huge red ball caught between building with a man pushing on it

In my last blog post I emphasized the need for a district vision for the work of the coach. This week, I’m going to examine another crucial piece that will lead to success, well-developed communication and collaboration skills. In Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration, Les Foltos (2013) states, “I have asked asked hundreds of Peer Coaches over the years, and they consistently respond that communication and collaboration skills are a prerequisite to successful collaboration” (p. 77).

One of the most important of these skills is the art of listening. In general, are you a good listener? Have you ever been told you are? Have you ever made a conscious effort to improve your listening skills? Take this quiz to reflect on the quality of your listening. While not written for specifically for a school coach, the quiz brings up some great points. For example, repeating points back to clarify understanding. Another is paying attention to body language, yourself and the person you are speaking with. Use of leading questions is yet another; the list goes on. Good active listening is valuable to many facets of life.

Good active listening is valuable to many facets of life.

In chapter 5 Les Foltos zeros in on active listening, paraphrasing, asking clarifying questions, and the use of probing questions. He states, “In addition to repeated practice, experience has proven that coaches develop these skills more effectively if the learning exercises includes opportunities for participants to provide feedback to peers.” This means, we need to practice and then talk about and reflect on the process. Role-playing with someone is a good idea and will improve your skills. I believe this is what he is saying!

I want to make another point. Click and look at the quiz again. Notice that the choices are not yes or no. We are all on our own continuum of listening skill development.

We are all on our own continuum of listening skill development.

As a technology coach I know this. The question is, do I daily try and get better? I should. As I reflected on this, I realized that I would like to improve the quality of my clarifying and probing questions. I did some web-searching and found the work of Gene Thompson-Grove and Edorah Frazer (2002). I also found many derivatives of their work. They are known for their work around coaching questions stems. The first resource I found that builds on their work was on the School Reform Initiative website. It tackles clarifying questions vs probing questions. Clarifying questions are questions of fact and probing questions are ones that cause deeper thought to happen before an answer can be given. It offers suggestions for framing your probing questions and also provides sentence stems (starters) to form probing questions. For example, “When have you have you done something like this before?” The wide-openness of that question would make someone think; the reference to the past would cause the someone to make connections.

Another resource, that my colleague Ann Hayes-Bell directed me to, was a page on Elena Aguilar’s website. She is the author of the text, The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation. She goes so far as to break types of questions down further. She includes cathartic, catalytic, supportive, and more types of stems. I also did some reading of articles by Gene Thompson-Grove and Edorah Frazer. What I read on this page grabbed me. It said, “Think of probing questions as being on a continuum, from recommendation to action to most effective probing question.”  Effective was the word that grabbed me. As you recall, I had said we are on a continuum of listening skills. We are also on a continuum of the quality of our use of paraphrasing, development of clarifying questions, and the use of probing questions!

That said, where does this fall on the ISTE Standards for Tech Coaches? It falls under Teaching, Learning, and Assessment, standard 2f, “Coach teachers in and model incorporation of research-based best practices in instructional design when planning technology-enhanced learning experiences.” I think Foltos makes this connection clear on page 99, “Communication skills, particularly probing questions, can play a vital role in encouraging teachers to think more deeply about their practice, take risks, and adopt innovative teaching strategies.” This work also falls under Visionary Leadership, standard 1d, which states, “Implement strategies for initiating and sustaining technology innovations and manage the change process in schools and classrooms.” A coach really is a change agent. I would conclude that the further we are on the continuum of collaboration and communication skills, the greater impact we would have on our learning partner and our school or school district. Again, it comes back to being intentional when the decision to hire a coach is being made. I’ve made a short video that highlights the points that need to be considered by administrators and coaches.


Works cited:

Aguilar, E. (2013). The art of coaching: effective strategies for school transformation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: unlocking the power of collaboration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

International Society for Technology in Education. (2011). ISTE standards for coaches. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/ISTE-standards/standards-for-coaches

Mind Tools Team. (n.d.). How good are your listening skills? Retrieved from https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/listening-quiz.htm

PJMixer. (2009). It just won’t fit. Retrieved from https://flic.kr/p/6vpEzL

Thompson-Grove, G. (n.d). Pocket guide to probing questions. Retrieved from http://schoolreforminitiative.org/doc/probing_questions_guide.pdf