Part 3 of our conversation with Elena Aguilar, instructional coaching guru and author

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Here is the transcript.

– Hi and welcome to PLtogether Lounge Talks. I’m Adam Geller, founder and CEO of Edthena. Today, we are continuing the conversation with Elena Aguilar. She is an instructional coach. She is an expert in how to think about how to lead students to success through positive conversations between the teachers and those who support them. Elena, thanks again for joining us.

– You’re welcome.

– So, the game has clearly changed for teachers. They’re not in schools. They’re adjusting to a variety of different ways of supporting learning with their students. The game has changed for coaches too. So I’m really curious, you know, how does the coaching relationship work now that many of the connections will be virtualized?

– I think that there’s opportunity for deepening relationships. And a coaching partnership is only as impactful and powerful for kids as the relationship between the coach and the teacher. And so I think that the opportunity for there to be stronger relationship and deeper trust is there. I think that there’s actually a lot of potential given the fact that, this sounds a little strange, but given the fact that we are all in this situation together, it’s a connecting, bonding context in a sense. It’s like we’re all in this and trying to figure it out together. I think there’s an opportunity for coaches to truly partner with teachers and not think that they are the experts and that they are the holders of knowledge and wisdom in everything. And so to actually truly authentically engage teachers in problem-solving and strategizing is an opportunity.

– No, I just thought about how sometimes we hear that coaches can be feeling frustrated because they get pulled away to do, and the list is very long, other things other than do the work of supporting teachers. And in some respects, maybe this is an opportunity for coaches to get to really dial in to that supportive work and thinking deeply about or asking that question and spending the time to be able to answer it, what do teachers need right now?

– Mm-hm.

– You know, I think one thing that I’m interested to get your thoughts on related to this current scenario is, I guess do you imagine that some of the mindsets will change around how we define a quote-unquote good coaching relationship? And mainly because of the fact that I think oftentimes, we’ve conflated a lot of the actions of coaches with the idea of being physically present, like I will physically come to your room and show you that I care because I’m going to watch you teach. And then I’m gonna talk in person with you, Elena, right. So, have we kind of unlocked something here by kind of forcing everyone forward into this world where we have to think about talking about, looking at teaching and talking about teaching in a virtualized way?

– I don’t know if it’s, I don’t know if it’s really gonna change. I mean, the thing is a coach could show up, could still come and observe a teacher teaching in Zoom right now, right? A coach can show up in a classroom. A coach can still look at a teacher’s lesson plans or unit plans, so I don’t know, except for, I suppose, elementary school or lower elementary isn’t necessarily meeting on Zoom in the same way that secondary teachers are. I think that perhaps, I hope, this could be an opportunity to actually define what coaching is because, and I don’t mean redefine. I mean, actually, let’s just start with a definition. I think the definition that exists in some places is narrow, but in most places, there isn’t even a definition of this is what coaching is. This is why we have it. This is what a coach does. It’s, you know, maybe super loosely defined or not defined at all. And so perhaps there’s an opportunity for people to actually say like, okay, so what does a coach do? What are a coach’s, What are the coach’s goals? Why do coaches exist? What is our program about? If coaching is a way to help a teacher develop professionally and to think about what they’re doing and to make changes to meet the needs of kids, then that can happen whether or not we’re physically in the same place or in the same place with students or virtually. It’s less about what a teacher does and much more about what they think, what they believe, and who they are being when they’re with students.

– I’m just laughing there ’cause you sneak in the, you know, I thought I was gonna come back with a great summary, and then you like, kind of, you know, the right-hand hook there. I do think though, I wanna make sure I’m not putting words in your mouth. But if I’m hearing what you’re saying, there’s a little bit of an opportunity to, My thesis is obviously that maybe people will be more open to the idea of what it means to be a coach because you don’t have to be there in person. And it sounds like you’re saying we have the opportunity to un-bundle previously the idea of going together and those core definitions of what the coach really does. There’s a really, For those watching this video, I wanna point you to Elena’s website, brightmorningteam.com. They did a blog post at the beginning of April, so you can search for An Introduction to Transformational Coaching. And there’s about an hour recording in there, but there’s a segment of that video where Elena and her colleague, Jessie, model a coaching conversation. And I think what for me was so powerful about this is that you were modeling a good coaching conversation. It just to happened to be on video. And so I really, it’s like hook, line, and sinker for me. Look folks, here it is. This wasn’t a virtual coaching session. This was just coaching, and here they are. They’re on video. I mean, how can, for folks that are, I mean, yes, they’re at home, and they gotta accept where they are. But you talk about the need to practice things. I mean, how can folks practice this new way of coaching when they can’t lean on some of the techniques they may have done before to suss out how somebody’s really feeling. Like maybe I can’t see that you’re wringing your hands right now because I only see shoulders up. How can coaches practice in this new style of coaching?

– Well, having less data inputs means we have to pay closer attention to the data that we have. And so what we have are facial expressions, tone of voice, pitch, pace, volume, and the words that someone is saying. And so I think it’s a misconception that, coaches are limited or restricted in some way because we can only meet on a video platform or phone. I have had my own coach for almost six years. I’ve met her in person twice, and I meet with her by phone two or three times a month. And so we never do video. I like the phone. And she’s the best coach in the whole world, and I have high standards for coaches. And so I think there’s, you know, where we are, perhaps relying on things that we don’t need to rely on if we think that the only way we can do coaching is if we’re meeting in person, and we’re going in, classroom. If coaching is really a, a tool or set of strategies to unpack what someone thinks and believes and feels, then that can happen very effectively over the phone. And video communication really hasn’t been around that long, and there’s been lots of meaningful connection and communication between people prior to this. And so I think it’s what can we do, what are the opportunities. I coached someone last week. It was really interesting. I’m kind of like I’m not sure how I feel about this. I coached someone. I was sitting here at my desk in my office, and she was lying in her bed. And at first I was like, oh, this is kind of weird. It was only the second time I’d ever met with her, and I was like, well, this feels kind of intimate. But, on the other hand, she was very, very relaxed and really deeply reflective, and our conversation was really powerful. And part of me was thinking like, she was a school principal, and I was thinking if I’d met with her in her school, she would have been in her office sitting in her desk with her secretary or assistant outside and with all the sounds. And here’s she’s like really able to think about who she is and how she’s leading. So, it was really kind of interesting. I mean, I was still like, wow, this is kind of weird. Now she’s got the phone propped up on the pillow next to her, and I feel like I’m lying in bed having this conversation. But the end of that, I mean, it was so powerful. And afterwards, I was like, that’s one of the most powerful and intense and kind of amazing coaching conversations I’ve ever had. So, I don’t know. I’m always curious about what is possible. I’m like, okay, this is our situation now. What’s possible? What can happen? And I think the conversations, I’ve been doing all these conversations with people I’m just meeting. And I’m like, people are kind of more, let me see, I don’t know how to say this, like they’re just kind of cutting right through the bullshit. And they’re like, okay, let’s just get right to it. There’s an urgency right now. I know we’re all feeling a lot of intensity, and I’m gonna be, And I’m kind of feeling the same way. I’m like, yeah, let’s just go straight into the heart of things and see what happens.

– You said something that I think I wanna pull out and highlight before we wrap up this segment. It’s related to that conversation about with the principal in her bed but also just really like the goal of the coach. The goal of a coach is not to prove that they saw something or to prove that they notice something or prove anything about a coach, right? It’s all about the coach helping the person on the other part of that relationship understand and develop more perspective about what’s happening in their world ’cause it does no good for the coach to declare something. It’s all about the person on the other end kind of finding their way to a new understanding. All right, well let’s, we’re gonna wrap this part of the conversation. If you’re interested in listening to more, and you’re watching this video or listening to it somewhere, head to pltogether.org. Elena, thank you so much for joining us, and we will be back to wrap this up.

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