The Art of Coaching
Before joining The Friday Institute, my experience with coaching was limited–or so I thought. As a classroom educator, I rarely saw myself as a coach to anyone. It was all I could do to keep up with my own thoughts and ideas for designing amazing learning experiences for my kids. When I moved into the school library, my position afforded me the opportunity to work more closely with classroom educators, pushing me into a role that made me feel more like an instructional coach. While my colleagues earnestly sought my help and eagerly collaborated with me, I was missing the point of being a coach. I viewed coaching as solving people’s problems–leading them to an answer.
Then I was selected to be a part of the second cohort of the NC Digital Leaders Coaching Network (NCDLCN). When I began my journey with NCDLCN, I had no idea that a year later I’d be working at The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation as a digital innovation coach, facilitating the very experiences I was participating in. NCDLCN helped me to gain a deeper understanding for coaching–not just what a coach is, but the actual art of coaching someone. I left the cohort after our last convening realizing that coaching is participatory, not just for the educator, but for the coach as well. More than solving problems, a coach helps someone find new understandings about him or herself, and in the case of education, transform teaching and learning as a result of this.
“The art of coaching is doing, thinking, and being: doing a set of actions, holding a set of beliefs, and being in a way that results in those actions leading to change. These are the three things that can make coaching transformational.”
In her book, The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation, Aguilar stresses that coaching leads to transformation. My idea of coaching has redefined itself. Coaching is not evaluative. It is not fixing someone or simply solving a problem. This is very one-sided and not often participatory. Coaching is about building relationships, which are vital. And while listening is where coaching begins, true coaching moves into action, focusing on teaching and learning, considering what’s best for kids and evolving pedagogy in order to lead to transformation.
In a post about shared reality and goals, Seth Godin asserts that in order to get buy-in (which is important with any coaching experience), you must be able to sell what you’re actually selling. In order to do this, all parties must agree on the goals, the reality, and the measurement. This immediately makes me think about coaching and my experiences as a coach during my time at The Friday Institute.
In November during my first year as a digital innovation coach at The Friday Institute, I “met” three educators who I would be coaching during the school year. I spent time contacting them to begin to build a relationship that I hoped would make the coaching process more beneficial. Through a video call, I introduced myself to each of them and explained what the coaching process was in relation to their district vision and mission. And then I listened. I asked each of them about their goals–the things they felt passionately about for their kids and their classroom. Once they were done sharing their goals, I asked them what opportunities they currently had that would further facilitate that transformation? I was amazed by their reflections. Our conversations could have easily focused on outputs, simply what they would do, but through a few simple questions we moved to outcomes–the differences that they wanted to make.
In coaching, it is so important that there is a shared understanding of the reality. Facts are in the evidence, so it’s vital to be able to have a clear understanding of what’s really going on. In building relationships with these three educators, I simply asked about their realities prior to stepping foot in their classrooms. I needed context. I needed to understand what they were up against everyday and the struggles that they faced. And all of this needed to happen before I could start helping them toward their ultimate goal–transforming teaching and learning in their classrooms. In my case, I got very limited time with each of these educators, so shared reality became that much more important.
When working with these educators, my goal was to have them define success and for us to work together to get there. After discussing their goals, I asked each of them to define what they think success would look like in relation to that goal. Coaching should be non-evaluative, which means it’s important that they participated fully in the idea of measuring success. These conversations evolved over time as I was able to offer more actionable feedback.
During my time as a coach, I learned and grew as much as the educators I worked alongside. And through my coaching journey I realized there’s nothing quite like being a part of someone’s journey of transforming teaching in learning for their students.