8 ways coaching teachers is like playing volleyball

Posted by: Joyce Matthews   |   No Comments   |  Posted on: Sep 06, 2013

volleyballTeachers being ‘coached’ for professional development – what’s that all about then? Is it like executive coaching or life coaching? Or is it coaching for compliance? Is it to make teachers perform better so that they can receive their ‘performance related pay’? Or is it to help them to ‘toe the party line’?
What’s wrong with the good old one day training course, where you get a day out of school, have a decent lunch with some fellow teachers, listen to some expert spout about what they did when they were teachers, and then go back to pick up the pieces where you left off?
And teachers learning to coach each other – how does that work? Can teachers be coaches too? Should teachers be coaches, or should we let school leaders decide how our professional development should work and who goes on what course and when? Is it a teacher’s job to help fellow teachers develop professionally – have teachers not got enough on their plate already?
Lots of teachers think ‘coaching’ is the latest ‘fad’ to come from the business world into the education sector – you just have to read the letters in the TES to see what the general feeling is. Is it an effective form of teacher CPD? Or is it just the latest performance management tool? Is there a place for it in schools, and what’s it really like?
As an ex- PE teacher who coaches teachers and delivers coaching courses for teachers, for me it’s like playing volleyball:

1.There are only a few discrete skills involved.
If you breakdown the game of volleyball there are only 4 apparent skills – serve, dig, volley, spike. If you breakdown the occupation of coaching there are only 4 apparent skills – building rapport, active listening, effective questioning, giving feedback. Both playing volleyball and coaching others seem like relatively easy activities if you ‘Google’ them to find out what the skills are.

2.What’s in between the basic skills is the difficult bit.
If volleyball were only about mastering the 4 skills named above, then it would be an easy game, and lots of people could master it to a very high level. The hardest thing about playing the game of volleyball is getting the bits in between performing the skills right. You’ve got to get the footwork right, to anticipate the next shot, choose when and how to reply, choose what response to play, make split second decision based on logic and gut feeling. It’s all about practicing, adapting and refining the basic skills to give you the flexibility of being able to choose from a range of resources which can be applied no matter what crops up.

3.You play to your strengths
In a volleyball team, everyone has a specialist role. You wouldn’t want your outside hitter being the setter; that would be a waste of her talents. Similarly, you wouldn’t want your dedicated back court player taking up the place of your best hitter. And because each player knows their own strengths, they switch places to make sure that they play in the right position for their particular strengths, so that the individual benefits and the overall performance of the team improves.
A coach plays to their strengths to help you to discover your strengths to that you can develop personally and professionally to take on the right role for you, and improve your team’s performance.

4.You work with others
The members of a volleyball team work together, with each other, to get the best results. You can’t do two or three shots on your own – you must work with the others in the team to produce the best combination of shots to get the best results. The sum of the team is greater than the individual contributions – together you are stronger.
Similarly, a coach works with a coachee – it’s about working together and learning with each other to produce an effective and successful outcome from the relationship.

5.You have to trust each other
A volleyball court is a relatively small space for a team of 6 people to work together, much smaller than a 5 a-side football pitch or a rugby 7’s pitch – you have to trust the other people in your team to let them get close to you, to let them into your personal space. You have to feel safe with them, and have the type of relationship with them that allows that to happen, to know that they will encourage you and empower you to develop your talents.
This is implicit in coaching – you wouldn’t want someone to coach you that you didn’t trust, that didn’t have your best interests at heart, would you?

6.It’s a divided court game
There are two teams playing this game, with a thin, almost invisible net which separates them. You can both see through it, but you can’t go through it and cross to the other side to join in with the other team.
The professional coach is all too aware of this invisible line and that’s why they will challenge you rather than give you emotional support or tea and sympathy like a friend might. They won’t make it easy for you by telling you what to do or by giving you the answers; they will play some tough shots across the net.

7.There’s an element of challenge
When you play volleyball, some games can be easy and others can be a bit of a challenge. Some only take a short while to play while others can last much longer. Coaching is much the same – it won’t always be easy. Sometimes you’ll have to dig deep and find responses that you didn’t even know you had.

Successful volleyball players choose to play the sport because they want to, not because someone has told them they must do it. They don’t rest on their laurels, they want to practice to improve, to be the best they can be. The same goes for coaching; if you don’t really want to take part, then your unlikely to get a successful outcome.

So volleyball and coaching – a game and a professional development tool – the same or different? Or maybe just something unfamiliar looked at from a different perspective? And that’s what a good coach will do; they’ll start with what you know, what you’re familiar and comfortable with and support you to make links, connections and understanding to expand your thinking and your horizons.
So next time professional development is mentioned in your staff room, what do you want to do – the same old one day courses, or try something new and different, and just for you?

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