Coaching From the Heart by Laurie Clarcq

Long before I met her I admired Laurie Clarcq for her ability to empathize and see so many different points of view. There are forums on the internet that can get very vicious and mean when some people seem to specialize in attacking others and demeaning anyone with a different point of view. When debates on the moretprs forum got heated, as discussions will when earnest and sincere people speak about something they care very much about, Laurie would step in and explain things in words that everyone could understand, helping us realize that the others were neither deluded nor stupid, that they were simply coming at the problem from a different angle, seeing it in a different light. Invariably she would be able to reconcile the differences and help us see where the other person truly stood.

Recently I’ve been hearing about Coaching from the Heart from Teri Wiechart, Anny Ewing,  Carol Hill and Robert Harrell who worked on it with Laurie at NTPRS. Since I’ve learned that students need postive interactions far more than they need corrections, it seemed logical that teachers learning to use CI methods would also benefit from more positive coaching. Teri has always insisted that the teacher being coached must feel safe, so this seemed like a natural evolution.

Recently Laurie replied to a post on the moretprs list serve from someone who thought that Coaching from the Heart might be a little too “touchy-feely” for some. Living in France, I’m very familiar with intellectuals who distrust anything that seems too emotional. So I was cheered by Laurie’s response and thought it was an excellent description of what Coaching from the Heart is all about. She has kindly given me permission to reprint it here.

“As for the emotionality factor… I just spent several hours with a coaching group today and watched carefully to see how “touchy-feely” this approach to coaching is.

It is less about the emotionality and more about answering two very specific questions:

1. What exactly did the teacher do to make students feel connected/supported?
2. What exactly did the teacher do to make the language comprehensible?

The answers come from two different groups:
1. The “students” who answer from the point of view as a student.
2. The “observers” who answer as teachers observing the teacher and the students.

As a result the teacher becomes aware of

1. Exactly what s/he does that makes the lesson successful. Some responses shared today:
a. Looked at me to make sure that I understood.
b. Used my suggestion in the story.
c. Laughed with the class.
d. Pointed clearly at important times.
e. Gave the class time to think.
f. Used clear markings in the sentence so that I could see which word meant what.
g. Kept going back to the beginning of the story.
h. Used actors in a way that really made the story line clear
i. Only wrote what was necessary on the board.
j. Knew when I understood something that others didn’t and it made me feel special.

The feedback should be very specific and if it isn’t, the coach will ask those giving feedback the questions that will get a more specific response. The teacher can request help from/ ask a question of the coach at any time, however the coach will not interrupt the lesson to direct the teacher…unless that is specifically requested.

The feedback is very honest. As a “student” said today, “At first I had no idea what ________ meant at all, but you saw that and then started to point every time you said it, and I got it right away.”

This approach does NOT change the benefits of being coached. It changes the role of the coach in the process. The students and the observers give the majority of the feedback. They grow as much, if not more, than the teacher. The coach’s role is to direct the feedback so that it helps the teacher and to make connections for the teacher about why the teacher’s actions were successful.

The vast majority of us do NOT know what we are doing right. We are often well aware of our short-comings and limitations. When teachers hear what they are doing well (which almost always surprises them….) they are able to be reflective about how they could become better.

When the coach and teacher meet privately, the coach can offer ideas/suggestions privately instead of publicly. Public correction in many coaching venues has created too many hurt feelings and frustrated teachers. This evolved as a way to move away from public correction in front of strangers.

I think that the “emotional” piece is a result of the professional respect and sharing of a connected experience. A kind of bonding that takes place within the group…the creation of a community..a situation which happens as a result of shared time, commitment to language instruction, insights and laughter with each other.

with love

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