By Ellen Eisenberg

By Ellen Eisenberg, Executive Director of The Pennsylvania Institute for Instructional Coaching (PIIC)

Friday, May 4, 2018


In a recent webinar about asking the right kind of questions in a coaching interaction, one participant suggested this question, “What are you struggling with right now?” As much as I think that question might open a dialogue, I’m concerned because it sounds like the interviewer (coach) assumes the person (teacher) with whom s/he is engaged in conversation is struggling with something.  That sounds like a deficit model to me and that’s the antithesis of effective instructional coaching.

Not every conversation is based on a struggle… a challenge, maybe, but not necessarily a struggle. For instance, I may be engaged in a conversation with an art teacher who wants to expose her/his students to multiple artists from the same time period who use different approaches in their work. Does that mean I’m struggling with something specific or does that mean that I’m interested in discussing a variety of ways to approach the goals for the lesson? I say it’s the latter… I want to engage in a conversation with the coach around multiple perspectives with a multitude of artists… not necessarily a struggle.

Coaches need to demonstrate and model that conversations are borne out of interest and need, not just need. It is a balance between thinking about what we want to do and debriefing about what just happened. We want to establish relationships with our teaching colleagues that offer opportunities to engage in conversation around effective instructional practices, not just those practices that may be indicative of struggle. Remember, coaching is not a deficit model; it’s a model that focuses on helping teachers get better at their craft, not a “fixit” model to correct something that is wrong.

So, be mindful that conversations in the planning stage, or the “before” are not always about problems; conversations, however, in the debriefing or the “after” are always related to the data collection and classroom visit co-planned by the teacher and coach.

How do you balance the questions you ask so that they are not focusing on specific challenges but rather on conversations that focus on data to improve practice?

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