The benefits of coaching relationships on improving professional development outcomes of early childhood educators have been supported by numerous studies (Danielle Twigg, International Research in Early Childhood Education, Vol.4, No.1, 2013, Page 73).
The real work of these supportive relationships stems from the concept of trust: trust in the benefits of a strength-based coaching model, trust in acceptance of the vulnerable nature of these relationships, and lastly, reciprocal trust that needs to be cultivated between the coach and the coachee.
“A Mentor-Coach is a journey guide – someone who walks beside another on her journey” (JoAn Knight Herren, Office of Head Start ECLKC, 2018). When entering a coaching relationship as the Coach, it is imperative to set the groundwork for trust. This groundwork starts with giving a brief overview of the mentor-coaching process, focusing on the collaborative nature of the process, and emphasizing that the relationship will be reciprocal, confidential, and that both members will be treated as equal partners who bring unique gifts to the relationship.
Some strategies for building this relationship include:
1. Find a Personal Connection
Coaching is not exclusively about teaching and learning. It is about building relationships. Looking for opportunities to discover common interests, hobbies or values can help add to a conversation where commonalities are discovered, and positive relationships are grown. Being able to focus on the things that make us similar, rather than different, can go a long way towards building trust and respect in the mentor/mentee relationship.
2. Validate and Respect Their Concerns
Entering into a relationship where one’s teaching efficiency is being looked at can be very intimidating. Recognizing this vulnerable feeling with compassion and empathy can help the relationship grow towards positive outcomes for both the Coach and the Coachee. Respecting teaching styles and values, while sharing the Coach’s own professional struggles, can help set the groundwork towards nurturing an environment where trying new techniques is rewarding because the focus is on growth, not skill completion or expertise.
3. Meet Coachees Where They Are
In order to be a successful coach, you will need to learn to adjust your approach to met teachers where they are in their journey. Some teachers are very seasoned, with years of experience and events that have molded them into the teachers they are presently. They have developed a routine that is working for them and may be resistant to change. Some are brand new to the field and are still trying to blend the academic knowledge they have gained with the real-life scenarios they will encounter every day in their classrooms. Celebrating their strengths is imperative to building an environment where they both can try new ideas or modalities without fear of failing or being judged.
4. Establish Teacher/Coach Confidentiality
Privacy and reflection time are huge builders of developing trust between the partners in a coaching relationship. Teachers need to have a safe space to try new things that may potentially fail. The act of trying new ideas is highly personal and puts people in a state of vulnerability and these feelings need to be validated with the knowledge that no one is expected to gain growth without some struggle, and it is through this struggle, that new skills are developed. As a supportive coach, it must be abundantly clear that our intent is to support teachers in their professional growth. It takes great courage for teachers to allow a stranger into their classroom and see its inner workings on a regular basis, and coaches need to be cognizant of these feelings of anxiety and vulnerability.
5. Collaboration Is Key
The hallmark of a successful coaching relationship is collaboration. Individualizing support is a collaborative process, which includes planning, discussing, trying out, and reflecting together. Only through a respectful give and take approach can relationships grow in trust and development. Teachers and coaches need to feel confident that their desire towards a common goal is shared and nurtured by both parties. Even when there is disagreement, value must be given to the concept and acknowledgement by both parties to be able to review the idea with reflection and a non-judgmental stance.
There are many components to building trust in the coaching relationship that have been touched upon in this work. The reason we use coaching relationships is to build alignment to the frameworks of SEL and the ability of teachers to develop these skills into fidelity and sustainability in their early childhood programs. The goal of our coaching work can be summed up in Jeree Pawl’s platinum rule: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto others” (Pawl 1995, 43-44). This essay touches on a few key components that the author feels are imperative and necessary towards building successful coaching relationships in the field of Social Emotional Learning in the Early Childhood Field.