In the weeks leading up to our annual conference, Teaching, Learning, and Coaching, I’ll be posting interviews with the experts who will have presented at the conference, or those who will be presenting this year. The interviews will surface many different ways of looking at coaching, and like the conference itself, I hope they inspire, educate and provoke new thinking. I don’t agree with everything I hear in the interviews, but I am grateful for others’ thinking. We move forward by challenging our beliefs, and I hope you feel challenged too. You can keep up with the interviews by subscribing to this blog.

Jim: How did you come to write about coaching?

Rebecca:I have had the wonderful opportunity to work as an instructional coach for the past ten years and the coordinator of coaching programs for seven. The research that inspired the book I am currently working to finish was a study I prepared for partial doctoral requirements at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. This mixed-methods study included a synthesis of information about the characteristics of effective instructional coaches from a variety of coaching authors, including you, a quantitative analysis of 279 evaluative surveys of 43 instructional coaches by teachers being coached, lead teachers and administrators, and 15 qualitative interviews of coaches. The study was based on a simple question I wanted answered as the coordinator of coaching programs, “What Makes an Effective Instructional Coach?”

While studying the topic of coaching, I was able to find quite a bit of useful information on processes, steps to take, and things to do to increase student learning, but accessing information about what personal characteristics coaches could intentionally develop to increase their effectiveness proved to be a bit of a treasure hunt. Some authors touched on the concept briefly but did not typically expand on why certain characteristics needed to be developed or how a coach could develop them to best meet the needs of teachers.

Central to my work are your foundational Partnership Principles and your words regarding how an effective coach can make a profound difference in the lives of teachers and students. I often refer to this quote from your book, Unmistakable Impact, “Without question, the most important factor relative to the effectiveness of a coaching program is, ‘Who is the coach?’”

So I began writing about coaching as part of my doctoral studies. It is interesting how some people have an easier time being effective coaches than others and my research indicates this could be because they have developed characteristics within themselves that make people want to listen to them. These effective coaches radiate both caring and competence, showing in a variety of ways they value both the heart and mind of the person being coached. This type of coaching delivery creates a happier and healthier coaching experience.

Jim: All of that has led to a book, so tell me about your book.

Rebecca: With your encouragement, I decided to pursue organizing the doctoral research and coaching experiences into a book. The book is currently in the final stages of review, and the plan is to name it, The Joy of Coaching: Characteristics of Effective Instructional Coaches. It is scheduled to be published in the Fall of 2019. The book is focused on the identification and explanation of characteristics coaches could intentionally develop to become more successful in their coaching role. It is also designed to share “boots on the ground” informative stories from my experiences and the experiences of other coaches, and to provide activities and supports for those in coaching roles who would like to create more joyful and successful coaching experiences. In essence, it is a guide to support us in our desire to become better, more loving people who are incredibly competent in our craft. This book would also be helpful for teachers and education leaders who would like to understand how to incorporate a balanced coaching approach into their roles.

We can deliver coaching in ways that will inspire and bring a different energy to our work. We can learn to love better than we have in the past. We can care about people in an amazing way, a way that doesn’t expect anything in return. Even if people are not spiritual or religious, everyone can agree that spirituality and religion affect the thoughts and feelings of millions. If everybody could be on the same page with striving for the highest level of love toward others, the unselfish kind, then that level of love carries with it enough power to help us overcome cultural differences and many other situations that could be divisive.

In my book, the characteristic of Caring is one central piece, and being Competent is the other. They are of equal importance in the role of an instructional coach. By addressing both elements, coaching becomes less about helping a teacher solve a problem and more about empowering a person with confidence and support so they can solve any number of problems that may arise.

There is structure to the characteristics model. It is organized in the form of a triangle with Caring and Competency being two parts of a whole located in the center of the model symbolically suggesting the equal importance of the two that when merged together can create joyful, coaching relationships resulting in positive change. The outside triangle looks like an A-frame house representing the characteristic of being Collaborative and the shelter and structure it can provide. This means being able to accept that people in a coaching relationship need each other to be successful, that we’re on an equal playing field indicating no one person is more important than another person – your equality principle. This principle can be hard to understand for those who derive too much of their self-worth from a hierarchical position. If we think we are better than those we coach, our end goal to empower successful professionals capable of making decisions and solving problems is undermined. They must know and feel we believe in them, in the nobility of their role, and that we see them as capable.

When we deliver coaching most effectively, we are aware of and implement to our advantage (and the advantage of the teacher), a couple of necessary filters. One filter is being Authentic. We have to authentically care and be authentically competent. Faking either of these does not work. The other filter is being a Quality Communicator. Powerful communication as a coach is based again on the foundation of equal partnership, supported by the central pillar of deeply listening. This focus on hearing those we coach paves the way for empathy and encouragement along with targeted preparation and clarity in our coaching delivery.

The model now splits in half vertically, the Caring side on the left, and the Competent side on the right. On the Caring side low and to the left, we have the characteristic of being Flexible, which means understanding and accepting that what we as coaches have experienced and been successful with may not be what teachers need. Maybe we need to do a little bit more listening and observing to make sure we can offer options and suggestions specific to the needs of individual teachers and their students. Trust is the next characteristic and is critical to being an effective coach. In this model, most of the incidences of trust from the research were found to connect with the Caring side and were noted as the values of integrity, honesty, and confidentiality. Teachers also need to be able to trust coaches know what they are doing, that they are competent.

Next, we move to the right, lower side of the triangle model, the Competent side. Again, the coach delivers coaching through the two filters of being Authentic and a Quality Communicator, then we see the characteristic Planned. Here processes that have helped our coaching team know how to organize and prepare for coaching sessions are shared. Then the characteristic of Models is presented, this includes acting as models ourselves. I think a lot of times when we become coaches or leaders we forget that one of the best instructional practices that exists is to show people how to do stuff.

Finally, at the top of the model is Inspirational. We become more inspirational when we can offer our coaching in ways that are Caring and Competent. All of us are inspired by people who care about us and are really great at what they do. The Inspirational chapter includes different ways we can bring joy into our educational environment by defining our purpose, our strengths, organizing our inspirational resources, and then putting those powerful pieces into specific action steps – a process called “Finding Home.”

It is my hope that through this book, more people will enjoy and find satisfaction in their roles as teachers, coaches, or education leaders. I think we have spent way too much time intensely focusing on things that rarely make us happy It’s discouraging for teachers and for kids to feel constant pressure to come up with a score that represents one point in time and may or may not even reflect what was happening in their school. I think we have gotten all wound up about numbers that don’t provide us with the whole story. I want kids and teachers to love being at school! Unfortunately many people don’t want to join the teaching profession any more, or if they do, many don’t want to stay. We must change this.

Jim: What would you say are some of the core ideas in your approach to coaching? Is there anything you didn’t say that you’d want to add to the things you said?

Rebecca: The core ideas in my approach are:

  1. We can be most effective by coaching with warmth (caring) and power (competency). Both the hearts and the minds of teachers matter.
    a. We must deliver coaching in a supportive way, not in a way that makes people afraid, which results in teachers shutting down. We can’t affect lasting change when our ideas are forced or coaching is set up as the identifier of deficiencies. Teachers have so much data. Most teachers are aware when students are not doing well, which means they aren’t doing well. They also receive evaluations of themselves or the school as a whole. Teachers end up feeling hopeless if they keep getting messages indicating they are consistently performing below expectations. They are afraid to look like they need help, afraid of coaching delivered in a way that they didn’t ask for. We need to change that and send the message that we’re all striving to make this a happier place together, and we’re going to do it in ways where we can trust the people that are delivering it and where the people that are delivering it have our best interests at heart. Adding the human connection piece makes a big difference.
  2. We can become better coaches by incorporating the 10 Characteristics of Effective Coaches identified through research into our lives and work.
  3. Let’s Coach Happy! We can make coaching a catalyst for healthier and more human interactions resulting in more joy in our schools.

Jim: What distinguishes your work from other people’s work on coaching?

Rebecca: The unique and original part of my work is that through scholarly research, I have identified 10 Characteristics of Effective Coaches. In the book, I share strategies, stories, and processes
to implement to help coaches develop those characteristics resulting in more effective coaching.

A subsequent doctoral study, my dissertation, was an analysis of elements of the instructional coaching program I am currently part of. Findings indicated statistically significant positive results for teachers coached when compared to control groups in the areas of Teacher Competency, Job Satisfaction, and Student Growth.,6

Jim: What have been some of your key learnings over the past few years?

Rebecca: I think one of the biggest things I have learned is that we all need to be nicer to each other – to support and help each other move forward, not be critical or judgmental, but offer specific ways to help and really care about the people that we’re working with. When students aren’t successful, it is natural for all of us to try and look for someone to blame. It must be the fault of parents, students, teachers, coaches, the leaders, somebody must have done something wrong! There are so many complex issues surrounding the creation of successful schools and school districts. If we eat each other, no one will be left to solve the problems!

Great coaching creates happy and successful teaching resulting in student learning. We need to believe change is possible—and that we will move toward innovative and successful solutions when we lift our thoughts to focus on who our students are, what our strengths are, what could be, what successes we could study, and how much positive energy and connection we can produce!

Some people think that the work environment is not a place for love; that it’s not appropriate. Somehow we have to help people understand that even at work we are still going to be human. We can’t just leave our concerns or our humanness, our need for love and support and to be connected to others when we report to work in the morning. This is not to say we should get rid of professionalism, but we just need to understand that we are working with human beings. Teachers need to know that they have people backing them, and that will bring about much more long term positive change than saying, “You are deficient in this area, let’s work for one week and get what’s wrong with you taken care of as quickly as possible.”

Jim: So, I’m hearing a couple words: caring and joy. Do you have a definition for those two words?

Rebecca: I believe caring is love. I think it’s unselfish love – Agape; people can trust you because you don’t have any ulterior motives. You just want what’s best for them and you want to do whatever you can to make that happen. It’s about purifying our motives and really being there for people.

Jim: And then how about joy?

Rebecca: The English Oxford Living Dictionary describes joy as “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness. Synonyms include triumph, gladness, exhilaration, elation and delight.” When I think of joy I think of it as being a step up from happiness, or happiness plus. When I have experienced joy it has been something that sinks deeply into my soul. It stays with me longer; it is incredibly meaningful and encouraging, and most often it has come into my experience in one of two ways: (a) after some level of effort has been put into obtaining it and (b) when I am in the presence of and connected with someone who inspires, encourages, and cares about me.

In my opinion, what we’re missing in schools is happiness. For some reason, many teachers are not experiencing the joy or feeling the inherent power to create positive change that should naturally come from being a teacher. The kids aren’t feeling it either. It seems they’re not often loving learning, and the teachers are not loving teaching. I want students to experience the joy that comes from effort and being in the presence of somebody who really cares about them and who is inspiring and encouraging. I think we’ve kind of emotionally stripped everybody ever since we got all crazy about making school about a number on a test.

Jim: What would be a good metaphor for coaching?

Rebecca: My metaphor would be the rising sun symbolizing both warmth and power, rising over two mountains, Caring (warmth/heart) and Competent (power/mind). This metaphor suggests that through balanced coaching, we can bring more joy into coaching relationships, teaching and student learning. We can enlighten, empower, and encourage those who have chosen the teaching profession and bring renewed energy following a difficult time in the history of education that to many has felt like the dark ages.

Jim: What else do you think people need to know about your approach to coaching?

Rebecca: I think people may like to know that I am completely passionate about quality teaching. I want teachers to enjoy the coaching process and to feel loved and supported, but at the same time, I also want them to have the skills and the efficacy to know that they can help their students, whoever is in front of them, be successful. I care deeply about instructional practice. Some of that comes from my background as a National Board Certified Teacher. There are so many great strategies and supports coaches can share with teachers. It’s important for coaches to continue to learn so they can provide the best options for instructional support specific to the needs of teachers. We have to be able to help teachers feel that no matter what academic difficulties their students have, they can find ways to address them. Instructional confidence is huge, and to a great extent impacts whether a teacher feels they can make a meaningful difference in the lives of students. Teachers thrive when they have evidence they are succeeding with their students academically.

Jim: Tell me what you’re going to present at the TLC conference this October.

Rebecca: I am going to provide an overview of the Characteristics of Effective Coaches and discuss specific ideas people can take back with them and use in some coaching PD. Of the characteristics, I will at least cover Caring and Competent, and probably also Collaboration, Inspirational, and Authentic. My goal is to try to help people understand how they can improve their coaching through incorporating and internalizing these characteristics.

Jim: Is there anything else you want to say that we should put into the interview?

Rebecca: I’m extremely grateful for all you have done to provide the foundation that has made it possible for likely millions of people to grow in their coaching work. Your Partnership Principles have been invaluable in helping us create programs that address critical components of working effectively with adults.

I also deeply appreciate the people in my school district who have supported the coaching work I have been involved with. In particular, I want to thank my teammates who continually provide me with ongoing support and constructive feedback. Also, many thanks to leaders who have been instrumental and supported this work as it has progressed over time.

One thing I have noticed is that it is sometimes hard for those who have worked in education hierarchies for long amounts of time to accept that we need to do things a little bit more kindly, a little bit more in partnership, but we have data that shows it’s a good way of going about things. Hopefully, that will spread. We need to value and strengthen the hearts and minds of our educators. We need to be invested in bringing more joy into our schools. Let’s Coach Happy! or

Here is a list of some people you can expect to see at #TLCKC19 this year! If you’d like to review some of the work they’ve done, you can click on each name to learn more about them. To learn more about the  Teaching Learning Coaching Conference, or to register, click here.We hope to see you in Kansas City!
Rachel Lofthouse 
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Jamie Almanzan 
Linda Cliatt-Wayman
Kristin Anderson
Ellen Eisenberg
Rebecca Frazier
Michelle Harris
Jan Hasbrouck
Ann Hoffman
Darnisa Amante
Kathy Perret
John Campbell
Marshall Goldsmith
Jim Knight
Nathan Lang-Raad
Nancy Love 
Alisa Simeral
Tricia Skyles 
Bill Sommers
Bradley Staats 
Sharon Thomas 
Christian Van Nieuwerburgh
John Krownapple
Tara Martin
Crysta Crum