Merriam-Webster’s dictionary lists a multiplicity of definitions when you look up the word “trust”. There is trust, the noun; “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something” (Merriam-Webster’s Online, 2019) and trust the verb; “to place confidence in : rely on” (Merriam-Webster’s Online, 2019). In the book The Art of Coaching, Elena Aguilar describes trust as believing another person has “the skills, abilities, attitudes and knowledge that we need” (Aguilar, pg 76).
When I think of what trust means in the context of my work as a coach and a trainer, I consider the way I hope to present myself to those I coach and train. I want to be seen as competent and as having their best interests in mind. I want them to believe that I support them and cheer for them and that, if they share delicate information with me, I can maintain their confidentiality. I look to be a confidant for them. In order to have that sort of relationship with them, I need them to know they can trust me.
Building Trust: Introductions and Information-Gathering
When I begin coaching a new teacher, I encourage their director to allow them to meet with me outside of the classroom first. It can be very intimidating to have someone you do not know observing in your classroom if you do not understand their intentions. In our first meeting, I introduce myself and fill them in a bit about what my job is, emphasizing that I am there to help and support them with whatever they need to be successful in their practice. I also ask them questions, inviting them to tell me about their background and experience. In this gathering information stage, I take notes to help remember details about them for future visits. It also helps me understand where they are in their teaching journey so that I can better support them and offer more relevant resources. Two of the reflection-based questions I ask include “Tell me about some of your strengths and what you’re most proud of in your classroom” and “If you could change anything about your classroom, what would it be?” These questions help me understand potential starting places when it comes to setting goals.
Building Trust: Connection and Personalization
I am well-known as being a conversationalist, and I use this trait as a strength in my coaching and training work. By sharing personal and sometimes vulnerable stories with teachers, I open myself up to them and let them know that I am just like them. I find that sharing non-work related information can help to “level the playing field” and remove any kind of barriers. It may be sharing an enthusiasm for a type of music or talking about our tattoos or our children at home, but I find that sharing who I am as a person helps build a deeper relationship and allows teachers to trust me more because I am down to earth and care about their lives outside of the classroom just as much as I do about what they do inside of it.
Exploring Issues: Observation and Reflection
A lot of my job includes observing teachers in their classrooms and unfortunately I do not get nearly enough time with them outside of those observations. In response, I have developed an observation form that uses a strengths-based approach to give them feedback when I cannot sit down and deliver it in person. I may write down quotes I heard or positive changes they have made and remark on the impact it is making on their practice and the children. In doing this, I give them a tangible piece of evidence that the hard work they are doing is making a difference. In our in-person feedback sessions, I help them reflect on things in their classroom that they are working on and it helps us with goal-setting.
It can be very easy as a coach who is familiar with the tools our state uses for best practice, to write up a list of goals a teacher should have around their practice or environment. However, part of building trust is to sit back and navigate while the teacher is the one driving the proverbial vehicle. I may help them reference the tools or find resources, but at the end of the day, a teacher will not be successful in achieving their goals if those goals are set for them. During our time together, I help them formulate their goals and write them out so they can see them in a very straightforward format. I also enter that data into our database when I get back to the office so I can reference it later and check in with them on their progress. By giving them the reins and simply being a resource they can depend on to achieve their personal goals, I build trust and confidence with the teachers I coach and also help them build self-confidence as they continue to improve their practice.
Do you have any experience with coaching? Either as the teacher being coached or as a coach yourself? What are some of the steps you take in building a relationship? As a teacher, what are some things you need from your coach to be successful?