Skill and Will


There are people who are challenging to collaborate with and others who make everything effortless. Most coaching relationships are somewhere along the continuum between difficult and dreamy. Recently I’ve been doing some thinking about why that is.

In Marzano’s book, Coaching Classroom Instruction, he includes a matrix that is an interesting way to look at skill and will. Many fields look at these relationships. There are those who have low skills, but high will. These teachers may be new to the profession, but what they lack in experience they make up for with their growth mindset. Then there are those that have low skills, but low will. Teachers in this situation don’t have tools or the energy to try. Others have high skills and high will. I recognize these folks as our “go-to” teachers, the ones that are often piloting and giving valuable feedback. The last subset would be educators with high skills, but low will. They may have tools, but an attitude that gets in the way. My coaching has to be differentiated for where individuals are at on the skill and will axises.

High Skill, High Will

For me, these are the easiest teachers to coach. These teachers often coach themselves and then gush about how much they’ve learned through the process. In my experience many of these teachers seek positions in leadership over time. Often when I coach these teachers I look for opportunities for them.

Low Skill, High Will

These can be the most rewarding teachers to coach. Often they have a beginning sense of what they don’t know and are highly motivated to learn. A behavior management tip or instructional strategy is often put in place by the next day. Coaching evidence is easy to find in their classrooms. While coaching these teachers I frequently point out how they are growing and changing and the impact that’s having on their students’ learning.

Low Skill, Low Will

Sometimes I ask teachers during our initial meeting why they went into teaching. I’m surprised when I hear answers like, “I’m not really sure, I just ended up here” or “I didn’t have the math scores to do accounting so I chose teaching” or “Summers and off before five.” These responses come from teachers who struggle with instruction, management, assessment or communication AND place blame on “those” kids and parents or “the” district. It’s tough to find a way in to these classrooms. Often teachers feel defensive and don’t even think it’s possible to get better because it’s not them. That’s a hard place to coach from. I start with as much strengths-based coaching as possible and check on accountability to goals frequently.

High Skill, Low Will

I’d have to say these teachers perplex me most. They have experience, tools and strategies and no drive to continually get better or enhance the profession. One said to me, “Sure I’m the best teacher on the team, but no way am I going to mentor the new teacher. She’s going to have to figure it out on her own.” With the low skill/low will folks I can understand feeling deflated because of the learning curve, but it’s confounding when professionals have the skills and choose not to reflect and continuously improve. I feel very drained after these coaching sessions and remind myself to remain positive and keep working on behalf of the students. Sometimes our collaboration centers around rediscovering (or discovering for the first time) the thrill of learning and a passion for teaching that comes with doing the good, hard work.

Now with any typology thinking, I have to be very careful. I don’t want to go around making judgments about people before I really understand their stories. Still, thinking about skill and will helps me consider enrolling strategies and coaching moves that have worked in the past with similar teachers. Also when I feel off balance as a coach, I look at how many teachers who express low will are on my calendar and understand how that affects me.

2 thoughts on “Skill and Will

  1. Question for you, Heather. What are your thoughts on grouping the various will level/skill level teachers together for some group coaching? Can mixing and mingling the groups be beneficial? How can we get those groups to collaborate and, hopefully, inspire each other?

    • Hi Gail, It can be very beneficial to mix. Sometimes the teachers who say “it can’t be done” are surprised when a colleague says, “I think it can.” That said, the needs of each teacher are diverse. Someone who projects a low will attitude will need a different approach if changes are to be made in the classroom. As far as getting individuals to collaborate with each other, there needs to be a benefit for all. Collaboration time needs to be very purposeful and productive with clear norms and ways to address the work openly and honestly.

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