Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Book Notes & Reflections: The Art of Coaching (Chapter 5: Beginning a Coaching Relationship: How Do I Develop Trust with a Coachee

I've never blogged my notes and thoughts through a book, but I figure there's never a better time than NOW!

My goal is to create a reference & reflective place for me as I continue growing as a coach.

See my notes from all book chapters on my Coaching Page.

Direct quotes from the book are in blue.

"Without Trust There Can Be No Coaching"
"Learning, reflecting, and taking risks are all scary." (page 75)  We must truly care about our fellows / coachees.  We must get to know them as people, not just according to rumors we have heard about them from others or our first initial impressions.  This isn't easy and I have found myself on multiple occasions assuming I know more about my fellow than I actually do.  I need to remember to take a step back, separate myself from anything I think I know, and get to know them from scratch as we build our relationships.  They must know we are invested in them and their success, and our relationship is individual and confidential. Trust is "the feeling of confidence we have in another's character and competence" (page 77).  Character is comprised of both integrity and intent.

From my personal experience, I have seen that trust-building is huge.  I definitely noticed a difference my second year at my site, because I had already started forming the foundations of trust with my new fellows through casual interactions the previous year.  It made getting started with coaching that much easier.  I need to constantly keep at the back of my mind that trust is about trusting each other's integrity, intent, and confidence in competence.  This goes both ways.  They need to trust that I'm going to do what I say I'll do, that I'm really there to help them and don't have a hidden agenda, and that I truly believe in their competence as an educator.  I need to trust that they will do what they say they will, that they are there to grow and challenge themselves in learning, and that they believe in my competence as a coach.  I can reflect on several specific relationships that struggled in one of those six areas and thus struggled throughout the coaching relationship.

Any coaching relationships starts off with an "enrollment stage", which has two goals: 1) determine the work that the coach will do with the client and 2) to gain the client's trust. (page 77)  I feel that my coaching position is unique in that I'm not just an "instructional coach", but a "digital learning coach".  That comes with pros and cons.  The positive side is that teachers know I am there to help them effectively integrate technology into their classrooms.  The negative side is that teachers think I am only there to help them with technology... I have found it difficult these first two years to find ways to help teachers articulate some goals at the beginning of the year beyond "get better at technology" or "have my students use their laptops at least twice a week".  I am reflecting and trying to find different questions I can ask or examples I can give that will help spur some of them on.  I did better this year in terms of presenting the TPACK model from our first coaching meeting, and helping fellows see the three interlocking areas that should not be looked at as entities in themselves.  However, articulating pedagogical goals is tough for those who are not used to actively reflecting or sharing with others - especially when in that "enrollment stage" of still building trust.  I mentioned in the previous paragraph that I felt I already had the foundation of trust set with a lot of my fellows for this year, but that cannot be taken for granted.  A teacher will not be willing to share their areas of weakness and where they want to improve until trust has been built and they are secure in the relationship.

I really appreciate that this book is the "Art" of coaching and not the "Science" of coaching.  Elena Aguilar states: "Coaching is not just a technical application of tools; following a step-by-step routine will not necessarily gain someone's trust... A coach needs to be able to reflect on [her] integrity, intentions, and communication skills in order to effectively build a relationship." (page 77-78) If coaching was a science, I'm sure I'd be an expert by now.  Instead, I feel like every day I'm learning more and more about what I need to improve upon, things I need to change, different strategies and approaches I need to try.  And even once I get better at those things, it will still be a journey of improving my craft, my "art".

So, back to building trust.  On page 78, Aguilar states, "We are reminded that everyone is on a journey, and we must accept people wherever they are at this moment".  My job at the beginning of the year is to find out where my fellow is on that journey, where he/she has been, and where he/she wants to go.  This is so valuable and can sometimes seem "rushed" at the beginning of the year when a fellow wants to jump in and start stuff with technology right away.  I was more intentional this year about explaining that the first month we would be doing things to lay the foundation for the school year, but it was still tough because I wanted them to feel like they were getting something out of it from the get-go.

Aguilar gives ten steps to building trust, which I will reflect on below:
1. Plan & prepare - Carefully plan the first few meetings by writing out the questions I want to ask.  Practice with visualization or role-playing.  This is my chance to show my competence, credibility, integrity, and character.  We have a "fellow first meet" set of questions that I pull from the first few meetings.  Page 80-81 of the book have some as well, and I think they are resources on her website because some of the ones I used this year are from this list before I had this book.

2. Cautiously Gather Background Information - The goal is not to go into the first meeting having preconceived notions from other people.  I have found this to be hardest from the administration - once they know who I am coaching you can tell by their body language and initial reaction quite a lot.  Sometimes they will share comments and thoughts, but I have to do my best to avoid those conversations that will influence my feelings about any fellows.  I already know from my personal life that I do not hide my feelings well on my face, and I don't want anything negative to come across in my facial expressions or body language with fellows. Aguilar recommends knowing as little as possible about a fellow before meeting him/her, with the exception possible of another trusted coach who understands what might be valuable to know.

3. Establish Confidentiality - This is incredibly important! I mention several times as we are setting the norms and expectations for the year that our relationship is confidential.  The only thing that gets shared is a great idea or lesson that I think would benefit another fellow, and in that case I ask the fellow, "Do you mind if I share this with some of my other fellows? I think they would benefit from it."   In terms of sharing with administration, I had to set that up last year where they knew I could / would not share details about my fellows.  They know who I am working with and some of the great things going on, but I have to avoid evaluative conversations.  This isn't easy and I haven't been perfect, but I am doing my best and constantly improving.  Aguilar recommends sharing who you are working with, how much time is being spent, the topics being covered, and the tasks (completely objective).  This will be a good structure for me to keep in mind when these conversations come up.  Be honest and completely objective.

4. Listen - We must listen deeply and with acceptance, which helps our fellow to develop confidence in us and our integrity.  Use active listening strategies such as restating or paraphrasing.  I have improved in this over the course of this year, using stems such as, "What I hear you saying is...Is that accurate?" or "Can I summarize what you said? ... Do I have that right?".  It shows that I am listening and helps keep us focused during the meetings.

5. Ask Questions - "Coaching questions can shift a client's perceptions, deepen learning, move actions, and transform practice" (page 85). Asking better questions has been a huge goal of mine this year, and I have worked on it by developing and / or finding (so many resources online!) question stems for different types of conversations.

6. Connect - Find personal connections!  I have "Check your Weather" as the first agenda item on every meeting as a reminder to check in with them personally, see how they are doing, and learn more about them as people.  I like how Aguilar says that learning personal details about fellows can help her "heart open and compassion expand" (page 86) 

7. Validate - "A transformational coach is a master at uncovering a client's assets" (page 86).  What are my fellows' strengths and how can I validate them in their work?  If I focus on being strengths-based, it will help the temptation to focus on the negative and become judgmental.  Every teacher has areas of strength and finding those will help to build the trust and set the stage when you begin working on areas of growth.  I must remember that when I am praising, I must be specific - no "Good Jobs!"  What exactly is it that I noticed?  We don't want to praise just to check a box for the week, but because it allows us to "hold a mirror up to [my fellow] and help him see his strengths reflecting back" (page 87). We can't underestimate this - this will mean taking time to reflect and plan a specific area of strength to highlight at the next meeting or debrief.  It will allow my fellow to work through the vulnerability they are sure to feel at the beginning of the year (I can't forget that they are feeling that way!!!) - they are signing up for something where they can "improve, grow, change, or transform" (page 86) and that can be scary.

8. Be open about who you are and what you do - Fellows want to know why I do what I do.  What is my goal? What is my agenda? Share this with them.  I think I communicate this through our goals at the beginning of the year - to develop technologically self-sufficient teachers, to transform teaching and learning through the effective integration of technology... but why do I  do it?  If I had to answer right now, I would say because I love partnering with teachers supporting them in their journey to improve in areas they want to work on and seeing success in ways that greatly impacts their teaching and their students' learning.

9. Ask for permission to coach - "We can damage our client's trust when we don't have permission and we push too hard... we want to be careful not to overstep trust levels" (page 89).  I hadn't thought about this too much.  I've definitely had coaching conversations where I could tell I was pushing a little too much, and I would either back down or reflect later that I should have.  Instead, why not address the issue head on and ask for permission to coach and approach the question or situation from a different lens?  Hmm I will need to think through this one some more about how it actually plays out in these situations.

10. Keep Commitments - don't commit to things that aren't really my job.  It can be tempting to "build trust" by helping teachers out with menial tasks, but that is only setting myself up for unrealistic expectations in the future and ones that not only will be a stress on my time but will damage the work we actually want to get done.  I'm not in the classroom to be a TA, I'm there to be a reflective partner with you while you are teaching.  I need to make sure I clearly articulate what my role is and not brush over it like they will understand.  Teachers are not used to having a coach in their room - they are used to having TAs, student teachers, administrative evaluators... not coaches.

...Until Chapter 6...

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