Introduction to Module 2 and My Question
This week I was thinking about developing professional relationships when in a new role. I wanted to reflect on that process and find out what was normal. At the same time I wanted to consider ISTE 1 d for coaches, how coaches advocate for change, that is the standard behind our module. So in my research for my M.Ed. in Digital Education Leadership Program at SPU, I decided to look for some sources outside of the world of education where coaching has been around and has been popular for some time. I will try to share best practices for building collegial relationships and some things that stood out to me in particular as useful from what I found in the business world and a connection between instructional technology coaching and literacy coaching.
Building Collegial Relationships
How do we build collegial relationships? I find myself wondering about that, probably in part because I am building collegial relationships across schools, in a new district all at the same time. It’s common practice for coaches to only go into classes after they have been invited, probably to avoid any feeling of evaluative practice being associated with them. So here I am waiting for an invitation. How do instructional technology coaches develop relationships across multiple school buildings? It is something that takes time as I’ve read multiple times in the book Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration (Foltos, 2013), and in other resources I’ve used for my past two blog posts. I came across an article at Mindtools about building great relationships at work. I don’t want to summarize the entire article here, but you can go and read it if you would like, but I do think much of it applies to new coaches and anyone who has many interpersonal interactions at work. Instead I want to talk about parts of the article that stood out to me as an instructional technology coach. The article does link Mindfulness to building great relationships at work. That seems to be a hot term lately in education, and for good reason. I wrote about mindfulness in my mission and vision as a digital education leader earlier in my program. Being mindful seems to draw us out of ourselves, that reflection leads us to think more about others and their needs and concerns, not just focusing on our own. It makes sense that practicing mindfulness in regard to your words and actions would lead to better work relationships. A couple other ideas stood out to me from this article, one was identifying your relationship needs along with focusing on your EI and listening actively and being positive (Mindtools, n.d.).
It seems important to know what you need from others and what they need from you, especially in the position of a coach (Mindtools, n.d.). Part of a coaches role is helping teachers to figure out what they can do to grow their practice, through reflection. To me that seems like another way to say, understand what others need from you. As an instructional technology coach I also need to know what I need from others, or what I can learn from them. There is so much to learn, it’s important to keep that in mind in order to take advantage of the many opportunities I have to learn from others. In addition, I want to be sure to voice what I have learned or am learning from them, to emphasize the peer to peer relationship we have.
Focusing on your own emotional intelligence is necessary for instructional technology coaches because we need to understand the teachers we are coaching. If we pay closer attention to our own emotions, and think about why we feel the way we do when we do, it will lead us to better understand how others might be feeling in various situations (Mindtools, n.d.). This is especially important when working with teachers who might be hesitant to use technology tools, if we can understand their scepticism, concern, or fear and connect that to the emotions they might be feeling it will allow us to be more effective coaches because we will do a better job connecting with and affirming the feelings of those teachers.
Finally I want to focus on listening actively and being positive. This point is just about me knowing myself. I’m not overly negative as a person, especially when talking about technology and education but I’m also not overly positive and encouraging in the words that I say to others. So I know from experience in my life that my lack of positive reinforcement can be difficult for anyone who needs that kind of reinforcement. I’m coming into my position knowing all of us need different forms of encouragement, but reading so often that being positive is important, I know for me that means I need to put an extra focus on being positive, and pointing out when teachers have made an effort, grown in their practice or use of technology, or tried something new. I don’t want to take those things for granted and inadvertently damage the relationships I am building.
It is a Process
Building relationships takes time and it takes work. I understand it is a process. As I’ve been reading resources on peer coaching, or instructional coaching I’ve consistently seen that building relationships takes years. All members of the school community have to be involved. The fact that it takes years makes it seem daunting to me as a new coach working in 4 different schools. I think about the relationships I developed in my last school over the 8 years that I worked there and they definitely came with time. Being welcomed into a community is a great start though. Principals can do a lot to shape their schools including the openness to new employees and openness to coaching. In addition they shape the role of coaching in a building. “Regularly communicate with administrators to aid coaching cycles. Invite them to observe, the process of coaching is a long process improvements likely take years” (Foltos, 2013). These are just a few reasons to include the administration in the process.
Why Relationships Matter
It is important to develop great relationships with teachers, because it builds trust and makes them more likely to turn to a coach as a resource. if we are going to work together to solve difficult problems in teaching and reach all students, trust is a necessity. I’ve seen this in my experience as a teacher. When I worked with coaches in my last job, they were always available, the door was open, they were willing to just talk about ideas and were equally willing to engage in a coaching cycle. That helps with a connection, as
Sturtevant (2004) suggested that teachers view successful coaches as those who understand teachers’ “goals, frustrations, and vision – not as supervisors who evaluate their performance” (p. 12). In‐deed, effective literacy coaches must have positive relationships with all members of a school community (Moxley & Taylor, 2006) (Lynch & Ferguson 2010),
those informal discussions build this kinds of community. For myself as a coach in many buildings, I’m trying to build in some time that I will be there and be available to talk even if I don’t have a particular teacher to work with that day.
Working with a peer coach can help teachers avoid isolation and encourage high quality new teachers to remain in the profession.
The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (2002) writes, “The era of solo teaching in isolated classrooms is over. To support quality teaching our schools must support strong professional learning communities” (p. 13). Peer coaching is a means by which America’s schools can overcome isolation and build collegial environments that improve teacher retention rates and, ultimately, classroom instruction (Heider, 2005).
In the end it looks like resistance is a normal experience for new coaches. Building relationships is crucial but it takes time, so during that time I think it will be helpful to keep this in mind about those reluctant teachers
Casey (2006) has noted that coaches should be reflective and embrace resistance and questioned whether teachers are “resistant or just thoughtful, inquisitive educators who need more information, research, examples, experiences, or support . . .” (p. 29). Supporting Casey’s notion, many coaches in the present study linked time to the barrier of resistance among teachers, reporting that time with teachers affected their ability to establish relationships and build trust with teachers. It also affected the amount of information and examples that they could share with teachers. These coaches were most likely right in their observation, a conclusion supported by literature suggesting that with time and experience, teachers who were initially sceptical tended to become more welcoming to the coaching strategy (Snow, 2007), ((Lynch & Ferguson 2010).
Just give those reluctant teachers time, keep trying to connect and remain focused on the ultimate goal of your coaching and it seems like they will eventually come around.
Building Great Work Relationships: Making Work Enjoyable and Productive. (n.d.). Retrieved October 29, 2017, from http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/good-relationships.htm
Carter, A., Blackman, A., Hicks, B., Williams, M., & Hay, R. (2017). Perspectives on effective coaching by those who have been coached. International Journal of Training and Development, 21(2), 73–91. https://doi.org/10.1111/ijtd.12098
Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching : Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781483300252
Heider, K. L. (2005). Teacher Isolation: How Mentoring Programs Can Help. Current Issues in Education, 8(0). Retrieved from https://cie.asu.edu/ojs/index.php/cieatasu/article/view/1686
Lynch, J., & Ferguson, K. (2010). Reflections of Elementary School Literacy Coaches on Practice: Roles and Perspectives. Canadian Journal of Education / Revue Canadienne de L’éducation, 33(1), 199–227. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/canajeducrevucan.33.1.199