Trust: For Learning and Coaching

Several times in the last few weeks I have been in conversations or presentations where the topic of trust building in coaching emerged. I was reminded of an activity that I often explore with teachers examining the role of relationships in learning.

I ask participants to consider a time that they learned something quickly and the learning stuck, in other words, the learning was internalized. I provide a list of questions to help analyze the teaching and learning. When we debrief the participants’ stories a common theme of trust between the learner and the instructor often emerges.

I have found that the trust examples can be classified into three categories:

Totally Safe

Safety Net

Push Off Cliff

Learning to ride a bike provides an illustration.

Totally Safe–Some people share that when they were learning someone was holding the seat and they would not let them fall.

Some students enter the classroom needing that same totally safe security. Their fear of failure is so great they will not risk and without attempting, learning is blocked. Teachers create failure proof activities to get them started.

A few teachers may present the same need to a coach. Coaches might start by modeling in the teacher’s classroom and having the teacher provide feedback to the coach. Perhaps doing some co-teaching where the coach can assume “responsibility” for any shortcomings.

Safety Net—Some folks share that while someone was holding the seat while they were learning, they knew the person would let go and not be able to catch them. But they trusted the instructor would pick a good time to let go…maybe a grassy knoll, no trucks on the road. Failure will not be fatal.

Confident learners bring their own safety nets to school. They have a personal history that says when they risk in a learning situation…even face some failure, learning payoffs result. Other students are less confident and need the teacher to build safety nets in the classroom. This might mean sharing a response with a partner before putting their idea out to the class.

Some teachers need coaches to build safety nets into the teacher’s growth plan….perhaps breaking change down into initial small steps with coaching feedback building the teacher’s confidence as she progresses.

Push off Cliff— Some folks tell me that when learning to ride a bike the person holding the seat let go at the right time and they rode successfully. They trusted the instructor to know that they were ready.

Some students need to be pushed into more challenging learning opportunities…. they aren’t ready to jump on their own. Teachers place them in lead roles in group activities or assign them to teach others. The discovery of their success builds confidence for future learning risks.

Coaches at times need to push teachers to take the next step by going more public with their teaching. I know a principal who continually advertises each teacher’s strengths to the entire staff encouraging teachers to seek out each other for assistance and coaching in those areas of strength.

As teachers work with students they should be continually building the confidence of learners to take risk and learning challenges. The purpose of the trusting relationship should be increased risking. Trust, without increased risk taking, limits learners. The same is true for coaches. Coaches can become so focused on trust that they do not take the risk of pushing teacher growth and learning. (See earlier blog on light and heavy coaching.)

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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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