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Instructional Coaching Tip: Strengthening Relationships

If you are an instructional coach or administrator wearing a coaching hat (aka The #CoachApproach) you know RELATIONSHIPS MATTER. How would you like a strategy that has the potential to strengthen your relationships with teachers? What if I told you this strategy would only take 5 to 10 minutes of your time? In return you’d have a simple relationship strengthening goal to implement the following week as you go about your day-to-day work with the teachers you serve.

I know … that sounds too good to be true! But, keep reading!

I was first introduced to this idea several years ago while attending a training provided by Jim Knight. Jim has studied and written numerous books on the topic of instruction coaching. (I’ve listed a few of my favorites in the resource section of this website.) The strategy can be used by teachers, instructional coaches, school administrators – or any other educator that serves or works a group of people. If you happened upon this blog and are not in education – I think it would be applicable in just about any setting! Be creative! I’d love to hear about your experiences.

STEP 1: Make a List

Let’s first look at the foundation of the strategy. All you need is pen/pencil ( or marker if you want) and paper or if you are inclined to keeping notes electronically your could open up a document on your device.

Set aside 5 to 10 minutes at the end of the week – Friday afternoon or even a brief time over the weekend.

All you need to do is make a list of the teachers in your building. That’s it. Make a list that includes ALL teachers. Just let your mind randomly recall a teacher’s name and write it down. Then write down the next teacher’s name that pops into mind until you have a listed ALL teachers in the building. The important part of the strategy is to let your mind recall the teachers’ names randomly, rather than by grade level or room placement in the building. The strategy will not have an impact if you place any order to the list.

Step 2: Reflect, Analyze and Set A Goal

Now that the list is complete it is time to reflect, analyze and set a goal. What did you notice about creating the list? Were some names easier to recall than others? Were you able to include all names or did you get stuck along the way? Did you have to pull out a roster at the end because you forgot some names?

Next, take your analysis to a deeper level. What might be the reason some names jumped in your mind towards the beginning while others ended up towards the end? The reasons will vary with each person implementing this idea. Only you will be able to read into the data. The patterns may emerge quickly or even not at all.

The list is not to assume you have better relationships with those at the beginning of the list and hindered relationships with those at the end. It could be the opposite. But whatever the reason – some names landed towards the beginning while others at the end.

Now, choose 3 to 5 names of teachers that are at the end of you list. Jot their names down somewhere (for your eyes only). If you have a coaching planner perhaps you put their initials on the upcoming week’s page. (Do you need a organizer – sign up for my newsletter here or below) – and you’ll receive an instant download to a FREE Coaching Organizer.)

These 3 to 5 teachers (the number is arbitrary – pick what is doable for you) will now become your “secret pals” for the week ahead.

Step 3: Your Weekly Actions

Make it a point to reach out to your 3 to 5 teachers throughout the week. These interactions can just be simple check ins. Below are a few examples. The goal is to find time for brief interactions. You really don’t want the teachers to think you are “up to something” by all of a sudden showing up more than usual. Make these a natural part of your day. I invite you to share your own ideas in the comment section below.

  • Drop in before or after school to say hi. Ask about weekend. Or kids. Or grandkids. Their dog, cat or hobby. Anything to show you care.
  • Notice something (for example: student work) and ask them to tell you more – just be curious.
  • Find a quick resource that matches a goal or passion of theirs. Email it, put it in their mailbox or hand deliver – and say I saw this and immediately thought of you.
  • Sit by them at lunch or during a break and strike up a casual conversation.
  • Check on their “specials” schedule. Be close to their room prior to their walking students to the special and mention you are headed in that direction and would gladly drop them off. This would give the teachers a few extra minutes of a break!
  • Write a quick Thank You note for something you noticed.

In The Coach Approach to School Leadership, we share how educators continually PLANT SEEDS. These short burst of interactions can serve as seeds to strengthen relationships with teachers.

“Planting seeds in a garden and watching them transform can be an invigorating process. Each new stage is something to celebrate and enjoy. Over time, with proper nurturing, small seeds can grow into a beautiful garden.

Educators are constantly planting seeds in their professional lives. Principals (and instructional coaches) who lead with a coach’s hat have opportunities to transform the educational landscape.”

The Coach Approach to School Leadership: Leading Teachers to Higher Levels of Effectiveness by: Jessica Johnson, Shira Leibowitz and Kathy Perret (ASCD 2017)

Step 4: Analyzing your Work

At the end of each week find some time to reflect on your actions. When looking at any type of data I like to use a configuration of 4 questions I learned from Emily Calhoun many years ago. They are a staple in my coaching tool kit. Questions 1 and 2 typically stay about the same. Questions 3 and 4 change a bit based on the data I am analyzing. Question 3 looks what data means and Question 4 sets goals or actions.

  1. What do you notice about this data?
  2. What questions do you have about this data?
  3. What does this data mean in your work with these teachers?
  4. What further actions will you take in strengthening relationships with these teachers?

Now Rinse and Repeat Steps 1-4

Just like with any new practice, in order to see the full effects, you will need to push yourself to implement over time. Each time you make a list (in Step 1) you will probably notice different names end up toward the bottom your your random recall. This gives you a new set of teachers as your “secret pals” for the following week. It allows you to strengthen your relationships with the full staff over time.

There is a section in my Coaching Organizer (mentioned above) to note your monthly strengths, challenges and next steps. Perhaps this weekly relationship data could be one area you reflect upon at the end of each month.

The following serve as possible reflection prompts. Feel free to develop your own!

  • What have you noticed over time?
  • What evidence do you have that shows relationships across the staff strengthening?
  • Are more teachers reaching out to you as a coach? (Keep track of these enrollment numbers so that you have some hard data.)
  • Is the staff understanding your role at a deeper level? What evidence do you have?

Give it a Try

I know how busy you are as an instructional coach or school administrator. You have a lot on your plate. My friends and fellow ASCD authors, Pete Hall and Alisa Simeral, are constantly reminding us “the more reflective we are, the more effective we are.” This one simple weekly reflection idea may have the potential, if used over time, to impact your relationships with teachers – both the hard to reach and the coachable. The data collected provides a peek at your relationships with those you serve.

As a bonus, I will be including a FREE download in my February newsletter (scheduled to go out next week) so you can record your list, analyze the results and set your weekly goals. You can sign up for my newsletter hereor with the form below.

Who Else Could Use This?

As I mentioned earlier, this strategy could be used by or with teachers as well. Teachers could list the names of their students at the end of the week and determine a few students to spend a little extra time with during the upcoming week. Or teachers could use this approach with each other in order to get to strengthen relationships. Add this idea to your coaching tool kit! We all need ways to strengthen relationships with the people we work with on a day-to-day basis.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with this idea. Drop a comment below. I’d love to feature your ideas in an upcoming blog post!

Keep Shining!

Let’s Work Together

Are you thinking ahead to your summer learning or your own professional development during the 2019-2020 school year? I’d love to join you in your learning journey. I am in the process of building both my onsite and virtual schedule.

My goal for you to SHINE as an instructional coach or school leader wearing a coaching hat. Coaching is challenging work – one that relies building your skills, putting your new learning into practice and developing the confidence to make an impact with teachers and students.

S.H.I.N.E. Coaching (more on this acronym coming soon) gives you that ENERY to MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

Let’s set up a time to customize a training or coaching package to FIT YOUR UNIQUE NEEDS! Email me at to get started.

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