Three-Point Communication and Coaching Relationships

Well, I’ve reached the end of Fall quarter in my Educational Technology Leadership class at Seattle Pacific University. For this last module I’ve gone a different route and am focusing on something a little more specific. We have been talking a lot about coaching, communication skills, and helping teachers improve their lesson design. Throughout our conversations as a class and in looking at the ISTE Coaching standards I’ve started to think a lot about what effective coaching is and what it looks like. Many of the ISTE standards talk about establishing shared vision, goals, trust and collaboration and this has me thinking about the use of third point communication in a coaching relationship.


Driving Question

What are good strategies for bringing in and using a third point when coaching? How can a third point help build trust in a coaching relationship? And, what are good examples of a third point?


What is Third Point Communication? 

Third point communication is something that I first heard about a few years back while attending the BEST Mentor Academy workshops through OSPI. During these workshops we referenced a book called Mentoring Matters: A Practical Guide to Learning-Focused Relationships  by Laura Lipton and Bruce Wellman. In their section on learning-focused conversations one of the strategies mentioned is the use of a third point. Lipton and Wellman (2018)  describe a third point as something that focuses the conversation on something visual and shifts the energy away from the coach/teacher relationship and onto the physical artifact or item (pg.52). When using a third point often the physical item is placed between the two people so that both can easily see and refer to the item. The coach may also use gestures in order to draw attention to the item and should try to use more neutral pronouns when conducting the conversation. The idea of using a third point is to depersonalize an idea and/or conversation. This idea can be useful no matter what role the coach is taking in the conversation.

Why use a third point?

As was mentioned above the use of a third point is to shift the focus of the conversation and depersonalize it. This is helpful when establishing relationships with teachers since it can help to “free the colleague to accept, modify or reject the idea as an idea” (Lipton and Wellman, 2018). The use of a third point is also helpful when having uncomfortable or hard conversations as it gives those in the conversation somewhere to focus besides the other person. This can help make everyone feel more comfortable which helps build trusting relationships between coach and teacher. Since the goal of a coach is to work with teachers in order to define shared vision and goals and improve instructional practices, this can lead to uncomfortable moments and conversations. However with the use of a third point negative thoughts or feelings can be shifted away from the coach or teacher and placed on the third point instead (Collet, 2017). With this shift coach and teacher are better prepared to have conversations that can lead toward improved learning outcomes and better learning experiences for students. So anytime a coach feels like a conversation might be difficult or uncomfortable they should practice using three-point communication and the more it is used the more comfortable coaches will be in shifting to three-point communication in any situation. 

Examples of a third point

When having a three-point conversation it is important for the coach to think about what that third point might be. Yes, a third point can be anything that shifts the focus from the individual to the item but it should be something that also highlights or enhances the conversation. Third points can be just about anything and it is really up to the coach. Some examples of third points that can be useful in conversations are the learning standards, rubrics, lesson plans and student work. These can all be printed ahead of time or even pulled up virtually and shared if not face to face. The more I started thinking about what a third point might be I started realizing that I’ve used many things in conversations as a third point. When working with other teachers I often like to have either a lesson plan when we are planning together or student work when we are reflecting on how a lesson went. However now that we are working virtually some other things that could work are recordings of their Zoom sessions or the asynchronous videos that teachers are preparing to post to their virtual classrooms. I’ve even had a teacher pull up the home page of their learning management system so that we could have a conversation around its design and functionality in terms of student use. All of these are examples of a third point. The thing that I keep reminding myself is that it is how we use the third point that matters. This provides an excellent opportunity to practice communication skills on top of the use of a third point. How is my body language, my tone of voice, am I keeping my phrases neutral so as not to sound accusatory? If we are practicing all these things while using a third point then it should help keep the conversation feeling safe and help build trust and support between the coach and teacher. 

If you’ve never thought about using a third point before then you might check out this video on Three Point Communication.

Three Point Communication – TeachingHOW2s

I would love to hear what you have used as a third point before? As well as your thoughts on how the use of a third point can help establish safe and trusting coaching relationships? 

References

Caviglioli, O. (2016, February 27). Three Point Communication—TeachingHOW2s. https://teachinghow2s.com/blog/three-point-communication

Collet, V. (2017, December 15). My Coaches’ Couch: Using Third Points. My Coaches’ Couch. http://mycoachescouch.blogspot.com/2017/12/using-third-points.html

ISTE Standards for Coaches | ISTE. (n.d.). Retrieved November 13, 2020, from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches

Lipton, L., & Wellman, B. M. (2018). Mentoring matters: A practical guide to learning-focused relationships.

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2 Responses to Three-Point Communication and Coaching Relationships

  1. Thanks for explaining what a third-point is and how it can be used in coaching work. I like how you came full circle and recognized at the end that it is how we use the third point that matters – we can’t substitute the third point for good communication skills, tone, body language, etc. Good coaching happens when we put all these skills together! 🙂

  2. Doug says:

    I think the idea of a “third point” is incredibly helpful. I like the idea of using physical space to help with the visualization of this. This idea, especially, stood out to me: “The idea of using a third point is to depersonalize an idea and/or conversation.” It’s really important to depersonalize the conversation. Also, good tips in terms of being aware of all aspects of communication including tone, facial expressions, body language etc. Thanks for sharing!

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