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Five Things that Strengths-Based Coaching is NOT

23 Oct 2015 by Emily Doyle

If you regularly read this blog, then you probably already know that at Teachstone, we’re big fans of the “strengths-based” coaching approach. What is strengths-based coaching, you ask? In a nutshell, a strengths-based approach intentionally focuses on the things teachers are already doing well in the classroom and encourages them to build on what is working. Another way to describe strengths-based coaching: it’s the opposite of a deficit model, which focuses on what teachers are not doing or what they are doing wrong.

In my conversations with folks in the field—teachers, coaches, administrators at all levels—I’ve heard a lot of misconceptions about what strengths-based coaching is—and isn’t. Let’s get it out in the open!

Strengths-Based Coaching is NOT...

1. The opposite of practice-based coaching.

In fact, we see that most successful coaches utilize strengths-based approaches within the context of practice-based models.

2. A way to sugarcoat feedback to teachers.

If you only talk about the two dimensions that the teacher excels in, then you’re probably not doing it right. Effective coaches look for the “sparks” in teacher practice (even if it’s just one open-ended question that didn’t go anywhere) and build on them.

3. Something that only works within an established relationship.

Of course, it is always best to establish trusting relationships with the teachers you coach, but the reality is that people in the field are often tasked with providing one-time feedback to teachers. Focusing on areas of strength can help alleviate the natural tensions in those conversations (and support the teacher in being more receptive to the feedback).

4. A way to avoid difficult conversations.

Just because you’re focusing on “strengths,” doesn’t mean you can’t give feedback on a dimension that scored a 2 out of 7 on the CLASS measure. It just means that you might intentionally focus on the elements that brought the teacher up from a 1, rather than down from a 7.

5. Always easy. 

It takes a lot of practice and self-reflection to avoid focusing on “problem areas” (both personally and professionally!). Think about the last time you looked in a mirror. If you’re anything like me, your eyes probably went straight to the place where you could stand to lose a few pounds. And that’s also what a lot of coaches naturally do when observing teachers. But that kind of negativity rarely gets me anywhere—and I’d probably get a lot further in my fitness efforts by reflecting on how good it felt the last time I went to the gym!

If you want to learn more about strengths-based coaching approaches, check out myTeachstone, our latest tool that helps coaches better support their teachers. Better yet, contact us and ask us about myTeachstone and other trainings designed to make coaches and teachers truly shine in their efforts to improve classroom interactions.


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