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5 Coaching Strategies That Help Coaches Connect with Resistant Teachers

06 Feb 2020 by Gina Gates

As coaches, we've all encountered resistant teachers. Resistance to coaching can take many forms. You might encounter a teacher who is direct, making it clear they don't want your help. Or a teacher who is passive, putting off your meetings and recommendations, or acting like they're open to coaching but never actually changing their behavior. While this can be frustrating, you shouldn’t assume the teacher is to blame.

There are often many factors that can lead to a teacher becoming resistant to coaching. Maybe they don't understand the professional development tool(s) that are being used in their program and how it can help them improve their teaching practices. Other teachers may have had bad experiences with past coaches and are hesitant to trust someone else.

No matter the reason, here are five coaching strategies to get to the bottom of what’s going on, and help every teacher you work with get excited about being coached.

1. Form a Relationship

Forming a relationship with a teacher is the basis for every coach. This can be more challenging in an online platform, but not impossible. Getting to know the teacher you're working with shows them that you care about them as a person. It also opens them up to sharing their teaching struggles with you.

You can begin by selecting a resource that speaks to you, such as a professional development video or article. Recommend the resource to the teacher and the reasons why it drew you in. This is where you can talk about struggles you encountered as a teacher or struggles you've seen other teachers deal with. If you expect vulnerability from them and an openness to communicate, you must also show them that you're willing to do the same. At this stage, don't worry about talking too much about their own practice. Remember, you're simply trying to build a relationship with them.

2. Understand the Resistance

It’s easy to assume a resistant teacher is irrational or difficult. But there is typically a logical explanation for why the teacher is behaving the way they are. Perhaps they don't trust you yet, or they feel like you don’t appreciate all the effort they make. It could also be that they haven't had a good experience with coaching in the past. You might also see resistance if the teacher hasn’t bought into the process.

At this point, keep working on the relationship building. You can ask them to share more of their personal experiences with you. You can also recommend another resource to help assure them that they're not alone.

3. Ask Questions

It’s not enough to contemplate the reasons why a teacher might be hesitant to coaching. You should ask them!

Start by asking questions that will advance the dialogue. For example, “How can we work together?” Or, “What do you feel is holding you back at this moment?” You can mention the resistant behavior you are observing so long as it’s in a non-critical way. Asking questions will help you figure out where your work needs to begin.  

4. Be Transparent 

If you have not explained the purpose of your coaching, be explicit. Acknowledge what you are trying to do and why. This might include explaining the professional development tool you're using and how it can help them improve their teaching practices. It can be hard to buy-in to coaching if the teacher doesn't understand what it is you're doing and how it benefits them.

Let them know that the work you're doing with them is a collaboration. Use a strengths-based approach to coaching and acknowledge that they are already doing many things well. You can recommend another resource and ask them to share what stood out for them.

5. Acknowledge Efforts and Build Trust

To accept coaching is to make oneself vulnerable. Coaches need to show teachers that they are worthy of trust.  

Acknowledge the teacher’s efforts. Coaching can feel like a punishment, especially for those teachers who think they’ve got it figured out. State specifically what you value about their practice and why. Emphasize confidentiality and keep your word. If a teacher finds out that you are talking about their performance in another setting, they'll question the relationship. Make sure you stay committed throughout the coaching process. Don’t get fired up about how you’re going to help and then get distracted. 

Connecting with resistant teachers is all about building a relationship and coming from a place of understanding and transparency. Make sure teachers understand how coaching can help and why you're excited to be working with them. Coaching teachers is incredibly rewarding, especially when you get to see them blossom as teachers and as people. It's hard work but it's all worth it when the feedback and strategies you're giving them improve their teaching practices.

Editor's note: This post was originally published in September 2019 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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