Resistance in Coaching Conferences

In coach’s training, I often present a structure for planning and reflecting on conferences that are focused on bringing about change:
Agenda
Resistance
Problem Solving

First, identifying the teacher’s agenda (What are the emotions and thinking behind the teacher’s actions?). Often as the agenda is revealed, resistance is uncovered. It is then critical to work through the resistance before looking for solutions. A common mistake of coaches is to offer solutions or options when the teacher isn’t really ready to explore them.
Here is a scenario I recently received from a Student Engagement Coach:
Day One: The teacher asks if I know of a story that would fit in with her Black History Unit. I look at one and ask her if it is too long. We think about it, and then she suggests another story that I know well. I say,”Yes, that would be a great story. That would be a great vehicle for a lesson on inference”. She looks at me in a questioning way. I say, “You could do this activity that is described in The Readers Handbook.” I show her the “during reading” activity that uses two column notes. She would have to find quotes from the story that infer something about the characters, plot, setting, etc. Students would have them on the left side of the paper, and on the right side students explain what they inferred. She said it looked like too much and the students will not like stopping as they read to do the activity. I said that perhaps four quotes would be enough. Then, I showed her another activity from the book that would be a great “after reading “activity. Both activities are simple and would enhance any class discussion following the reading. Students were to read in pairs.
Day Two; I visit the class to watch the students during this reading activity. They are reading in pairs. They do not have the quotes, nor do they have the after reading activity. I talked to the teacher about this. Her response was that she did not have time to put the quotes on an overhead or on a worksheet. She did have the quotes selected. She said they would go over the quotes the next day.
She seemed to lack understanding of the need to teach the standards and not just entertain the students with a good story. The lesson was designed so the students would do the work and learning.
I had explained to her the day before the importance of having them understand the inference as they read so they could better understand the story. Doing the activity later reduces the impact. Doing the work the next day takes away the student’s chance to interact with the story on the higher level.
Was this passive aggressive behavior? Did she not have time? Why didn’t she make time?

I had the opportunity to meet with the coach who sent me this scenario. As we began to talk and she began to reflect, the realization of her doing an “end run” of the resistance of the teacher emerged. The teacher gave several signs of resistance that the coach could have explored.
The first was nonverbal, “She looked at me in a questioning way”. This was a good spot for a paraphrase,”That doesn’t make sense for you”. However the teacher responds, the coach knows more of her thinking.”
Another spot, the teacher says, “That looks like too much”. The coach goes to problem solving saying,”just four could work”. Here is a spot where some questions might work to uncover thinking/resistance.
“Tell me more” or “What makes it too much?”.
Next time you feel resistance in a coaching conference look to explore it. It may take longer but it will increase the odds that change really will occur.

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2 Responses to “ Resistance in Coaching Conferences ”

  1. Neil Rothman Says:

    Dear Steve,
    In these situations I frequently refer to the “Psychotherapist’s Dilemma.” I therapist meets with a client for the first time and immediately knows what the problem is. Telling the client accomplishes nothing. Asking questions and allowing the client to discover the problem for themselves leads to change. The same for coaching conferences.

    Neil Rothman

  2. rafferm Says:

    Steve–
    I can’t tell you how invaluable your statement–find out what the teacher values–has been. As I work with coaches and teachers I find that ten minutes of conversation before beginning work opens the door because I can (sometimes) figure out the hidden agenda and what they really want me to help them with–or if they want my help at all. If I just jump into the work I end up focusing on the wrong thing!

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Steve Barkley

For the past 30 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…

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