How Transparency Can Build Trust

At the beginning of the school year, I’m often asked for tips on building trusting coaching relationships with teachers. There are many ways we can build trust, including by being honest and transparent about who you are and what you do as a coach.

Educators are wary of change, new people, new roles, and new initiatives (perhaps it’s just part of being human). If coaching is new at your school, if you’re new at your school, or you’re new in the role of coach, you can cultivate trust by being explicit, direct and transparent about what you’re doing and why. Here are some examples of what this can sound like.

I’m just not sure about this coaching thing.

If a teacher says, “I’m just not sure about this coaching thing,” here’s what I say:

“I’m so glad you shared that. I want to be really clear about what coaching is and why we’re trying it at our school. I think about coaching as just one way that we can improve whatever it is that we’re trying to do–whether that is teaching or playing a sport. I think it’s something that everyone can engage in, at all stages of their career, because it’s a powerful way to learn. I think about my role as someone who helps you on this journey to refine your practices and become the teacher you’ve always wanted to be. I also think about it as a partnership because I know I’m going to learn along side you and from you. I’d love to hear more of your questions and concerns, because I really want to support you. The more you share your thoughts and feelings, the better I’ll be able to do support you.”

This teacher may or may not be unsure about coaching because she doesn’t want it, but give her the benefit of the doubt. Be aware of the assumptions you’re making. See what happens if you work from an assumption that she really just doesn’t understand what coaching is or why it’s happening.

I don’t need coaching.

An experienced teacher says, “I’m not sure why I have to have coaching this year. I don’t feel I really need it. Why don’t you work with Ms. ___? She’s a first year teacher and she really needs it.”

Here’s how I respond:

“Thank you for asking this question. I’m glad you raised it because I don’t want there to be confusion about why I’m working with you and I can imagine that this lack of clarity might make you feel uncomfortable. Here’s how I understand it: Ms. ___ is receiving coaching from her new teacher support provider this semester, and then I’ll work with her in the second semester. That has allowed us to prioritize teachers for coaching who often don’t get the same support as those who are new or really struggling.

“We see coaching as a way to learn that everyone can benefit from. In fact, coaching can be most effective with teachers who are doing really well because then we can just fine tune some aspects of practice, or work on learning some new skills together. I’d also really love for our principal to share with you her thoughts behind her decisions about who is receiving coaching when this year–it seems important that she clarifies her decisions. How does this sound to you? Are there other questions coming up?”

If an experienced teacher expresses reluctance to be coached, also invite exploration of their feelings. You ask questions like, “I hear that you’re apprehensive about coaching. I’m really curious what that’s about. Would you be willing to share your thoughts and feelings?” Invite conversation. Be open and willing to hear what they share.

You’ve never taught what I’m teaching. Why are you coaching me?

Here’s another situation that’s not uncommon. You are expected to coach a teacher who is teaching a grade level or content you’ve never taught, and he knows that. He asks you about this, “You’ve never taught algebra, and you’re going to coach me?” Here’s how I respond:

“Yes, that’s true–I haven’t taught algebra and I can understand that might seem like I’m not qualified to coach you. I think about the coaching that I offer as instructional coaching–focusing on instructional design, classroom management, engagement strategies, working with English Learners, using formative assessment, and so on. These strategies cut across grade and content areas and my role is to support you in reflecting on your practice. I’m not going to tell you what you’re doing wrong, or how to do things–my goal is to guide you in identifying areas you want to refine, to explore strategies to continue meeting the needs of all of your students. If at some point you want content coaching, I do have a colleague in the math department who could provide that, but you have been teaching algebra for many years. Also, I have to share that I’m really excited to coach someone with your expertise in this content areas–I know I’ll learn a lot from you.”

Clarify the role of a coach in your context

As coaches, we often experience what we perceive as resistance or push back, or even just suspicion, because teachers really aren’t clear on what coaching is or why it is happening–in your school or to them. Defining coaching and then sharing that definition with everyone in your context is a huge first step towards making coaching effective. In order to arrive at this definition, you’ll most likely need to have conversations with your administrators about what your role as a coach is. And then make sure that those definitions are communicated to everyone in the school.