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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