Educators in myriad roles are often called on to coach their colleagues, whether or not they officially hold the title of tech coach. In fact, in many districts and organizations, lots of different educators fulfill the tech coaching role, Julia Osteen has found.
That knowledge should change the way we think about what it means to be a coach, says Osteen, technology integration specialist for the Ayers Institute for Teacher Learning and Innovation at Lipscomb University.
“As educators, what we’ve been trained to do is fix something. If we are building capacity in someone, we have to build their capacity to fix their own problems,” Osteen says. “We call that the coaching mindset. So no matter our title, we can approach situations with a coaching mindset as opposed to developing dependency.”
Here are Osteen’s tips for adopting a mindset that will help you build capacity among your teaching colleagues:
Be a committed listener. Sounds simple, but most of us find it difficult to listen to a colleague without responding or interjecting. Instead, committed listeners keep the spotlight on the speaker and make them feel they are the most important person in the world. The moment we interject or talk about our own experience, the spotlight swings back to us.
Osteen suggests you demonstrate deep listening by looking for whatever is underlying what the speaker is saying, paraphrasing and repeating it out loud. For example, “So your frustrated that the network went down four times during your lesson.” That paraphrasing, along with a dose of what Osteen calls “telling beyond,” gives the speaker the opportunity to explain further and describe their struggle.
“When you’re a committed listener your telling the speaker three things: I’m listening, I care, I understand.”
Provide time and space for reflective feedback. Reflective feedback is how we grow, but by nature, being reflective requires mental white space. When coaching a colleague on their approach to a lesson, for example, provide factual statements and ask questions that will initiate reflection. These questions should encourage elaboration and cause the educator to think deeply about their practice.
After observing a lesson that includes edtech integration, for example, you might say, “When you used the iPad in ____ way, the students responded with ____ kind of work. As a matter of fact, here’s what happened ...”
Questions might include: What went well with that lesson? What was the best thing that happened?
Suppress judgment. Teaching is a hard job and at some point, all teachers are going to need to let off some steam. To veteran teachers, some concerns expressed by new educators may not seem like a big deal. But think back to when you were a new teacher. And then witness their struggle.
Acknowledge that this is hard work and let them know that no matter what phase they are in as a teacher, that phase will feel like the hardest.
“Really provide that validation and then help them not stay stuck by asking reflective questions. If you don’t witness the struggle on the front end, they may not be receptive to moving forward,” Osteen says.
And with more and more baby boomers retiring and new teachers often leaving the field after a few years, it’s more important than ever to encourage young educators and help them through the challenges so they are encouraged to remain in the field.