When coaching someone, have you ever thought, “Oh, I’m done here”? You know, the feeling of just wanting to be done with a conversation, being ‘over it’? I’ve been there.
I heard a participant in a recent workshop say this during the coaching practice portion. Even though the scenario was just an exercise for practice, the resistance the coach felt during the role play brought up real-life emotions and she was over it. Not really though—she was very self-aware and reflective and pulled me over to get some support. The coach was stuck and was confused about what to do with the resistance she was perceiving from her pretend client. It was extremely triggering for her.
Here’s a synopsis of the “resistance” that transpired (which is based on real-life events). The focus of this portion of the conversation was learning more about the behaviors the teacher was seeing with third-grade students and how to improve class culture.
It was clear the client would shut down any other ideas. In The Art of Coaching Teams and in her latest blog, Elena reminds us, “Resistance is often a mask for a range of feelings including anger, sadness, fear, confusion, exhaustion, and distrust.” We have to be ready to coach these emotions and in the spirit of building up our toolkit, we can play with additional techniques to explore and decrease the perceived resistance.
Let’s take this scenario and layer in three different techniques to see what’s possible.
TECHNIQUE #1: Empower the client.
Clearly naming and acknowledging the quality of the experience for the educator helps heighten their awareness – and this initiates their own power. Educators have a lot more influence than they may realize in moments where they feel overwhelmed. It is important not to lose sight of their power of influence. We need to help them elevate and focus on positive ways to improve the learning experience for kids.
Why this works:
Hearing a client say “that won’t work” can bring up feelings of frustration for the coach and client alike. Instead, we can turn our attention to 1) the emotions and quality of the experience currently present and 2) the influence clients have to improve that experience for themselves and their students. This reminder helps people reactivate their leadership and how much is within their locus of control. Acknowledging how the teacher is currently feeling and helping them create a quick vision for how everyone can feel in the classroom, gives focus and purpose to the conversation. Asking the ‘magic wand’ question – and asking the client to determine ‘where to start’ – puts the ball in their court and ensures they are carrying the appropriate cognitive load in their reflection process. While this technique can be helpful in getting a conversation on the right track, it should be paired with other transformational coaching moves to get to a meaningful outcome. Let’s explore some more.
TECHNIQUE #2: Explore beliefs straight on.
Listen carefully for cues of the underlying beliefs a teacher holds. If we only focus on changing teacher behaviors by way of strategies, then those will be temporary fixes that will be insufficient to make sustainable change. After a few days, the original “problem” will reemerge. Reflect back the beliefs you are hearing, and play those out to their logical end. In particular, it is helpful to amplify the belief that we must protect the humanity and dignity of the students (and adults) in the classroom.
Let’s pick up the conversation where we left off with technique #1.
Why this works:
This teacher is holding a limiting belief about Christopher, likely several limiting beliefs, but we were able to unearth one major one. Without exploring beliefs, the strategies we prioritize will fall short. New behaviors with old beliefs do not work. The teacher may try the new strategies but when they don’t work all the way, she will revert back to old behaviors and be right back where she started. This will erode trust in your partnership and the teacher will lose hope that positive change is possible. To make new behaviors stick, we must explore beliefs. We also cannot ignore that our beliefs are shaped by our experiences which in turn, are shaped by all aspects of our identity and socio-political consciousness. New behaviors with biased beliefs also do not work.
This next technique helps us bridge to some possible strategies this teacher can try.
TECHNIQUE #3: Identify multiple truths.
Help the client see that multiple things can be true at the same time. There’s more than one way to interpret a situation. When additional possibilities are identified it offers clients freedom. Having multiple perspectives to choose from empowers people and makes them much more likely to engage and try new things. Leveraging student voice (through direct student quotes) and/or elevating alternate perspectives from students/families/community members etc. can also be extremely helpful with this technique.
Let’s pick up the conversation where we left off with technique #2.
Why this works:
This teacher was stuck in binary thinking. From her perspective kids could only understand one of two things 1) Christopher getting a timeout means it’s not okay to misbehave or 2) If Christopher does not get a timeout, that means it is okay to misbehave. This is problematic for a few reasons. Mostly, this is based on an extremely flawed premise that meeting the needs of children means every child gets exactly the same thing. We must be much more responsive than that. Also, we are putting a lot of weight on Christopher’s experience to send a message to the rest of the class. This can’t be his responsibility to bear. It is extremely unfair and unjust. This binary thinking was also blocking access to a much more empowering message about never giving up on children that is actually in much tighter alignment to the type of culture this teacher wants to create. In addition, the teacher was limited by the ‘rules of the system.’ Instead of activating more curiosity and a better understanding of Christopher’s needs, she was more focused on holding tightly to the ‘rules’. By holding up multiple truths it helps the client see what else is there and empowers them to make better-informed decisions.
The Bottom Line
- In order for teachers to continuously grow into reflective practitioners and improve student outcomes, they need to be centered on their own power. They can influence much more than they realize and their coach can help them make sense of that power in healthy ways.
- Everyone deserves to be part of a culture that honors their humanity and dignity and is conducive to a positive learning experience. We must consistently and rigorously interrogate the beliefs that may block us from that.
- Helping teachers see that multiple things can be true all at once helps push beliefs and opens up new possibilities that might otherwise be ignored.
We can use these techniques in isolation as needed but they pack a much stronger coaching punch when used in conjunction with each other. Try these out so when experiencing resistance instead of being “done here” you and your client are excited that you are “barely getting started here.”