How not to say the wrong thing in instructional coaching

If you’ve ever had trouble finding your car in an airport parking lot after a trip, Jim Knight, a coach of instructional coaches, has an ingenious tip: Take a picture of your parking spot number with your camera phone.

A popular speaker who travels frequently, Jim says he often feels that he will be able to remember¬†that he parked in B 29 as he’s rushing to catch his plane. But, of course, after the flurry of activity surrounding his work with instructional coaches, he comes back to the parking lot no longer remembering this vital information.

The instructional coach could be said to play a somewhat similar role as that camera phone picture of B29, Jim says. During workshops and conferences, teachers learn many things they feel they can immediately implement in their classrooms. But, once they get back to the demands of teaching, they forget what they learned and what they meant to put into action.

The coach is there to help them remember.

The problem is that helping is a very complex process, Jim says. The trap many coaches fall into is to be too directive. Jim advocates a partnership approach to coaching, one in which coach and teacher are on equal footing and in which teachers have a choice and a voice. Humility is one of the most important qualities in a coach, Jim says, because in a true dialogue both people are learning. Few people will make changes without first feeling esteemed and understood.

When you are in a dialogue with a teacher about making changes in their teaching, think about how you would talk to them about dieting or about their parenting. What one does for a living is just as deeply personal as these two issues, Jim says.

If you wanted to talk to your sister about her parenting, you would tread very carefully, if you dared to tread at all. If you wanted to talk to your spouse about an exciting new diet you read about on the plane, you would also tread very carefully.

“Criticize who I am as parent and you criticize who I am as a person,” Jim says. “Teaching is almost as personal as parenting.”

The teacher who is listening to a coach is constantly monitoring that she or he is not being placed in a lower status. That teacher also wants to feel that he or she has a choice and a voice in what changes to make and how to make them.

If you read about a great new diet in an inflight magazine and decided you wanted to try it, you would be far more motivated than if you tried it because your spouse recommended it.

Jim says good words to remember when coaching are: If you insist, I will resist. In a true partnership and dialogue, the coach is not insisting, but assisting.

For more info on Jim Knight’s instructional coaching webinar, now available on CD-ROM, click here.

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