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  • Writer's pictureDr. Pamela Davis

The Art of Coaching: A reflection of the roles of teacher, mentor, and coach

Updated: Feb 1, 2021

One of my most prized accomplishments is that of becoming a teacher. I truly love the power and influence of pouring knowledge into individuals. It is not enough to pour to my satisfaction, but to continue filling until the individual understands with confidence. My very first students were in the ninth grade in 1994. It is hard to believe I was only 5-6 years older than some of them. I was a brand new teacher - I had just completed my Master's degree when I landed my first teaching job. I went into teaching because I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to right all the wrongs of the non-exemplar teachers I had experienced along the way.

The exemplar teachers shared a common theme. They didn't just know their content, they knew how to build rapport with us. In kindergarten, it was Mrs. Speights. She took a liking to me and helped me overcome my fear of getting a loose tooth pulled. Mrs. McKay was my second grade teacher. Her superpower was that she was a stickler for routines. Fast forward to high school, Mrs. Loving taught math. Boy did she know her stuff. She was thorough when it came to demonstrating problem solving steps and giving us detailed notes. Even after I got to college, I encountered exemplar teachers. My all time most memorable teacher is Dr. Weems, my ENC1101 professor. Dr. Weems motivated us to come to his class prepared. On any given day, he would come to class dressed in character of one of the short stories we'd read about. He remained in character throughout the class session. In order to interact with him, you had to have read the material. These teachers inspired me. Their love for teaching and learning has contributed to the nuggets and take-aways that I adopted during my teaching career.

During my first year teaching, I was assigned a mentor. In that district (and state), all teachers with fewer than 3 years teaching experience had to complete a new teacher program. There were several steps to complete, however it was the school/district's responsibility to assign the new teacher a mentor. Back then, the duties and responsibilities that went along with this assignment were not really clear. You were introduced to your mentor and advised of the paperwork that needed to be signed off on at the end of the year. Essentially, the mentor was the go-to person should I have any "new teacher" questions. Upon reflecting on this, the mentoring relationship of this nature did not always pan out successfully. It varied from the mentor that was laid back and would just check the box, to the mentor that made you jump through un-necessary hoops before they would check the box.

For true mentoring to take place, there needs to a genuine relationship between the mentor and mentee whereby the mentor has a reservoir of experiences that benefit the mentee in drawing closer to achieving a desired goal.

Over the years as a teacher, there were times when my assigned mentor was adequate in terms of satisfying the requirements for the new teacher program, however my real mentors were so much more. My truest mentors were usually the teacher with whom I was able to establish a trusting relationship with and who was able to add value to me. Most times, teachers were assigned mentors that worked within the same department or subject area. I was a math teacher and taught in several different school districts. Throughout my experiences, the math departments were usually large and had teachers on the team with average years of 20+ years teaching experience. I was fortunate to work with teachers who had tons of math textbooks, worksheets, test banks, and let's not forget posters/bulletin boards. I recall mentor teachers I worked with over the years who were great at not only sharing resources, but also modeling best practices and talking me off the ledge. They drew upon their trial and error examples and willingly shared lessons learned. Late in my teaching experience, a school counselor proved to be a true mentor to me. I was at a new school in a new city. I saw myself as an experienced teacher; an accomplished 12 years experience. In my new environment, I wrestled with the transition to new curriculum, policy and practice as well as the culture of the new environment. It was the wise words of a school counselor that proved comforting to me. She urged me to go to my toolkit. My toolkit? Yes, what's your go-to when certain scenarios occur, she asked. Scenarios such as working with disengaged students, preparing make-up work for students who are excessively absent or responding to irate parents. Her experience spoke volumes to me. She taught me (or reminded me) that these scenarios are not new and that I should have a plan in place in advance of them happening. These mentor relationships proved fruitful and encouraged me to stay in the game.

On the matter of coaching, there is an acquired art to fulfilling the commitment that this relationship demands. Coaching comes in various forms. Voice coach, dance coach; empowerment coach, life coach; speech coach, weight-loss coach; business coach, marketing coach; leadership and personal development coach and on and on it goes. What type of coaches have you interacted with? What I have become keenly aware of is the grave difference in the multiple types of coaching.

The academic coach - nearly 14 years into my teaching career, I became an academic coach. I had been a mentor teacher and developed relationships with teachers within my department as well as other subject areas. Becoming a coach seemed to be the next step in my development as a teacher leader. I recall sharing my interest in coaching with key people in my school district. It wasn't long after that I obtained a position as an academic math coach. It was the best of both worlds - I was able to support teachers (and students) with performing better in math. As an academic coach, my general responsibility was to support teachers with lesson planning, classroom management, instructional delivery, data analysis, and overall instructional best practices. The support I provided was on the basis of data points such as student achievement, discipline referrals, and classroom observations, to name a few. The uniqueness of the academic coaching relationship was the strain imposed in those cases where the teacher was not receptive to the support. The threat of punitive evaluations caused some teachers to "go through the motion" to avoid further monitoring. T Establishing trust and credibility were two key ingredients needed for a positive outcome in the academic coach role.

The athletic coach - this relationship is driven by the player's desire, skill, and will to perform in a particular sport. If you have attended any game in support of your favorite team, you have witnessed a win or a loss wherein you could tell the level of coaching the team received. Understanding that sometimes teams with great coaching lose, but the high quality of the coaching is evident. Think of any athletic coach you know. One of the first things you notice about him/her is their love for the game and running a close second, is their love for coaching the game. These two criteria alone will not but a "W" in the win column. Successful athletic coaching begins with a trusted relationship between coach and player. Coaches are then able to leverage the players' desire to be in the game and further develop the required skills needed to play the game. The best athletic coaches know how to motivate, train, discipline, and build culture amongst their teams to create a winning team even when the points don't stack up.

The executive coach - this relationship is based on interaction in a more professional setting wherein the goal is to enhance the individual's performance associated with the work environment or another personal growth area. There are a number of coaches in this realm. Life coaches, empowerment coaches, spiritual coaches, digital media coaches, and the list goes on. A few years ago, I a coaching certification program with The John Maxwell Team. In this training, I discovered the art of coaching in a way that differs completely from academic and athletic coaching. I will begin by sharing the what's the same - first, the premise of all three is the need for a trusted relationship. The trusted relationship is critical across all three roles. Secondly, all three relationships are centered around a skill or a goal. What is keenly different with the executive coaching relationship is that the client often chooses to seek out the coach to get assistance with a particular area. With the academic coaching role, teachers are assigned to receive support in an area that is tied to their evaluation. The relationship may feel strained if the teacher does not believe there is a need for support. The athletic coach may have difficulty with players who are not onboard with their expectations. This could possibly affect players who quit the team or who are cut from the team. In both instances, there is pressure to comply to avoid consequences.

As an executive coach, it is important to me that my clients feel engaged in a trusted relationship. Unlike the other coaching relationships, most executive coaching clients get to choose their coach. This is an essential factor in the relationship. With my clients, I conduct a pre-assessment to give myself and my client to determine whether we are a fit for each other. Another key element in the executive coaching process is the focus of the coaching relationship. Once I determine that the potential client is a good fit, we then establish what the central area of focus will be. This focus is identified by the client. An action plan is developed driven by the client's desired goals and outcomes. Through reflection and effective questioning, I am able to get to know my client, hear what my client hopes to accomplish, then guide my client toward awakening their consciousness to achieve results.

In closing, all three roles are deeply rooted in building trusted relationships. It is critical to know the difference between teachers, mentors, and coaches. Some teachers are mentors. There are mentors that are coaches. A few are all three. Know the difference.

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