How to Reframe Your Negative Reactions with a Coach Approach

Leading with a Coach Approach is joyful work. We enjoy spending our time in classrooms to recognize and appreciate instructional strengths, we follow-up and ask teachers reflective questions to help them be aware of why they do what they do so they continue to do more of “that”, and we learn from their reflections so we can share their teaching wisdom to help all of our teachers learn and grow from each others’ strengths.

Wouldn’t it be great if that’s how it was for every classroom visit?

Unfortunately, we don’t always see great practices.  Sometimes, when you visit a classroom, you can feel like a judge on American Idol and wish you could talk like one too. “You just killed my favorite topic, Dawg!” “What was THAT??!” “You’re killing me here, I just can’t sit through one more minute of this boredom!”

It sounds horrible, but there are times that these thoughts enter my mind, yet I know if I shared what I was really thinking I would destroy any relationship I had with the teacher and then word would travel fast through the building about how insensitive I was (that is if I didn’t get fired for my unprofessionalism!) On the other hand, if you allow ineffective practices to continue, then you are essentially promoting them by letting them to go unaddressed. So what’s a principal to do? Unless we see something that a teacher is doing that is harmful to students, or completely neglecting their duties (i.e. not showing up to school, leaving a class unattended, etc.) we try to address situations like these with a coaching hat on. When we lead with a Coach Approach, even when there seems to be more areas for growth than strength, we can reframe our feedback so that we are still asking questions to promote teacher reflection and then focus our dialogue to help them grow their instructional toolbox.

For example, in the classroom of a teacher that continued to sit at her desk and not get up for the entire time that her students worked on math problems, I circulated the room to check how students were doing with their work and she still did not get up while I was in the classroom. While she continued to sit (and likely check her email or shop online, who knows?!) my blood began to boil with frustration and anger as I noticed several of her students solving their problems incorrectly, which meant they would continue to practice them incorrectly and struggle to learn from their mistakes after practicing so many times the wrong way. While I could have just marked her as “needs improvement” in the correct box for the instructional delivery standard of our evaluation system or given her formal directives to work with students (THAT IS HER JOB!!! See, I’m still angry about it!) I took a deep breath (more like ten) and put on my coaching hat…

My conversation during her prep started with sharing “I noticed 6 students were solving the math problems incorrectly during independent practice time.” Her response: “ya, they always just struggle in math” (Are you kidding me here?! Insert another calm, deep breath to filter my thoughts.)  I then asked reflective questions with the intent to help her realize it is her responsibility to meet students where they are at and differentiate for their learning needs.  My question went something like, “How might you recognize misconceptions and address them before students engage in extensive independent practice?”  This was a teacher who didn’t have self-efficacy to realize her impact on students who struggle. She didn’t have strategies in her toolbox (or did, but wasn’t using them) to differentiate for these students. Our conversation focused on coming up with ways to do so and my classroom visits following that day continued to provide her with feedback and follow-up conversations on that same focus.

Shifting from judgmental to non judgmental feedback can be challenging. We need to recognize when we feel judgement, frustration, or anger rising inside us and turn to reflect on whether we truly need to address what we are observing with an evaluator’s hat or whether we can reframe what we might like to say with a Coach Approach.  If you read The Coach Approach to School Leadership, you will find a chart at the end of chapter four, which offers possible ways to reframe negative reactions as nonjudgmenal feedback, even in the face of what appears to us to be far less than stellar teaching.


Join us as we discuss this topic on the #CoachApproach Twitter chat on Thursday, January 4th at 8pm CST.