The Art of Coaching Teams
There is no universal formula for building a great team, because every team is different. Different skills, abilities, personalities, and goals make a one-size-fits-all approach ineffective at best. Instead, The Art of Coaching Teams provides a practical framework to help you develop your group as a whole, and keep the team moving toward their common goals. ELENA AGUILAR is a teacher, coach and consultant with over twenty years of experience working in schools. Elena is also the author of The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation . She has been a frequent writer for Edutopia since 2008 and writes a blog on EdWeek Teacher for coaches.
The Art of Coaching Teams
Artists are notoriously messy. Their physical work spaces can be disorganized (at least this is true for the artist to whom I am married), and their processes can be haphazard, full of false starts, revisions, and crumpled pieces that never make it to completion. The drafts and sketches left in studios suggest that the messy creative process itself may be essential to produce to great work.
If coaching teams is an art, and the skills necessary to lead great teams take years of messy practice to develop, we are in a tough place. While artists often refine their practice in private, much of our growth and development as facilitators is public, evident when we lead team meetings or present professional development. Furthermore, there isn't a formula that can be used to build an effective team. All teams inevitably look and feel different-they are made up of people, after all, and it is these people who make teams potentially transformational and also challenging to lead.
Our big dreams for transforming schools depend on highly functioning groups of educators working together. This is a daunting challenge-and one I'll admit that I avoided for years. I hoped that our individual efforts would amount to transformation; I preferred working alone, and I hadn't experienced teams that could accomplish great things. When I was first in a role where I was asked to facilitate a team of adult learners, I didn't have the skill set I needed. I'm now ready to proclaim not only that yes, we have to build teams, but also that yes, we can.
It's been over a decade since I began coaching. My early efforts at facilitating teams included false starts and little grace or beauty. Over the years, I've worked on my craft with great commitment-I acquired knowledge and theory, I practiced skills over and over, and I figured out who I want to be as a leader.
The Art of Coaching Teams is deeply informed by my lived experiences and chronicles key moments of my journey toward powerful leadership. As much as it makes me cringe to reveal my rough drafts as a team leader, I hope that you will see that the art of coaching teams can be developed. Most important, I hope the tools, tips, protocols, and theory contained in these pages will help you find your own conviction and confidence that you can develop the skills to lead transformational teams.
A Tale of Two Teams
I would like tell you a story, a tale of two teams. The first team is a humanities team that I facilitated some years ago when I was a novice instructional coach working in a middle school that I'll call Wilson Middle School. (All names of people in this school are fictitious; see the note on anonymity following this introduction.) From my perspective, this team was disastrous. There was little trust, we didn't get much done, and I struggled as a leader. The second team was a team of coaches that I led after I'd had several years of experience as a facilitator. This team thrived, and I thrived as a leader. Based on many indicators, this team was a success.
Think of this tale of two teams as a serial: with each chapter of this book, I offer another episode from the stories to illustrate the art of coaching teams. So let me start the story-by starting at the end, with the successful team, so that I can offer you a vision for perhaps what might be. I'd like to transport you back to a typical Friday afternoon and offer a glimpse of what you might have seen in our small office.
Transformational Coaching Team, 2014
In one corner of the room, four coaches sit on the floor engaging in a role-play. Two take copious notes-as observers they're responsible for capturing what the coach and client say and do. Han is playing the coach in this scenario, trying to help Manny-who is playing a teacher-reflect on why his math lesson didn't go well. Han listens, nods, validates Manny's ch