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A Clear + Confident Coach

I’m a mom to two little kids.  My son is four and my daughter is a year and a half.  This past week my husband and I were meeting babysitters because we need some help with child care in the coming weeks.  A young  woman arrived at our house for a trial run with our kids while my husband and I worked from our backyard office.  


This person was quiet and seemed uncomfortable.  Her answers to our questions were vague and the way she shifted on her feet conveyed her anxiety.


What I want in someone who will care for my kids is a sense of confidence, a clear sense of their skills and knowledge, and with a general vibe of “I’ve got this.  You’re kids are safe with me.”


I know the word “vibe” has a certain hippie connotation to it so I’m going to swap it with the word, state.  Our state refers to our general way of being that is felt internally and impacts how we interact with the external world.


As coaches and leaders our state matters and it impacts those we are in community with.  


I’ve observed two general state pitfalls.


The first is the state of Teflon, a guarded toughness.  This is when a coach or a leader rarely, if ever, asks for help or consultation and carries themselves as if they have the question to each and every answer.  


The second state is that of an overly modest, uncertain leader.  This state can feel like hesitancy, it can also feel like fear.   My babysitting prospect seemed afraid.


Imagine this, you’ve decided to bungee jump off of the world highest bridge.  It’s your turn so you step up to the harness engineer.  Both their hands and voice tremble as they put the harness on you. They tell you that they think you’ll be fine but that it’s not their place to know for sure.  They anxiously double and then triple check the work they’ve done on the harness before telling you it’s your time to jump.  They avoid eye contact with you and slump their shoulders.


Would you want to jump?


I sure wouldn’t.  


The intense humility, hesitancy, and self doubt is what I have seen most often with coaches. This happens a lot with new to role coaches but can happen with veterans of the work too.  


As coaches, part of our job is to create a container where the person we are coaching is held and supported.  We don’t want them worrying about our credentials or if we really know what we’re doing. We want them dropped in and present to their own learning.  For that to happen, we have to not only convey confidence as coaches, we have to actually feel confident.


To be clear, being confident does not mean that we have to know everything.  We don’t.  Go ahead and relieve yourself of that burden.  We do need to be confident that we can be with the person we are coaching, that we can partner with them to draw out their best and to find solutions together.  We need to be confident enough to use our voices when we do have solutions or expertise that would be helpful - tell them!  They want to know your genius.  And, of course, we need to be confident that it’s okay not to know everything or to have had the exact same experience as them.  Coaching is about partnership and being on the side of the other person’s greatness.  


If you know you need to dial up your coaching confidence in order to better serve those you coach and lead, I have a few ideas of approaches you can try.


  • Dedicate time to your prep and get a system so that prep is simple.  If you are feeling on your heels and underprepared when you go to work with a teacher, it’s time you revamp your schedule to include time to prepare for coaching.  Ask yourself:

  • What do I need to know about our last meeting?

  • What 1-3 things will likely be at the heart of our work today?

  • What material - outline or agenda - will I prepare so that I convey to the person that I am committed to using their time in a thoughtful manner?

  • Tap into your core value or an intention you have as a coach before every coaching session.  Your value or intention should ground you in the bigger why for your work.  If you want to contribute to greater student success or you want to help all teachers feel successful in their work, you need to be a confident coach because overwrought humility will get in your way and in the teacher’s way.

  • If you have a difficult conversation or piece of feedback to deliver, do your best to have that conversation as soon as possible.  Trust me, waiting only adds to your psychic load.  Your job in these situations is to see the teacher as capable of receiving feedback and to trust yourself to keep talking if points in the conversation are misunderstood. 


Being prepared, getting your head and heart straight, and trusting the person you are coaching are three habits I use all the time.  Even this far on in the coaching journey I have moments of self doubt, of wondering if I’ve done or said the right thing, and, what I find, coming back to these three practices helps me to do my best.


So as you venture out into the world as an instructional coach, remember this.  It’s good for you to share expert knowledge, it’s good for you to intervene quickly when a teacher needs support, it’s good for you to tighten the proverbial carabiner so that the harness is secure.  You are in your role for a reason and you will be of the highest and best service when you coach with confidence.


You’ve got this.


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