I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but instructional coaching isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Despite your enthusiasm for instructional coaching and your passion for helping teachers improve their craft, not everyone will be as receptive to your recommendations as you probably hope. While you’ll have some rockstar teachers that are sponges, hanging on your every word, you are also likely to have some teachers that present you with a less than warm welcome. It’s those teachers, just as it’s those students, that are the most important to connect with.
Resistance to instructional coaching can manifest itself in many different ways. You may have teachers who are directly defiant to coaching and make it abundantly clear they don’t want your help. These teachers may tell you that they don’t need coaching, that their classes are working just fine as is, or they simply don’t want to be coached. You may have teachers that are more passive and dodge your meetings or act as though they like your recommendations, but then never actually implement them into their classes. This teacher may be polite and apologetic as they give you the excuse as to why you stood outside their door for 15 minutes because they “forgot about the meeting” or so-and-so “scheduled a last-minute meeting.” Though these situations can be highly frustrating, it’s important to approach these situations objectively and try to understand the root cause of these behaviors. We know that students would rather appear disruptive before they appear incompetent. Teachers, and adults in general, are often no different in their behavior. Resistance is a natural human response to situations when there is a lack of knowledge or confidence, but still a pressure to perform.
Tip #1: Start with the Source of the Resistance
The first thing you must do when approaching a resistant teacher is to do your best to uncover and understand the source of the resistance. It is easy to assume, like a misbehaved student, that the teacher is simply being irrational or difficult, but that is likely never the case. There is usually a logical and reasonable explanation for why a teacher appears to be resistant to coaching and it is your job as the coach to figure it out. This often requires the coach to take a step back and approach the situation with inquiry or curiosity and not judgement or assumption. It is possible that the teacher does not feel trust has been developed between themselves and the coach to a point that would allow them to be vulnerable about their practice (Click here to read more about 5 easy ways you can build trust with your teachers). It is possible that the teacher feels like you as the coach don’t appreciate all the effort they make to provide the best education for their students. It is also likely that those teachers just haven’t had a good experience with instructional coaching in the past and have held onto that discomfort.
It should come as no surprise that veteran teachers are most likely to resist coaching. That’s not to say that new teachers can’t be resistant, but the longer a teacher has been in the classroom, the more likely they are to believe traditional instructional methods are best. These teachers have had success with their tried and true lessons and strategies, so they are not necessarily being resistant to be difficult, but rather because change may seem unnecessary. It is also likely that the educational system in which they attended and were trained for is a distant figment of the past. In this case, change may seem overwhelming to teachers. A new curricular initiative might seem like the latest wave of change that will eventually pass as they have so often experienced before, so trying to keep up and adapt can be frustrating for them. Even teachers who support change and willingly accept coaching may feel overwhelmed by the amount of work required to implement new lessons or instructional strategies.
Each one of these causes for resistance can be boiled down to one common denominator – fear. Teachers, quite frankly anyone for that matter, are resistant to change because change is scary. Especially in an educational world already plagued with bad press, high stakes testing and questions of professional competence, teachers can be afraid that instructional coaching may illuminate their shortcomings. There is often a fear from teachers that administration will not help or support them if things go wrong. There is fear that a teacher’s knowledge or skills are inadequate. There is a general fear of failure. Teachers do not like to look incompetent in front of their students because they believe it dissolves their credibility as the teacher. The best way to combat each of these sources of resistance, however, is to build a trusting relationship with the teachers you are coaching.
- Use inquiry and curiosity to identify where the resistance is coming from.
- Avoid judgement or assumption with your teachers.
- You’ll find that the common theme behind teachers’ resistance is fear. Fear of failure or of change and the best way to combat this is by building a trusting relationship.
Tip #2: Be Transparent with your Teachers
As you build this relationship with teachers, it’s important for you to be transparent with them. If you have not explicitly explained your purpose for working with them, or your goals for instructional coaching, you need to do so. Be sure to address the why of what you’re doing. If teachers know you’re not there to judge them, but rather to provide advice and feedback that will make their teaching lives easier and more impactfully, they are likely to be more receptive to your feedback and recommendations. Empathy is a great tool to use in these conversations. Many instructional coaches are former teachers and understand the challenge of finding time to explore new tools and strategies on top of all the other tasks and duties that need to be accomplished. Make it a point to explain to teachers that you understand this frustration and are not there to add ‘one more thing,’ but rather you’re there to help alleviate some of these stressors so that teachers can focus on what matters most – their students.
Part of being transparent also includes confiding with your coachees about your own struggles as a classroom teacher. Working with an instructional coach can make teachers feel very vulnerable about their work. There is a stigma that instructional coaches are “experts” and the teacher is working with them because of some deficiency in their practice. Often times teachers view instructional coaching as a punishment doled out by administration, which can immediately hinder the teacher-coach relationship. It is important for teachers to see that their coach is familiar with the challenges they face and that they are worthy of being trusted. It is also important that administration is supportive of instructional coaching and frames teacher participation in a way that doesn’t feel like a punishment, but rather something essential to the benefit of teachers. Coaches are not experts prescribing solutions, but instead must act as collaborators to help teachers grow professionally. As an instructional coach, there will be teachers that challenge you to have the silver bullet or wave your magic wand to solve all their problems, but that’s just not the reality of the situation. Teachers and coaches must be teammates who study together, learn together, and grow together. If teachers are expected to be vulnerable with the coach, the coach needs to show some of their own vulnerability as well.
Through all of this, it is important to remember that teacher’s resistance is often not personal. As coaches, we feel so passionately about serving others that we personalize behaviors from others that we perceive as resistant. When teachers don’t immediately welcome your support, it is easy to wonder what you did to warrant their response, but nine times out of ten their behavior has nothing to do with you at all. Your role as the coach is to understand who this teacher is on a personal level. It is your duty as the coach to build a strong enough relationship with teachers that you can become a catalyst for change.
- Start by explaining your purpose for why you are working with your teachers.
- Bring empathy into the conversation and share your own struggles as a classroom teacher to create transparency.
- Teachers will be more willing to open up and view the relationship as a collaboration if they feel that their coach can relate to them. In turn, this helps to create a strong relationship with teachers built on trust.
Tip #3: Invest the Time
Building relationships and connecting with resistant teachers will take time. It may seem counterproductive to spend this time upfront when you want to dive right into coaching, but without a relationship, it is guaranteed that no true coaching will happen. Many times with resistant teachers, you need to find one hook to draw them in before you’re able to break down their walls. This is where the personal interview becomes an essential coaching tool. Figure out what your teacher likes, what they are interested in, and what is important to them. It may take a few probing questions to get a resistant teacher to open up to you, so try starting with a casual conversation first, unrelated to teaching. Perhaps there is a way for you to offer some advice about something in their personal life, which helps develop that professional trust. Perhaps you show the teacher how to turn off the keyboard clicks on their phone because it drives them nuts, or you share your love for the cash back shopping app Rakuten. Breaking the ice personally is the best way to engage resistant teachers. This shows that you, as their coach, care about the teacher on a personal level, you’re willing to work at their pace, and you are invested in them and not just the initiative.
- Connecting with resistant teachers will take time and patience.
- A strong relationship must be built first in order for your coaching to be effective.
- Investing time in the relationship is key and conducting a personal interview where you figure out your teacher’s likes and interests is a great place to start.
- It’s best to go in with a casual conversation and break the ice personally in order to engage with resistant teachers.
Above all else, the one thing to remember when connecting with resistant teachers is to approach all situations with humility. You will coach many different teachers throughout your career as an instructional coach, some of which will be more experienced than yourself. It is important to recognize what each teacher brings to the table and celebrate their strengths rather than dwell on their shortcomings.
Heather Dowd is the Senior Director of the Dynamic Learning Project for EdTechTeam. She enjoys helping instructional coaches inspire their teachers to use technology in meaningful ways for student learning. Teaching English in Japan inspired her to become a teacher and the adventure hasn’t stopped. Heather is a Google for Education Certified Innovator and Trainer, Apple Distinguished Educator, and author of “Classroom Management in the Digital Age” where she encourages teachers to set the learning free with a solid classroom management plan. She is a former physics teacher, instructional designer, and education technology coach who loves talking about physics, digital citizenship, coaching, spreadsheets, and design. She believes that students should have access to current technology in order to connect to the world and be creative in ways that weren’t possible when she was in school.