own skills as a coach, I’ve learned I can be more effective by recognizing the nuances and using what I know strategically. I often think about several roles at play at any given time, that of the coach, the collaborator, and the consultant:

The Coach

We all have questions about our practice and as we search for answers to these questions, objective feedback from a coach can be invaluable. Teachers face many challenges as they work to meet the needs of each and every student and rarely, if at all, do they have the opportunity to “get on the balcony” to be reflective about their craft.  As coach, I listen carefully as a teacher talks about teaching and learning then engage in dialogue about possibilities. I ask probing questions that facilitate the teacher’s meta-cognition about the cause and effect of instruction, guiding the teacher while they make revisions to their thinking and to their practice. These side-by-side conversations are where true professional development happens for the teacher. I need to be sure the teacher is in the driver’s seat, doing the heavy lifting of inquiry and reflection while I, as coach, guide and support alongside. 

The Collaborator

Sometimes the answer to a teacher’s question about practice requires research or further exploration.  Being in the role of coach doesn’t mean one should or need to know it all; in fact, that’s quite impossible.  So I leave my ego at the door and acknowledge that I don’t know, and prepare to problem solve collaboratively. As coach, I sit with the teacher and we work together to look into the dilemma at hand. We may each need to bring resources to the table to support our task. Our collaboration may include analyzing student work, identifying standards, or co-planning a lesson or unit.  As collaborators, we inquire and reflect together to move practice forward.

The Consultant

There are times when a teacher is looking for consult and just needs to be told. They are looking for an “expert” to fill in the blank. I find this happens more frequently with novice teachers who lack the years of experience to fall back on though veteran teachers too look for this support when confronted with new information, policies or curriculum. It is in these moments I need to be reflective and ask myself, “What is the teacher asking for?  A quick fix?  Or something worthy of further inquiry and reflection?”  Often times, technical questions posed by teachers require little more than a quick tell – how to administer an assessment or where to find a resource. Though knowledge is being given, the way in which the information is provided is as a “more knowledgeable other” not as a “know-it-all.”  And in this role, it’s important that I be fully aware of what is being asked and put my ego aside; after all, this is about them. 

Though I recognize and apply these roles in my own coaching practice, I am fully aware that they (more often than not) overlap.  The teacher’s dilemma or question can be multi-faceted, requiring that I move in and out of these roles.  So how do I know which role to take?  Well, that’s completely dependent on the adult learner.  As a coach, what I’ve come to understand is that the most important role is that of listener.  By listening carefully to what the teacher is asking or saying, and to what their body language is revealing, we can be fully present and there for the teacher.