Are Some Teachers Uncoachable?
Clearly, this is a tough topic. As an instructional coaching trainer for Jim Knight I have come across this question more times than I can count. However, I want to be clear that what I write in the following paragraphs are my opinions and not Jim's opinions. This is kind of like Twitter where you see people write, "Retweets are not endorsements," or "Opinions expressed here are mine and not my employers."
First and foremost, teachers do not wake up in the morning and say, "Who can I give a really hard time to today?" Some may but most do not. Teachers are frustrated. There is another Secretary of Education who doesn't have public school experience. The rhetoric from the last few secretaries, and from some of the general public, has not been kind. Many teachers are made to feel like they only got into the profession because they can't do anything else.
The reality is that most teachers do things that no one else can do. They connect with the unconnected, and they engage the unengaged. They work with the students that come from backgrounds most people can't fathom. Teachers leave a lasting mark on their students. That mark can either be positive or negative. Most work hard to be positive.
Additionally, some teachers are angry or have a low level of self-efficacy because they work with leaders who micromanage everything they do. For years they have been told to hand in their plans, questioned about their teaching strategies, and made to feel like they are students and not adults. We can't be self-directed learners if we are always being told what to do and when to do it.
Other times teachers have these new research-based strategies thrown at them without the proper support to make them happen. We need look no further than technology to see schools that have invested a ton of money into technology and never provided teachers with the training they need to use it effectively.
And yes, my techie friends will say that those teachers find their way through buying a new smartphone or computer without PD. And this is where I would tell them they have family they can go to for support. Family who will provide them training without making them feel foolish for not knowing how to do it. Real techie people are the ones who meet teachers where they are and don't judge them based on where they think the teacher needs to be.
You're probably wondering where the uncoachable part begins? Now you understand why I said that this is a complicated topic. There are many things to think about before concluding someone is uncoachable. That being said, there comes a time when it may have to be done. Coaches are not in the position to be abused. Their time is better spent working with teachers who are going to put in the effort to accomplish an authentic goal.
Put Me In Coach!
Ok, maybe it's more like, "Take me out coach!" Or..."Strike three. You're out!" The truth is that at some point it is no longer the coaches job to work with a teacher if that teacher doesn't want to work with the coach. At some point it is the job of the administrator to chime in and work with the teacher. Coaches are not supposed to be evaluators. The other day a very astute coach told me they feel like they are the sheriff without a gun.
Some readers may be wondering why teachers would be considered uncoachable if coaching is supposed to be voluntary (Knight). The truth is that many leaders insist that coaches work with all teachers, and not just those who want to be coached. And here is part of the issue. If leaders are going to insist that coaches work with everyone, then they need to understand that some teachers will become uncoachable.
If teachers are not following through on goals; constantly cancelling meetings with the coach; not putting any of the discussed strategies into practice; or telling coaches they have tried everything the coach has suggested, perhaps it's time to move on. It's no longer the coaches job. That's the job of the leader.
Before coaches get to that point, they have to ask themselves the following questions. Those questions are:
How am I approaching the teacher? How have I engaged the teacher? Have I tried to create a relationship or have I gone in like a bull in a china shop? Perhaps it's not the teacher. Perhaps it's the approach the coaches are taking? I once overheard a coach say they will just bust into any room because they're the coach and teachers have to listen to them. Uhm...no. No matter the case try to have humility when approaching teachers. In most cases they have advanced degrees and deserve some level of respect.
Have I proven I have credibility? Maybe the coach hasn't proven that they have credibility with the teacher. Credibility matters. In the research of John Hattie, someone I work with as a Visible Learning trainer, teacher credibility had a high effect size. And in the work of Malcolm Gladwell, we are sized up by our students within seconds of meeting us. Is that happening with the teachers coaches are working with too? Coaches should be allowed to run professional development sessions to show their level of knowledge. Maybe the coach is not approaching the teacher with anything new. It's important that coaches show that they can walk the talk.
Have I documented what I've tried? Document, document, document. Document how you approached the teacher and the number of times you have tried to make contact. Document the methods offered. This does not get handed to the school principal. It would get handed to the supervisor of the coach, and the supervisor works it out with the leader. In most cases coaching should remain confidential or other teachers will catch wind and not want to work with the coach.
In the End
Deciding someone is uncoachable is very complicated. That decision involves thinking about how the coach approaches the teacher and how the teacher became involved with the coaching program. Coaching is about ignoring someone's reputation and meeting them where they are as opposed to where the coach thinks the teacher may be.
The bottom line is that the coaching experience is supposed to foster growth in the teacher and the coach. No coach deserves to be abused by a teacher. And no teacher deserves to be pushed into coaching without some voice in the process. After all the evidence is gathered, it may be time for the coach to move on and for the school leader to step up and take over.
Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is the author of several books including Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most (2016. Corwin Press/Learning Forward), and the forthcoming School Climate: Leading With Collective Efficacy (Corwin Press/Ontario Principals Council. August 2017). Connect with Peter on Twitter.
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