Planning for Coaching Conversations: A Think-Aloud

Curious how I think about planning a coaching session? Read on. Last week I did an activity with coaches in which I demonstrated how I plan a coaching conversation. I partnered with a coach, who provided an authentic scenario, and then used the Planning for a Coaching Conversation.doc to prepare. I verbalized just about every thought that went through my mind as I prepared for this conversation. Here they are, every thought…

Background: I am a new coach this year at a middle school, I’m focused on literacy. The teacher we are planning for has 15 yrs experience but is in his 2nd year at this school and has no experience teaching 6th grade. Last year I was a teacher, I was his colleague. Last year John did not work with a coach. Coaching is new to him, as is the content and grade level.

The concerns in his class are that there is a lack of rigor and urgency. He isn’t invested in changing his instructional practices. He agrees to do things when we meet during coaching sessions, but there is no follow through. My concern right now is that he was supposed to start using the writing resources, and agreed to do so, but on Monday he wasn’t using them. He said he decided to do work on short story comprehension instead. He often makes statements like, “These kids can’t do that.” I’ve just set up a schedule to work together more often. He does participate 1/week in PLC.


I scan through the questions on Planning for a Coaching Conversation.doc and identify the ones that feel most important to respond to. I’m considering that I only have 10 minutes to prepare for this conversation, and while ideally I need more time to prepare for this conversation, I don’t have it. So what can I do in 10 minutes of planning?

Here are the questions that feel important to answer:

#3) What’s my intention for this conversation?

This feels important and is connected to #12 (Who do I want to be in this conversation? Who does my client need me to be?). My intention for this meeting is that I need to get the teacher enrolled in looking at his practice and thinking about making changes. To do that I need to find a way to extend myself and build my relationship with him. My intention is going to be to show up as a potential partner in the work – which makes me jump to question #12. I’m really aware of who I need to be. Right now I’m really aware that I feel frustrated and annoyed and I don’t like him and I don’t like the way he talks about kids. I’m also tired and I don’t like having to come back to the same things over and over. I also feel ineffective as a coach–why can’t I get him to be reflective and improve? But if I walk into his classroom this way, I won’t be effective. I’ll be walking in with an attitude of: You are wrong and bad, and you make me feel like I suck as a coach. So I know I need to shift this.

#13) How do I want to feel after this conversation?

This question is really important to me also to think about before this session. After the session, I want to feel like I was true to myself and my core values. My core values are compassion, justice and community. And so I really want to show up as someone with compassion, and I also want to take steps to build a more equitable classroom. So after this session, I want to feel inspired and hopeful. I want to feel like I found a way to set aside my frustration. I want to access my compassion for others. I really want to show up as compassionate, without judgment. I know I need to be patient. I need to see the big picture and take the long view because this teacher isn’t going to change over night or in one conversation. I suspect that he has many gaps–a knowledge gap around working with sixth graders, perhaps knowledge of this content area, and skill gaps also in teaching reading and writing. I don’t know if he has skills for working with kids who are below grade level, in how to differentiate and scaffold their learning. I don’t know what PD has he had in any of these areas. I don’t know if that PD has been enough–but teachers rarely get enough PD in these areas. How do I know he can use the writing resource? Maybe he’s not using it because he doesn’t know how and he doesn’t want to appear as a failure. So then his ego gets involved.

I’m realizing in this thinking aloud that I don’t know that much about him. What else do I need do know? I don’t know what skills he does bring. I don’t know what his strengths are. I don’t know clearly what his gaps are. I need to figure these things out so that I’m effectively directing my energy. I know I’ll be more effective and feel better if I can use my limited time and energy in a strategic way.

#2) What are my goals for this conversation?

My goal for this conversation is that he ends up willing to do some co-planning and co-teaching with me. I want him to agree, to put it on a calendar. I suspect that he has big gaps in many areas and a need for scaffolded and structured support. As a coach, I’ve often been ineffective when I overestimated a client’s ZPD I have thought or said, “Here’s the new curriculum–let’s go!” I’ve dumped it a big fat curriculum guide on the desk of a new teacher who can’t even find his rosters. And then I’ve been frustrated when he didn’t implement it. So I’ve learned that I have to break down the steps and scaffold the learning of an adult the way I did with a 6th grader. I forget to do that with adults. I want my goal for him to be onboard with explicit next steps.

#4) What can I anticipate about his disposition?

He might be defensive. He might be externalizing the blame–going to “these kids,” as if it’s their fault, saying “I have so much to do, I have SLOs, I can’t do anything more.” That’s what I’m thinking about–he might externalize blame.

#5) How can I prepare for and manage these challenges?

I’ll see what happens if I use compassion, lead with compassion and empathy, and then help him see what is in his sphere of his control. I want to emphasize that our work will be to identify our next steps as partners, that my responsibility as a coach is to facilitate his growth, to guide it, to be alongside him as he develops these teaching practices. I hope that if I show up in this way it’ll mitigate his defensive disposition.

#7) How can I make him see the conversation matters?

This is important. When he says “these kids can’t…” he’s writing them off. Is he invested in changing his practice for his kids? How can I make it matter? The one thing he does care about, that he mentions frequently, is that he wants to get a good evaluation from our principal. While that’s not the most transformational place for us to start from, I’ll take it. This is his ego coming into the picture–and I’ll use that. Sometimes our ego shows up in the legacy we want to leave for students or colleagues, and sometimes it’s in terms of our evaluation. We’ll go with anything we can right now -and if evaluation is an entry point, that’s great.

#8) Of the six coaching stances, are there any that I might want to use?

I am nervous about using the confrontational stance and I often stay away from it. I realize that I might need to explore this and perhaps use it–because at some point I need to bring up the “these kids” comments. I know that what’s behind those comments are references to our black and brown kids, to low income kids. I need to surface and shift these beliefs if this work is going to be transformational.

I don’t know if this conversation is the time, but I might see what happens if I can explore how to be both compassionate and confrontational. I want to start provoking some cognitive dissonance around “these kids.” That might sound like me asking him something like, “I’ve heard you say numerous times, ‘these kids can’t, these kids never’… what do you mean when you say that?” I want to let him know that I’ve heard these comments, registered them, noted them down, and am willing to come back and explore them.

Okay, my 10 minutes of planning are up.

Stay tuned for the transcript of the conversation. I’ll share it soon!