What Kind of Coach Am I?

What is your default setting as a coach? Do you lean on giving direct advice to change the teacher’s immediate behavior? Do you tend to ask more reflective questions to help the teacher look at the bigger picture?

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As coaches we develop our own unique style in the way we ask questions, how we approach conversations, and how we gently push the people we coach. Whetstone wants to help you think about your coaching style and how you can adapt your style to the needs of your teachers. For this month’s post we are going to dive into 2 different kinds of coaching styles to give you a frame of reference for your coaching so you can begin thinking about where your strengths and growth areas are.

Here’s a short story about an experience I had as a coach that helped me identify where I was as a coach:

A few years ago, an intervention coordinator (who I’ll refer to as Andy) and I were coaching a math team. Both teachers were in their first year in the classroom and Andy and I were trying to focus on small changes they could implement to improve class culture. We took a largely facilitative approach through asking a lot of overarching questions about what they want their students to get out of the class, and helped them reach a few productive changes they could implement for the next day’s classes. Week after week Andy and I would meet and discuss the lackluster progress in the classroom and discuss what we should be doing as their coaches.

Not long after, our school brought on another instructional coach. After her first session with the math teachers we had been coaching, the teachers were excited for their classes the next day and had a great game plan. After just a few weeks of sessions with her, the teachers had achieved more progress than they had all year with Andy and me. After much reflection, Andy and I realized we were not meeting the teachers where they were. We were taking a facilitative, questioning approach, when they were two first year teachers in need of clear, direct coaching. Once the instructional coach came in and met their needs, they were relieved, motivated, and immediately started growing.

Now back to you! Let’s start the conversation about our coaching identities with 2 distinct styles as defined by Elena Aguilar:

Directive

”Focuses on changing a coachee’s behavior. The coach shows up as an expert in a content or strategy and shares their expertise. They might provide resources, make suggestions, model lessons, and teach someone how to do something”

Facilitative  

“Supports coachees to learn new ways of thinking and being through reflection, analysis, observation, and experimentation; this awareness influences their behaviors. The coach does not share expert knowledge, they work to build on the coachee’s existing skills, knowledge, and beliefs, and help the coachee to construct new skills.”

Practice

These two styles are not mutually exclusive, and as coaches we will sometimes be directive and facilitative in the same conversation. The key is to give yourself the mental space and flexibility to do both, without having a coaching identity crisis. Knowing when to be directive and when to be facilitative is part of what makes coaching such challenging work. We must not only consider our own strengths and style as a coach, but where the teacher is and how to approach them in a way that will yield the most positive results.

Until next time, we hope you think about what kind of coach you are. For our next post we will dive into more coaching identities and feature some coaches from around the country. We want to know who you are as a coach, what kind of teachers you tend to breakthrough with, and which ones you have a tougher time with. If you’d like to contribute, please email spencer@whetstoneeducation.org.

Stay sharp!

The Whetstone Team

Coaching Questions 201: Advice from School Leaders

Last month we began exploring how to improve on different aspects of the questioning process in a coaching conversation. The Whetstone team wants to harness the knowledge of some of our brilliant partners in this work to give their first hand experience and advice when it comes to asking the right questions. The school leaders we polled for this month have great experience as coaches and are probably in a coaching conversation as you are reading this. We polled them on 4 simple questions so they can relay their insights and experiences to you to improve your coaching. Here’s our team of experts for today’s post:

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Joshua Cella

Assistant Principal

Phillis Wheatley Community School

New Orleans, LA

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Michelle Anderson

Director of Literacy

New Heights Academy

New York, NY

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Brionne Stewart

Assistant School

Leader

Young Audiences Charter

New Orleans, LA

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Michael Richard

Former Principal

Current Director of Sales at Whetstone

New Orleans, LA

 

What questions do you ask to facilitate self reflection for a teacher?

Joshua: For our experienced teachers whose classes have more nuanced next steps, I like to ask them what they want to work on in advance, so I can then reflect with them in our check-in after I observe their focus area. For teachers with more clear next steps, often management-centered, I find having them self-record and send me their areas of growth to be an effective method to start teaching self-reflection.

Michelle: Was your objective met? How do you know? What were students asked to do? Is this what you expected?

Brionne: What went really well in the lesson or what do you feel really good about and what would be your "even better ifs"? I then normally elaborate and build upon their responses or ask a targeted reflective question based on the target of the coaching session.  E.g. How does communication of the learning target impact student achievement?  What is your educational philosophy and how do you think they impact your everyday instructional strategies?  What instructional strategies most align with your educational philosophy and why?  How do you know that all learners are mastering the learning target of the day within the lesson?  

Michael: “How did it go?” And “How do you know?”  The second is so important because it should all be grounded in data.

What have you learned as a coach about how/how not to ask questions?

Joshua: I have learned to always strive to find a balance between being directive (when necessary) and inquisitive whenever possible--this balance is best for relationships, for students, and for teachers.

Michelle: Questions should be open ended and not sound leading by using words like "should" or phrases like "How come…?"

Brionne: I have learned that you should start with people's beliefs, build relationships and then guide them through reflection.  It is important to get to know your staff as an educator in order to effectively coach positive change.

What is a question you received as a teacher or leader that left an impact on you?

Joshua: One that forced me to reflect on positive teacher moves: What did students do well today? What was the teacher move that unlocked that?

Michelle: Does this product represent my best work?

Any other insights on questions?

Joshua: Don't forget to ask the person how they're feeling.

Brionne: Questions are tricky.  You have to be genuinely interested and invested in their success as a teacher and sometimes questions make teachers feel the opposite.  Coaches must let teachers take the reigns of their learning or TEACH the teachers how to do so with reflection within a coaching session.  Active listening is just as important as questioning in sessions.  

Michael: Very general questions promoting self inquiry also provide insight to the coach by highlighting what the teacher is focused on.  Coaches should follow up with questioning that guides inquiry elsewhere as needed.

 

The Whetstone team sincerely thanks Joshua, Michelle, Brionne, and Michael for the dedication to their students and staff and for sharing their wisdom with us. We sincerely hope you’ve picked up a few extra questions for your coaching toolbelt so you can try something new in your next coaching conversation. If you have any coaching areas you’d like for us to explore later down the road, please email spencer@whetstoneeducation.org.

Thanks for tuning in!

The Whetstone Team

Coaching Questions 101

You just finished teaching your toughest class of the day where the partner work you planned ended with pairs of students talking and goofing off instead of choosing the topic for their project. You sit down with your coach to talk about the tumultuous class and after a few minutes of catching up the coach asks “Should you re-think your seating arrangement in class since there was so much talking today?”

This is frustrating. When someone asks you a question where they are clearly looking for a specific answer, it feels more demeaning than supportive. If you’re a coach in any capacity you have more than likely fallen prey to this misstep. Learning what kinds of questions to ask and how to ask them is an integral part of any coach’s development and can drastically improve our coaching. So this month’s blog post is about asking THE RIGHT questions to drive development in your coaching conversations. Just as you want your teachers to grow and improve in the classroom, the Whetstone team wants to be a resource for you as you to develop as a coach.  

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Why do we ask questions in a coaching conversation? Self-reflection is the spark for quality teacher development, and it takes thought provoking questions to begin the process of reflection. Expert coach, Elena Aguilar (The Art of Coaching), says that “coach-talk” should account for one third of the conversation at the very most. If the goal of a coaching meeting is that the teacher owns the thinking, we have to limit our talking as coaches just as we would expect a teacher to do in order to get their students to own the thinking of a lesson. If we commit to only talking for a third of the meeting, then we need to be able to ask genuine, thought-provoking questions that drive the teacher toward quality self-reflection. The paths and resources below were designed with the support and expertise of Leadership Coach, Kelsey McLachlan, from Leading Educators for you to pick up some extra tools and expand your coaching skillset.

How to Prepare

We have to look deeply at what our teachers are experiencing if we want to come prepared with quality questions for a coaching session. For questions to drive introspection and development, we have to consider what purpose the question serves, how it will drive development, and how we deliver that question -- our tone and our word choice. For those of you who love planning templates and want to improve your planning process, The Road to Learning’s template on Learning Focused Conversations is an excellent tool that will ensure productive planning.

Shift to Questioning

It can be hard to stay quiet in a coaching conversation. Sometimes we think of the perfect anecdote from when we were teaching or we want to jump in with advice or talk about an awesome blog post we just read! Learning to place the emphasis on the teacher is challenging and Elena Aguilar gives the how and why this shift is necessary in her article, Learning to Improve Your Coaching with One Move: Stop Talking.

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Questioning Missteps

Questions are not suggestions. When we ask a question like, “Should you re-think your seating arrangement?”, we are really giving advice and dressing it up like a question. This can sometimes come off as condescending and hinder the coaching conversation. If we want to give a suggestion we should be forward with it. Or in this instance if we want to have a discussion around class culture and seating arrangements we should start with more general questions about class culture. For a deeper look into the mistakes that we can make here, we recommend this brief article from Tony Stoltzfus (author of Coaching Questions). He dives into everything from the dangers of interrupting to the dangers of asking ‘why’ in questions.

We sincerely hope these resources help you to find the right questions for your teachers. Tune in for next month’s post to hear from school leaders and other experts on what questions they find impactful both as coaches and coachees.

Sincerely,

The Whetstone Team (pictured below dining at Middendorf’s)

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The Foundation for Coaching

While Whetstone has your back when it comes to organizing your coaching notes and providing analytics to help you run data-driven professional development, we can’t make you form a strong relationship with someone else. (We leave that for Match.com.)

Seriously though, you are the one responsible for forming a powerful bond between yourself and the teachers you coach. That’s what good coaching is all about. As coaches we must be able to develop trust with coachees so that we can help them grow as educators and transform the lives of our students. So we’re kicking off our 17-18 school year blog series with a post on how to build and maintain trust in a coaching relationship.

As a company built around the belief that coaching can transform schools, we hold trust in high regard--it’s a necessary foundation for any coaching relationship. It requires constant care and support so we want to help you with both building trust during your initial meeting with a coachee and maintaining and improving that trust throughout the year. Here are some helpful tips and strategies from some of our brilliant partners in the New Orleans education community to help you have a successful school year.

Build trust at first meeting

This sets the foundation and expectations for the relationship.

1. Let the teacher guide the conversation. Vice Principal of Academics at Joseph S. Clark High School, Lindsey Cross:

“Ask the teacher about their strengths, goals and experiences - particularly if it's the first time you two have worked together. It's important that the teacher feel they have a voice and a say in steering the direction of your conversations and their work toward their own professional goals.”

Joseph S. Clark High School in New Orleans’ Treme Neighborhood

Joseph S. Clark High School in New Orleans’ Treme Neighborhood

2. Ask them how they learn best. Instructional Coach for Teach For America, Alicia Dagostino says:

“I begin by asking how they learn best and how they like to receive feedback.”

3. Set expectations together. Chief Academic Officer of Arise Schools in New Orleans, Cari Killian says:

“During the meeting I share what the debrief structure for our observation and feedback meetings will entail...When setting expectations it’s not just about the expectations for the teacher or leader I am working with, it’s also about expectations for me as the coach.”

Maintain and improve trust throughout the year

Our teachers will face stress, failure, and fatigue which can make the coaching relationship more challenging so make sure your relationship is equipped to handle it.

1. Ask for feedback. Cari Killian says:

“In one on one debriefs I ask questions like, “What can I do to support you better?” or “How could I have better supported you in that situation?” I have learned a lot from just asking these questions on ways I could improve my coaching.”

Arise Academy in the 9th Ward of New Orleans

Arise Academy in the 9th Ward of New Orleans

2. Practice with your teacher.

“Practicing techniques or strategies shows trust, it shows investment in the teacher and that we are in this together,” says Allie Rust, former math teacher and current Customer Success Manager at Whetstone.

3. Embrace the tough conversations. Leading Educators’ Leadership Coach, Kelsey Mclachlan says:

“If I don't have the tough conversations with the people I coach, I actually lose trust instead of gaining it. I think if you don't challenge thinking or give adjusting feedback that might be hard, people wonder what else you aren't being honest about.”

4. Follow through. Both Lindsey and Cari stressed the importance of making sure your actions match your words:

Lindsey Cross: “Your visibility in their classroom and in their sphere of work is vital to establishing and maintaining trust. And always give them a glow and a grow... Don't leave the classroom until you have both key ingredients.”

Cari Killian: “My goal is to meet the expectations I set with the teacher/leader in the first meeting and follow through on all the next steps I say I will do as time goes on. If I say I will be observing him/her twice a week, then I work to keep that commitment...I also think that it’s important that when a next step does fall through the cracks and goes unfulfilled, I apologize.”

Start using these strategies to build transformational coaching relationships this year. For more detailed coaching tips, we highly recommend Elena Aguilar’s The Art of Coaching as a resource. Thank you for tuning in to our first blog post of the year.

Have a happy and successful school year.

Sincerely,

The Whetstone Team