Mentor Blog: What can go wrong with coaching?

May 3, 2019 - 4 minutes read

By Janine Presloid, IU 24, and the Chester County Instructional Coaches

“A coach’s role is to help teachers, in non-evaluative and confidential ways, to implement effective instructional practices.” (Instructional Coaching in Action, pg. 3)  What can possibly go wrong?  I asked my county’s coaches to reflect on times in which they have seen coaching go wrong, and misinterpretation emerged as one theme.

Sometimes, there can be misinterpretation in conversation between a coach and teacher.  One coach noted that misinterpretation can occur by either a teacher and a coach in conversation. “A coach may project their perspective onto a teacher or assume a teacher’s thoughts and understandings without actually listening to the teacher.  This can impact the feedback a coach might give,  and could really hurt their relationship and rapport with the teacher.”  The opposite can also be true- a teacher may perceive motives or opinions of the coach inaccurately, which can impact the way they respond (or don’t respond) to the coach.

Another coach noted, “A teacher can sometimes misinterpret the role of a coach and not seek out advice for fear of seeming weak or incompetent.” One coach described his frustration with teachers who come to him for help only when they have reached the absolute end of their tether.  He noted, “I’m always happy to help, but I feel so badly for them because they could have come to me a long time ago and we could have worked it through and taken care of it.  Now they sit and tell me how terrible a teacher they are, and beat themselves up.  They don’t need to wait that long or feel that bad to get support.”

In these cases, a coach’s ability to be reflective in the conversation (reflecting and responding in the moment) and reflecting on the conversation (reflecting afterwards about the perspectives and alternative interpretations of the conversation) is critical.  This allows coaches to build and maintain trusting relationships with the teachers they support, which is key in helping these teachers take the steps needed for deep changes in practice.

There are other times when a principal or teacher may misinterpret the role of the coach as an enforcer, or someone in charge of ‘fixing teachers.’   A coach described a situation where a teacher was required to work with her to improve her practice. Since the directive came from the administrator, the teacher felt no trust in her communications with the coach. She became defensive and focused her energies on avoiding the coaching situation rather than changing her practice.  This misinterpretation of the coach’s role on both the teacher’s and administrator’s part impacted the support the coach was able to provide to the teacher.

In these cases, clarity and communication are key in establishing and maintaining true coaching relationships.  The role of a coach should be clearly described, and the role and benefits of a working with coach should be reviewed formally and informally with teachers and administrators.

To combat misinterpretation in its various forms, a coach must continuously strive for effective, reflective communication.  This includes not only how a coach communicates to others, but also continuous awareness of how others are communicating, including what they are saying and what they are not saying.  This effective, reflective communication builds strong relationships which are the foundation to impactful coaching.