Monday, August 29, 2016

Questioning Game for Coaches

I recently attended a great conference on The Art of Coaching hosted by Elena Aguilar, the author of the book The Art of Coaching . I've read a lot of books on coaching over the past ten years, but Elena's perspective stands out because of her commitment to social justice throughout the text. She helps us move beyond looking only at the interaction between coach and teacher to consider the implications of systems thinking, systemic oppression and change management, among others. Her book is changing how I think about coaching, and I have a feeling I'll be referring to it in future posts as I digest and attempt to apply her approach.

Elena mentioned that in coaching interactions, the coach should only speak about 1/3 of the time. This stems from her belief about coaching, which I paraphrased as: Most of the time, people are able to solve their own problems. Therefore, coaching should be about helping people solve their own problems. To do this, we need to let teachers talk, we need to draw out their beliefs and help them connect these to their actions, we need to tap into who they are being and who they want to be, and we need to understand their core values.

Over the course of the two day conference, I realized that I am much more tempted to solve people's problems for them, in an effort to be helpful and speed things along, instead of doing the harder and often more time-intensive work of helping them grow themselves so that they can solve future problems on their own.

To get better at this, I think I need to start by listening more, so I'm going to attempt something I'll call the Questioning Game. It's based on those Improv game shows where contestants can only ask questions:

I'm wondering if making myself ask a series of questions will encourage the person I'm with to think through their dilemma and possibly solve it themselves. I imagine it might go something like this:

Teacher: I'm really worried about my low group of kids. Their DRA scores show they're reading more than a year below grade level and a lot of them struggle with writing anything more than a couple sentences.
Coach: What have you tried so far?
T: Well, they all go to Mrs. Y for intervention and she's working with them on sight words and some of the comprehension strategies. But they miss most of my writing mini-lesson because they're gone to intervention, so I'm worried that they're falling even farther behind in writing.
C: Do the kids have to leave during that time? Is there a way to rearrange the schedule to make it work?
T: Well, unfortunately the intervention teacher's schedule is tied to everyone else's schedule, so I don't think she can pull them at another time. [pause] I wonder if I could move my mini-lesson back a little so they could be here for that and leave when we do independent reading?
C: Would you feel better about that?
T: I think so. Then they'd get to hear the mini-lesson from me AND receive intervention.

Of course, it can get awkward to answer everything with a question, so if I'm ever at a loss on a question to ask - like the comedians in the clip, there's a point at which you draw a blank - then rather than trying to solve the problem for the teacher, I'll try to restate what they've just said. I find that easier when restating emotions: It sounds like you're frustrated with this situation for instance.

In today’s stressed world, it can be tempting to take the “most efficient” route by solving people’s problems for them. But then they don’t own the solution, and can leave the interaction feeling less energized and empowered than when they arrived. So, my new goal is to ask more questions and act as a mirror by restating the thinking teachers are doing as they talk with me. I’ll let you know how it goes… 


penny said...

If questioning was that fun everyone would do it Heather - thanks for the laughs on that video!

Usually the approach of questioning is the opposite of what a teacher is seeking. Teachers often ask a question of a perceived authority hoping for the "right," or at least efficient, answer. For me it is a challenge to not share MY answer to THEIR question; I know though that my answer would work in my classroom, but they really do want their own answer to work within their teaching style and classroom. So internally I slow down my desire to solve, and while I do my best to question also, I try to network them with peers versus perceived authorities. For instance I might mention that another whatever grade/subject teacher in another county school is facing the same challenge/question. I try to empower teachers to collaborate with each other because I only have one teacher's opinion anyway - and I will learn from the solution other practicing teachers generate ultimately as well.

Thank you for the thought provoking post.

Heather said...

You hit the nail on the head - it's hardest to do this questioning strategy/game when the other person is stressed and really what they want is a quick answer. I'm a people-pleaser, so I generally want to give them what they want. But nobody grows in those scenarios.

I love your ideas about helping teachers network with others. Schools should be places where everybody grows, not just the little people. Stress can make that difficult, however.