Wednesday, September 29, 2010


The importance of listening has been underestimated in the job of coaching, in my perception. Too many people think a coach's job is to impart wisdom about literacy to teachers. The thought is often that the coach is the expert in their academic area and so must convince the other teachers in her building to come around to the "correct" way of teaching. The coach then works her heart out leading after-school professional development sessions and scheduling modeled lessons, but ends up frustrated by the end of the year when only a few pioneers, the teachers who will try anything, are applying her strategies. The coach grumbles, makes plans to readdress it next year, and the cycle continues. After a few years of this, the coach begins to believe either a) "there's something wrong with these teachers" or b) "there's something wrong with me" and in either instance wants to quit. Sometimes they do quit, but continue to remain in the position of coach.

Granted, there can be lots of reasons that coaching doesn't "work" at a school. But I think a huge part of a coach's success has to do with his or her willingness to listen to the teachers she works with. And by listen, I mean truly listen. William Isaacs says we have trouble with this because:

If we try to listen we find it extraordinarily difficult, because we are always projecting our opinions and ideas, our prejudices, our background, our inclinations, our impulses; when they dominate, we hardly listen at all to what is being said.

I don't know how many times I've done this, but I know it's a lot. In his book "Dialogue - the Art of Thinking Together", Isaacs says "People do not listen, they reload". I have been guilty of this many times in my life, ignoring the person talking to me in an effort to pre-argue my point in my head so I can jump in at the earliest opportunity to get that point across.

And yet those people in my life that I value most are the ones who I feel have truly listened to me. The childhood teachers I felt closest to were the ones who made me feel cared about and listened to. The leaders I've worked for whom I most respect were the ones who respected me right back by listening to my opinion - really listening, and considering what I had to say.

As coaches, we should be offering that focused listening to the teachers with whom we work. If we truly listen, then oftentimes we'll learn something. And when people feel listened to, more likely than not they'll be more willing to listen right back.

1 comment:

Debbie said...

Well stated.

Just like teachers in a classroom who create community, it can't be done if a teacher does not listen to the students. So it is with coaching, creating community with teachers can not be done without listening.