Coaching Tip of the Month, June 2019
Establishing a trusting relationship is not just between a coach and a teacher; it’s critical for any relationship to survive the test of time! Think about it… if you have a significant other, how easy is it for you to maintain the level of support without being tempted to give your opinion? Actually, I think it’s easier to give your opinion when it’s your personal partner… not so easy in a working relationship.
In an effective instructional coaching relationship, being non-judgmental is crucial and the only way to maintain a healthy working relationship. Sure, we all have that “internal eye roll” that comes from gasping when a teacher shares something a coach just knows from experience doesn’t work. This is when a coach becomes masterful at asking the right kinds of questions at the just the right moment. A coach must be careful, though, that the questions do not cause the teacher to become defensive and feel as though his/her thinking must be justified. It’s not a question about who is right or wrong; it’s about creating an environment where asking questions about one’s thinking is generative and leads to continued conversation.
“In almost every profession – whether it’s law or journalism, finance or medicine or academia or running a small business – people rely on confidential communications to do their jobs. We count on the space of trust that confidentiality provides. When someone breaches that trust, we are all worse off for it” says Hillary Clinton (https://www.brainyquote.com/topics/trust). The confidentiality that we promise in a coaching interaction determines the ongoing communication between coaches and their teaching colleagues. If that trust is breached, communication ceases to exist either as a “giver” or a “receiver.” At the same time, however, that trust makes you vulnerable.
Coaches are not experts so when they admit to not knowing something, their teaching colleagues respect and honor that. After all, if a coach thinks s/he is perfect, how can someone else measure “up” to the expectations? That projects an image that says there is nothing else to learn – so far from the message a coach needs to send. When a coach creates a safe environment to share thoughts without judgement and to ask questions without worry, that shifts the paradigm from one of isolation to one of trust and collaboration, all necessary to sustain a thriving relationship for growth. It makes learning front and center in an environment that is risk free and promotes a “learning place” for all. Trust is needed in order for someone to ask questions as well as for someone to answer them.
But, trust alone does not create a healthy environment even though a healthy environment is not possible without trust. It also takes accountability and responsibility, both individual and collective. Each person is responsible and accountable for making wise decisions, demonstrating professional behavior, and presuming positive intentions. After all, if a coach breaches confidentiality in conversation with a colleague, how often do you think that confidential conversations are shared at other times? Don’t fall into that trap!
Kevin Plank, a businessman, says this about trust: “Brands are about trust. That trust is built in drops and lost in buckets.” Such sage words… it may take quite some time to build that trust yet it can be destroyed in a blink of an eye. An instructional coach’s “brand” is the message about coaches and teachers engaging in confidential, non-evaluative conversations. And, as the brand is disseminated far and wide, the message becomes loud and clear. Remember, sharing something positive can be just as damaging as sharing something negative. Either way, talking about someone’s practice erodes confidentiality.
Trust is everywhere… think about your coaching interactions and how trust impacts them. We need trust in, on, and about each of the following:
- making decisions
- being confidential
- believing everyone can learn
- being respectful
- wanting to make a difference
- in the individual
- in the team
- in the security of a shared vision
- in the communication process
- in the collective problem-solving process
As a coach, fill your bucket with ways that strengthen trust and honor your colleagues. Coaching interactions and relationships depend on it.