The Curious Coach
Choosing to play the supportive role
Updated: Apr 25, 2020
Juggling #coaching roles and working out where my expertise fits in isn't easy.
There have been a few great articles and blogs this week on #coaching. Two in particular have spoken to me: a piece by Margaret Moore on the hazards of wielding your expertise when coaching and one by Jim Knight outlining three different approaches to coaching. These spoke to me because even after 3 years in my current role I still have moments where I question how I ‘should’ be as a coach.
Many coaches have their expertise woven in to their title: Literacy Coach, Math Coach, Elementary Coach, Tech Coach, Instructional Coach. Asking to work with a coach in these circumstances inherently assumes expertise, and even presumes or desires that named expertise to contribute to the coaching process. My role, in some ways, is both void of and can consume all these lenses, which can be both scary and liberating. When I first started I fretted, wondering how I could be all things to all people, all-too-aware of the areas where I was not an expert.
My role means I coach anyone in the school, in any grade level or subject PreK-12. I can work with Learning Support teachers, Teaching Partners, PE teachers, Physics teachers, or French teachers. I might be asked by the High School Leadership team to work with them on a proposal for a new Personal Project for students, or to lead a workshop for Elementary teachers on creating assessment tools for learning. This means I can’t be all coaches to all people, all of the time: but that took me a while to grasp.
My number one mistake has been to presume what people are wanting from coaching when they book me, and launching straight in. Sometimes they very much want a facilitator, and I need to let their expertise drive the conversation, asking questions that draw deeply from their bank of resources to reveal ways of achieving their goals. Sometimes they want a director, wanting to be told exactly what to do and how to do it. Interestingly, directive coaching can also be requested from teachers who have the expertise to achieve their goals but are very short on time. And sometimes they want dialogue, where they want my expertise to permeate the conversation and know they have ultimate control over the direction they want to take towards their goals. The key is to spend time clarifying what the coachee needs from the coaching process before we begin. Once the stage is set and I know my role, I can feel confident I am providing the support the coachee wants: after all, they play the starring role.
I did mention at the start of this post that my role can be both scary AND liberating. I’m sure you see the scary part. Truth is, it is liberating for the very fact that it isn’t about me: when a coachee asks for my support they are reaching out in pursuit of their own goals, not mine. This isn’t to say I don’t have to remind myself of this fact. It is a constant struggle to find consistent ways to measure my impact as a coach, especially when there is such variance in what I’m doing. An easy way to do this is to slot some of my own agenda – my own goals - in there with the coachee’s, so I have something solid to measure. Depending on your relationship and your goals, this can work, but it more often than not erodes the rapport you have. Finding other ways to measure that impact is crucial to me feeling like the work I do matters, and accepting the many forms that might take is tough. But there is so much freedom in relinquishing that slightly egotistical hold on the coaching process, and the professional learning I have experienced by working with talented teachers over the years in areas both known and foreign to me is an amazing payoff. This professional learning, this growth, is the part of coaching that is about me. And just like that, I look back on the last few years and see my expertise has bloomed into areas I never expected, all by playing the supporting role.
How I 'should' be as a coach and the role of my expertise in coaching are not questions that will go away, but rather will keep me in-check as I continue to grow in my role. Despite all the hats we might wear as coaches, how we walk alongside others as they cut their path to new learning is the expertise that matters most.