Edthena CEO Adam Geller sits down with Jim Knight for a conversation about the different approaches that instructional coaches can take with their teachers. To be successful, Jim believes that coaches should tailor their coaching methods to the needs of the teacher. This is part 4 of their PLTogether Lounge Talk conversation.

Here is the transcript of that conversation.

– Welcome to PLtogether Lounge Talks. I’m Adam Geller, founder and CEO of Athena. Today we’re talking with Jim Knight. He’s the author of multiple books on instructional coaching and also an expert in how video could be part of instructional coaching, which could be pretty important as distance learning is likely to continue. Jim, thanks so much.

– My pleasure.

– So, imagine I’m a coach, I have the opportunity to talk to you. And my big question is not even how to I do coaching in an online or virtual way, or in these uncertain ways, but if I’ve got teachers I’ve not coached before, where do I start to build that relationship with a teacher who I’ve never been able to visit in person in their classroom?

– I think you start with defining what your job is. And there’s more than one way to approach this, but if it was someone working with us and we were partnering with them to help them succeed as coaches, we would say the coach is providing a service to the teacher. And so everything they do is driven by what the teacher identifies as their most pressing needs and things they wanna work on. And then what you do is you give the teacher power tools, so they can see what’s happening in their classroom, so they can learn teaching strategies. But it’s driven by the teacher, so the concept of resistance shouldn’t exist. And this is what I really got from motivational interviewing, which is an approach that’s really influenced me. But the concept of resistance shouldn’t exist because I’m doing what the teacher wants me to do. Now, the trouble is they have a history where they really don’t believe, the teachers, often, where professional development has kind of diminished the expertise of teachers, and they haven’t really been asked to think, and there’s sort of a compliance culture sometimes. And so when you sit down and say, “This is about providing the support to help you do what you wanna do, and here’s how it works,” people are hesitant to believe it. But once you’re working on something that really matters to the teacher, the thing they think about when they drive home at night, and when they wake up in the middle of the night the thing that’s on their mind, once you’re working on that, there’s no resistance, because we’re just two professionals trying to figure out how to do this thing that you wanna do. So I think the very first thing is to see yourself as providing a service to teachers. You’re not there to tell them what they did right and what they did wrong. That doesn’t work very well. There’s a whole body of research that says it doesn’t work that well. You’re there to help them identify a really powerful goal they wanna hit, and then provide really awesome support so they can hit the goal. That’s the way I’d see it.

– Yeah, I’m thinking about all the technical things, technology things that teachers are learning right now. And in some ways they’re more expert than the coaches in utilizing these tools. So it really would be a flawed and short set of conversations if the position of the coach was, you know, “I’m here to provide you technical assistance.” Not just technical support, but, you know, how to use Google Classroom better. You know, for a variety of reasons, including that may not be the top-of-the-list important item for the teacher. I like to think of the coach as that, especially right now, when teachers are feeling stressed, the coach can be that thought partner, to do extra thinking alongside the teacher, on how to problem-solve.

– Yep. I think that’s good, where they’re thought partners, for sure. And they will move in and out of roles right now like never before, because the needs are so diverse. So there will be times when you’re a mentor, where you’re an expert sharing stuff. There’ll be times when you’re a trainer, and there’ll be other times when you’re a coach. And when you’re a coach, it’s driven by the goal. But if the teacher’s trying to figure out how to do a Google Classroom, I don’t think you have to say, “How have you learned how to do apps like this previously?” You should say, “Let me show you how to do it,” you know. So I think you’re gonna have these different roles. And the lines between being a mentor and a trainer, or technical support, or sometimes we call it implementation support, and a coach, are gonna be blurry. But you just wanna make sure that what you’re doing is happening because it’s what the teacher wants, not because it feels good to you. And sometimes it feels good to give people feedback, “Here are three things you did well. Here’s something to work on.” If it doesn’t lead to change that helps kids, it doesn’t do much good. So you have to be careful that you’re not doing it because it feels good to you, but you’re doing it because whatever you’re doing is what the teacher asked for. So I wouldn’t wanna give much advice, but I would wanna respond to a felt need. Michael Bungay Stanier talks about the Advice Monster. We would love to give advice. He says we love to give advice way more than we like to receive it. And you don’t wanna put yourself in that situation where you’re doing something that feels good, but it may not help.

– Before we need to wrap up this conversation, Jim, I wanna make sure to ask you our extra credit question that we’ve been asking everyone. And that is, to consider some of the changes that you’ve had personally, related to coronavirus or maybe staying at home, that are positive, and you hope will continue into the future.

– Well, I have changed a lot. You know, I’m living a lot healthier life, in part because I’m home. I’m doing what’s called the Examen. It’s a spiritual discipline, but it doesn’t have to be spiritual. But at the end of the day, you look back on your day and you say, essentially, what went well, and what didn’t go so well? What kind of person was I? You know, what shall I try to do differently tomorrow? What’s my intention for tomorrow? And every day reflect on how you could do that. And I’m really trying to really see the good in every person I talk to, which is easier said than done. And so, at the end of each day I’m doing this Examen. It just takes, like, 15 minutes, and I write it down. But I think it’s a really powerful tool for just trying to be a tiny bit better every day. So that’s a thing I’m taking away.

– Very interesting. Well, Jim, I’ve learned a lot from you today. Authentically I say that, not just because I’m interviewing! And I have some things to reflect on myself. And thanks for being part of PLtogether.

– It’s my pleasure. It was really fun. Thanks. I thought it was a real enjoyable conversation. I’m grateful for the chance to have it.

– Thanks so much. And if you are just catching this one segment, head to Pltogether.org, for the rest of our conversation as well as conversations with other education experts.

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