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5 Coaching Strategies That Help You Connect with Resistant Teachers

10 Sep 2019 by Gina Gates

"I’ve just begun my journey into the world of coaching. I am eager and excited about this opportunity to help pave the way for more effective teaching. I’ve recently been given my list of classrooms that I will be working with and I’m anxious to get started. I get ready to meet my first teacher, Ms. Linda, and I just know that she will be excited to meet me and we will form an instant bond and work together for the benefit of the children in that classroom.

I will not get many opportunities to have face to face visits with Ms. Linda, so I know this first one is crucial. I walk through the door, introduce myself, and am immediately brushed off. Ms. Linda does not have time to talk to me right now, she explains that several children need her assistance. She’s also got to get the morning snack ready, and her assistant is out for the day so she is flying solo. Ms. Linda does not seem as excited about this meeting as I would have hoped.

She quickly shares that I’m the third coach that has been in to work with her, and although she knows that I have to do my job, she’s fine and really doesn’t see how I can help her. A CLASS observer was in her room last week, and she doesn’t understand what the big deal is. She’s been teaching for over 10 years and she’s tried it all. So, anything I have to share with her is stuff she’s already heard."

Sound familiar?

Have we not all encountered a “Ms. Linda” in our roles as coaches? That teacher that just seems resistant to your help, or is hesitant to change her practice? Resistance to coaching can take many forms. You might encounter a teacher who is direct, making it clear they don't want your help, such as Ms. Linda. Or you may find 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.

Here’s how to get to the bottom of what’s going on, so that you can help even the teacher least willing to be coached.

1. Form a relationship

I cannot stress how important this is in a coach/teacher relationship, or any relationship for that matter. Forming a relationship can be more challenging in an online platform, but certainly not impossible.

I begin by selecting a resource that speaks to me, such as a professional development video about Instructional Support. I recommend the resource to the teacher and the reasons why it drew me in in my recommendation. This is where I confide that I, too, struggled as a teacher, and I encountered some of the same challenges that they face everyday. If I expect vulnerability from them and an openness to communicate, I must also show them that I am willing to do the same. I’m not looking to get too heavy into their own practice yet, remember that I’m just building a relationship at this point. 

2. Understand the resistance

It’s easy to assume the resistant teacher is simply irrational or difficult. But there is typically a logical, perfectly reasonable explanation for how the teacher is behaving. Perhaps the trust has not been developed just 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, I’m still working on the relationship building, but I may ask them to share a bit more of their personal experiences with me. I might also recommend another resource to help assure them that they're not alone.

3. Be curious

It’s not enough to contemplate the reasons why a teacher might be hesitant to coaching, but you should ask her.

Start by asking questions that will advance the dialogue. For example, “How can we work together?” Or ask, “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. Exploring the readiness continuum will help you, as a coach, 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. For example, I might say:

Research shows that effective teacher-child interactions leads to greater student outcomes, not only academically, but also socially and emotionally. One of the tools used to measure these interactions is the CLASS tool. You are going to hear a lot about CLASS, and I want to help you understand what it all means. I’m sure that you want the best possible outcomes for your children, and I want to help you achieve that. Together we can focus on what is working for you, and also work together to improve upon some of the more challenging aspects of teaching. So please know that I am not here to judge you or critique your practice, but my purpose is to help you be a more effective teacher. 

Notice my tone. I’m letting them know that it is a collaboration, or a team effort. I acknowledge that they are already doing many things well (strengths-based approach). I then recommend another resources and ask them to share what stood out for them in my comments.

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.  

First, 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.  

In closing, I must share what became of my teacher, Ms. Linda. The year that I spent working with her was one of the most eye-opening years for me in my career as a coach. It took quite a long time to really get to the meat of the work, coaching her around the CLASS tool to increase the effectiveness of teacher-child interactions. I probably spent the better part of three months just forming that relationship with her and building trust with her.

But once that was established, we were able to move forward. Ms. Linda did eventually open up and became receptive to the coaching. By the end of the year Ms. Linda’s CLASS scores had increased, not by leaps and bounds, but enough that she could see the benefit of the work that we had done. To this day, I still get occasional phone calls and texts from Ms. Linda letting me know how things are going.

The next time you encounter that resistant teacher, think of Ms. Linda and know what is possible.

oCLASS coaching tips