Considering Coaching Roles: Consulting, Collaborating, Coaching, & Facilitating

Today, I was asked to present a workshop on Coaching 101. When this idea was originally presented to me, my first thought was, “How many days do you have?” I feel like I could talk about coaching, even just the basics, for days, but I was told I would have 2 hours to lay the foundation. The hard(and exciting) thing about coaching is there are many different approaches and models. This includes whether you are an instructional coach vs. a content coach, or if you use different models like Student Centered Coaching or Cognitive Coaching. But I have found no matter what practices you utilize or what the model looks like at your school, there are four basic roles we use when working with teachers: Coaching, Consulting, Collaborating, and Facilitating. There might be different names for these roles, but they are present in all coaching models. I decided to explore these underlying mentalities and practices we have as coaches in my workshop. I have found that when you have a better understanding of what these roles are, their purpose, when to use them, and strategies inside of these roles, you can create more successful interactions with teachers. The ultimate goal is to be able to shift between these roles depending on the goal and who you are working with. Below are some thoughts and things I shared for the workshop.

Screen Shot 2018-05-21 at 9.17.10 PMThe above definitions and thoughts mostly come from “Thinking Collaborative”

Coaching is the foundation and anchor to our work and what I think of as my default mode. I try to bring that lens of coaching with me when I am Consulting, Collaborating, and Facilitating. Coaching is a role I use when teachers have ideas and experience to draw on, I want to transfer the thinking & work onto the teacher, or I want to create ownership of the work. Coaching is the hardest role we take on, and in my opinion involves the most craftsmanship. I find it’s much easier to consult then to find ways to help teachers access and organize their internal resources and ideas, or to push their thinking. I have many favorite moments that are purely coaching moments. I love when I see teachers get excited about their own ideas, and energized by the plans and connections they are making as learners and teachers. I find that when I first started coaching, I got really excited when I shared an idea and a teacher tried it in their class. Now, I get excited when I find the right question that helps teachers find their own way into ideas, insights, and plans.

Consulting is an interesting and complex role that can be tricky in a different way than Coaching. It’s difficulty lies not only in the skill of consulting, but on moderating your use of the skill and not making your full time job Consultant. There are definitely times when consulting is useful and necessary, and it lets us bring out our expertise as coaches to support our teachers. But I also feel it is a slippery slope if we are not careful. Consulting is like binge-watching Netflix. You start out with good intentions and moderation in mind, and soon your whole day is consumed with it. Consulting is a role I use when teachers are new to something, I want to build shared knowledge & understanding with a group of people, with school-wide goals & initiatives, and to demonstrate effective teaching. Consulting is definitely the move when you are trying to get school wide practices into place such as Readers and Writers Workshop. You want everyone to be trained and have support in this shared practice. Even if your teachers aren’t new to something, Consulting can be a great way to get everyone on the same page and to clear up misunderstandings. For example, everyone in an elementary school knows how to do Guided Reading. But if I watched all the teachers, I bet I would see many different versions and different depths of understanding. Consulting around a shared definition of Guided Reading and what we want it to look like at our school is an effective practice. Finally, you got your job for a reason, you have expertise to share, so share it! Model that lesson, share that John Hattie research on feedback, and lead that workshop on Guided Reading. You are a resource your teachers should be utilizing. But remember that even when we are Consulting, we can weave in Coaching. Some of my favorite moves (which come from Cognitive Coaching) are: give teachers options and let them choose, share research & professional reading instead of your opinion or interpretation of the reading, and model the process you would go through when in that situation so they can see how you make decisions and plans. 

Collaborating is all about coming to a shared task as equals. The dynamic is not as coach/leader and teacher, but as a group of people rallying around a shared goal, and working together to achieve it. Collaborating is a great choice when you have tasks you want teacher support in completing, you are developing curriculum, and with whole-school initiatives & work. Some Collaborating work I love is building reading and writing units and looking at data. Looking at data can be a Coaching move as well, but there is something powerful when you can sit as a group, put the data in front of you, and embrace the work of, “Lets look at where the students are, where we want them to go, and let’s work together to support all of these kids.” Some Collaborating practices I want to make more time for is instructional walk throughs and action research. Seeing teachers come together around a shared goal and idea, and then set up action research in their classrooms or walk through each other classes to study effective methods of teaching is amazing. I have tried this in some isolated forms, but have not made it happen in an institutional way. Some day though! 

Facilitating is a skill and role I think is becoming essential for coaches as we move to more collaborative models in schools. I know I spend a lot of my time coaching teams and Facilitating their collaborative work. Facilitating, in its most simple and fitting definition, means to make things easy. We use it, as I mentioned, any time we are working with teams. Facilitating can overlap with Coaching at times, but it’s important to note that it is different than Consulting. If you are leading team work and presenting information to them, you are not Facilitating. Facilitating is when you plan protocols to help teams achieve their outcomes, and facilitate conversations to make them more productive and inclusive of all members. You mostly should not be sharing your ideas and thinking, but putting the work on the teachers. Like Coaching, it can take a lot craft to know how to help groups organize their thinking, and move it forward to reach their desired outcomes. Group dynamics are complex, and finding ways to engage all participants and personality types is not an easy task. This is an area I would spend time learning about as a coach!

When I think of these roles, I think about a recent interaction I had with two 5th grade teachers. They wanted to work with me to plan an upcoming writing unit. When we started working on the unit, I embraced the role of Coach because I wanted them to have ownership of the unit plan. I asked them questions that helped them to think about the big ideas and what their students needed out of the unit. As we dove deeper into the nitty gritty, I became a Collaborator. We went back and forth sharing ideas for lessons and strategies to support students. When we were planning, I could tell the teachers weren’t sure of some of the grade level writing standards, so I switched to Consultant to share what students in 5th grade were expected to do as writers. Then as we hit a lull in the work, I went into Facilitator role to guide them through the protocol of planning a unit to make sure we reached our goal.

All of these roles are important and serve a purpose. And if you understand how and when to shift between them, you will learn to be just the type of coach your teachers need, when they need it.

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