For my EDTC 6105 course we are continuing to talk about communication, coaching and how communication plays a role in successful coaching. Over the last couple weeks we have been talking about how coaches can build trust, set goals and norms, push on instructional practices and build the capacity of educators and the role that communication plays. This has gotten me thinking about my own communication skills, what those look and sounds like and if they have changed since we’ve started working remotely. This has lead me to my driving question for this blog post:
Do communication skills need to change when coaching virtually versus face to face in order for coaches to be successful at establishing productive and respectful coaching relationships? What impact does meeting virtually have on a coaching relationship?
What are communication skills?
There are many things that come to mind when I think of communication. As Foltos (2013) describes, communication can include many things from tone of voice to language choice or body and facial expressions (p. 83). The list can be quite long but it is important to consider how we communicate when working with others as effective communication leads to strong collaborative partnerships. When coaching, those that we are working with want to know that we believe in them and that we are there to support and build them up. So how we communicate both verbally and nonverbally has to match and support that. Some of the skills that I have found work the best when coaching are making sure that I am actively listening which includes questioning and paraphrasing what I have heard and also body language.
This is something that I still am continually working on. Being an active listener is more than just paying attention to the speaker. It means not getting distracted while listening. As a coach it is my job to really hear what my colleague is saying, not just what I think they are saying. Elena Aguilar (2018) suggests that instead of active listening we should actually be listening with an expansive mind. I had never heard this phrase before but it made sense. If we are listening with an expansive mind then we are listening for those places where we can push on learning, build our partner up, being curious about what they are saying. We aren’t closed off but instead are open to hear and learn together.
This is something that I find myself doing all the time, at work, at home, even when I’m out to dinner. To me this skill holds the key to building relationships. When I paraphrase it is more than just repeating what I just heard. It is taking what I heard and rephrasing it in a way to check for my own understanding, it gives the speaker time to correct anything that I may have misheard and also allows for the speaker to think about if that was really what they were trying to say. I have found that when I follow up a paraphrase with a question this helps push the conversation further and leads to deeper discussion and/or learning. As Foltos (2013) mentions, good paraphrasing and questioning should focus on the speaker not the listener so it is important to not use the pronoun I and instead use phrases like, “so you are saying …” or “you’re thinking that …” (p.85).
This one is extremely important. As a coach I might be saying one thing with my words but if my body language doesn’t match then it can be harmful to the coaching relationship. Just like in any relationship my words and my actions need to be in sync. Therefore it is important that my body language communicates that I believe in them, that I’m listening, and that I am open to what they are saying. How am I communicating through body language, am I looking at them, is my posture tense, how is my tone of voice? All of these are important to think about when communicating. “You can build community simply by heightening your awareness of your body language and how you interpret the body language of others” (Aguilar, 2018).
Communicating in a Virtual Space
So what does this mean for coaching and communicating virtually. While all of the things listed above are still true it can sometimes be harder to do in a virtual environment. Since the physical connection of being in the same place is gone it is important to pay attention to how we are communicating. It is important that we are aware of the message we are trying to send and keying into the language that we use in order to effectively communicate. Even more so in a virtual space we should have humility and empathy for those that we are working with. Therefore we need to be sure that our tone and body language comes through in a virtual space. It is important that those we are working with know that we are listening ao we need to do what we can to limit the distractions and use paraphrasing and questioning intentionally. Another idea that stands out during this time is also litening for those opportunities where we can highlight the successes that are happening all around us. Where are the places where we can call out something that someone has done and share those tips and successes with others. This takes actively listening for those moments and then being ready to share them out with others. Good communication also leads to positive collaboration which is also a skill to successful coaching. As a coach I need to be willing to be vulnerable myself, communicate my learning, be open, transparent, and use phrases that emphasize that “we” are doing this work together.
So while I don’t believe communication needs to completely change while coaching remotely, I do believe it is even more important. Without the face to face connection it is important that others still feel connected to what is happening. As a coach it is even more important that I am paying attention to facial expressions, tone and word/language choice so that there is not a mismatch between what I’m saying and my body language. While working remotely it is important to keep the lines of communication open and to continue to let those I’m working with know that I am there to support them. It is on me to continue to reach out so that there is not a feeling of isolation. Share successes whenever possible and make sure that what I am communicating verbally matches my nonverbal communication.
Aguilar, E. (2018, October 26). How to Hone Your Interpersonal Skills. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/how-hone-your-interpersonal-skills
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Ferlazzo, L. (2020, March 27). Instructional Coaching During the Coronavirus Crisis. Education Week – Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo. http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/classroom_qa_with_larry_ferlazzo/2020/03/instructional_coaching_during_the_coronavirus_crisis.html?cmp=SOC-SHR-FB
Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Corwin; eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). https://ezproxy.spu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip&db=nlebk&AN=1046240&site=ehost-live
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UWCEL. (2020, May 18). How Coaches are Improving Teaching in a Virtual Environment. http://blog.k-12leadership.org/instructional-leadership-in-action/how-coaches-are-supporting-teachers-right-now