Level Up as a Coach
One of my most delightful coaching experiences was with a relatively new teacher at my site. This teacher had worked in schools for a decade but had only been in the classroom for a year, and he was hungry to learn. The students loved him; I loved him. Observing him teach was a treat. Whenever I shared my availability at the beginning of each term, this teacher often was the first to sign up. And the time we spent together was pure joy.
What could be wrong with that?
BLISS IS IGNORANCE
Early on in our time together, I realized I was bearing a greater cognitive load than the teacher was. We had a pattern that cemented itself early on: the teacher shared about his class and how it was going; I asked a few probing questions to learn more; then we lapsed into directive coaching—I shared resources, I gave the teacher templates, I designed tasks for the teacher to complete; the teacher told me how helpful the session was and we made a plan to meet again. When I reflected further on our time together, I realized I was more like a co-teacher than a coach. And even though it felt good to be designing so much cool stuff and having so much to offer, I stole the teacher’s opportunity to learn.
Leveling Up by Stepping Back
Experienced coaches reading this may have spotted my gaffe when they saw the number of “I” statements I made about our coaching dynamic. Some coaches may not see the folly in supporting a relatively new teacher as they develop their toolkit. And after all, the teacher and I got along beautifully, had a great dynamic, and all was well.
But we didn’t go deep enough, and we didn’t experience struggle or tension, core ingredients to learning. I didn’t work to create conditions that maximized my client’s Zone of Proximal Development. Our coaching wasn’t actually coaching. While I was a subscriber of the transformational model—a practice that supports clients in examining beliefs, behaviors, and ways of being—I wasn’t wholly a practitioner of it with this teacher. I knew I needed to level up as a coach.
The POWER Framework
As a classroom teacher, I know full well that during the class period, the teacher shouldn’t be working harder than the students. And in coaching, I operate with the same ethos: I need teachers to be arbiters of their own learning. For both contexts, the power comes in the planning, the moves we make to observe ourselves and step back and let the learners learn, the reflection we do at the end so we can prepare for the next session. And I’m a framework person. So rather than spending my time designing something for the teacher to use, I designed something for me: the POWER framework: Plan, Observe, Write, Empathize, Reflect.
To level up as a coach with this client, I applied the framework in the following way:
Plan: I can’t rave enough about the coaching session planning tool, and since attending the Essentials of the Art of Coaching and reading Elena’s book, I rely on this tool just as a teacher relies on a lesson plan structure. With this teacher, I wanted to shift our dynamic, which meant shifting something in me first. So I probed more deeply into the following questions to figure out how I could level up as a coach:
- What are my intentions for this meeting? What do I want my client to think and feel by the end of it?
- Who do I need to be in this conversation? Who does my client need me to be? How do I need to show up?
I wanted to be a skillful listener, someone who held space for my client. And when we began our next session, I offered up the following, “I love our sessions, and I love working with you. But I notice that I’m creating a lot of work on your behalf, which is disempowering to your learning. What would it look like if we shifted and I asked you to design some tools? I’m happy to give feedback, but as a first pass, I prefer we create more space for you.” Because of trust, the teacher was willing for us to make this shift. If we didn’t have trust, then we would spend time building trust before diving into this practice.
Observe: Because I needed to show up differently for my client, I took the time to notice moments when I wanted to step in and tell the client what to do, how I felt when there were silences, and instead of talking, I let the silences linger. In moments when I felt the need to step in, I asked myself: is this ultimately going to support the client in being an agent in their own learning? This level of observation supported me in creating more space for my client.
Write: Coaches process information in different ways. I find a key tool to slowing myself down and being less directive is to write—to take down words and phrases the client says, to doodle images that come up for me. The act of documenting is a way of bearing witness to the client’s experience, making it more about him than about me. Instead of creating something for the teacher as we sat there, I jotted down his ideas and used my writing as a mirror to support the client’s thinking so he could make meaning for himself.
Empathize: I remember what it’s like to be a new teacher, someone who is a sponge for every resource in the world. I remember how awesome it felt when someone would recognize my needs and bring me a resource. But that needs to be tempered with letting the client have their own experience, to grapple with how they might approach something in their classroom. And showing empathy is a way I can still stay connected without taking over the conversation. While the teacher grappled with assignment design, I let him know that yes, it was hard, and yes, it would feel good when he designed something that could support his students. Staying empathetic allowed me to be in the experience with the teacher rather than dictating the experience for him.
Reflect: My first teaching methods instructor shared that the greatest tool teachers have is the power of reflection, and I continue to reflect on every lesson, every coaching session, every meeting. Some of my core go-to reflection questions are the following:
- What was the best part of that session? Why?
- What might I change, add, or build upon the next time?
- How did my strengths show up today? How did my growth areas show up?
- What do I want to write down and remember for the next time? How can I continue to shift my behaviors and ways of being?
These reflections were more for me than the client, and these moments of reflection allowed me to remain a learner who could be more skillful in meeting each client where they were (and help me level up to be a better coach)!
How do you think about leveling up as a coach?
I have learned a lot—and continue learning—as a coach. Each session offers me new wisdom in how I might show up differently and better for my clients. The beauty of education is there is always so much more to learn; this POWER framework has supported me in leveling up. We’d love to know what supports you in taking your coaching practice to the next level, too.
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Attend the Elena led Core Collection Sampler in Oakland from April 29 – May 1. In this three-day workshop, participants will spend a day getting a taste of each of Elena Aguilar’s three best-selling books.https://www.eventbrite.com/e/core-collection-sampler-oakland-ca-tickets-74148695745
To Sign Up For Right Now If You Want In:
The Coaching Catapult is an intentionally small and intimate (limited to 24 people only!) opportunity to level up as a coach, to learn, and practice with Elena. This workshop is for anyone who is now asking, “What’s next?! How can I keep developing my coaching skills?” Register here.