In every initial meeting with a teacher new to coaching, I tell them that our conversations are confidential. I explain that I don’t share anecdotes from their classroom or how they are doing with their supervisor–it’s not my role. I encourage them to invite their principals into the work in a way that fits best for them.
Rereading Marzano and Simm’s Research and Theory chapter from their book, Coaching Classsroom Instruction, I was struck again by the truth in this passage.
“Nancy Adler (2006) confirmed the importance of a nonevaluative coaching relationship in which both parties agree to keep the content of coaching sessions confidential. She explained, ‘The privacy of coaching sessions makes it easier…to say, I’m not certain…I just don’t know…Privacy and supportive advocacy legitimize moments of not knowing. Premature certainty and commitment extinguish innovative possibilities.’ (p.243). Finally, Arthur Costa and Robert Garmston (2002) suggest that ‘should an employer have performance concerns about a staff member, these concerns are best communicated directly outside the coaching process. Coaching should never be about ‘fixing’ another person.’ (p.97).”–Research and Theory Chapter, page 9.
Legitimizing moments of not knowing is so important to this work. I worked with a teacher I’ll call Callie. Callie was a mid-career teacher who had that class. You know that class, right? The class that challenges every fiber of your being and empties out your teaching bag of tricks by week three of the school year. We began working together on reading, but it quickly became apparent that we needed to address the management because the students weren’t independent for more than five minutes at a time. By our third meeting Callie admitted she was feeling like her behavior management was ineffective and that she wasn’t reaching her ELL students. “Some days,” she said quietly. “I don’t know what to do.”
That was a turning point in our work. Because she felt safe being vulnerable we were able to make some significant changes. I introduced her to two vocabulary strategies for her learners that were new to English. We ordered a few bilingual books that supported the students during independent reading time. And we reminded ourselves of Behavior Management 101: How often was she positively noticing the students as compared to redirects? Was she using a brain break before the minilesson to get wiggles out? Was she keeping her minilesson short to match their attention spans? Were her directions clear? Was she varying the pacing of her teaching and even the tone of her voice to keep kids engaged?
It’s not that administrators can’t evaluate and coach educators, some do it quite masterfully, but having those two roles separate leads to effective coaching relationships. As Brene Brown says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” Working in a district that values opportunities to be vulnerable is such a gift.