The Causes of Coaching Reluctance

Collaboration Montage

TeachBoost continues to ask instructional coaches what tools they include in their instructional coaching toolbox as part of our TeachBoost series, Your Coaching Toolbox—resources, tips, and reflections for instructional coaches, by instructional coaches.

In part one of her two-part series, Cailin Minor, literacy coach at Shanghai American School in China, first dissects the causes for teachers feeling "stuck" and reluctant towards coaching.


hen I think about reluctance, I think about "reluctant writers"—a term we use a lot as teachers. More specifically, I think of Miguel. Miguel, a former student of mine, was a "reluctant writer" if I ever saw one. When writers workshop would close each day, I would grab his notebook and see only a few sentences on the page. Sometimes his writing time was filled with talking to friends, other times it was spent in a silent standoff between him and the page. All of my initial strategies seemed to have only a surface-level impact on his movement and any gain was short lived. One day, I decided to have a more direct conversation with him and asked him what was going on. It's hard for adults, let alone a nine year old, to describe internal struggles but his simple words rang true: he said, "I don't know, I'm just stuck." His response was the most enlightening for me as a teacher and now as a coach.

The core of reluctance is being stuck. The person demonstrating the reluctant behavior is experiencing an internal stuckness. There is something keeping them from understanding, changing, being capable, and/or accepting something. However, the stuckness is not just on them, but also on the person trying to support them. As a coach, we also are stuck. We struggle to figure out the person in front of us and how to help them. To do so, we need to examine the internal things that are keeping us from connecting with, understanding, and supporting that person. The internal things that need to be explored on both ends can include knowledge, understanding, beliefs, identity, values, experience, and perceptions.

The reluctant behavior we see is the tip of the iceberg. No one wakes up one day and just decides they are going to be a reluctant, nor are most people permanently reluctant. To support that person in becoming unstuck, we need to explore what is beneath the surface to learn what motivates them, engages and excites them, their values, needs, and their identity as an educator. And in turn, we need to examine our own thoughts and actions to see what might be keeping us from supporting them.

The Iceberg Below the Surface: Causes of Teacher Reluctance in a Coaching Relationship

Before we can hope to change behaviors, we need to transform and mediate thinking (i.e., take a "Cognitive Coaching" approach). As mentioned, the reluctant behaviors are usually symptoms of internal conflict. Why? Because a belief, identity, experience, lack of understanding, or perception is rubbing against an external force, causing friction. The friction can result in stuckness and undesired behaviors limiting the teacher's drive to move forward.

Below are some internal things I've found that cause teachers to be, or act, reluctant to coaching.

Working With a Coach Is Viewed as "Needing Improvement"

Teachers with a lot of experience, or a lot of content knowledge, are sometimes resistant to coaching because they believe coaches are for those who are underperforming. These teachers feel confident in their abilities and think they "don't need a coach." They want to prove themselves to you or the administration, and want to be thought of as a leader or a "go to" person. This identity as "expert teacher" is important to them. More times than not, they see coaching as something for new teachers or teachers who are not confident in what they are doing. They have a hard time being vulnerable or asking for help or support.

Negative or Unproductive Coaching Experiences in the Past

Teachers who have had a negative experience with a coach may carry that experience with them to a new coaching relationship. Those who have not found coaches to be helpful, or had a bad relationship with the last coach, may demonstrate reluctance. The negative experience may cause them to not value the role or support in which they are receiving from their current coach.

The Coaching Role Isn't Defined

If coaching is new to your school, it can take teachers a while to understand what it is and how it can benefit them. It may take teachers a while to jump into the change since it might not be on their radar yet. Sometimes new coaching programs are not rolled out or communicated well to an organization's staff which causes a lack of understanding. In this case, teachers may think the coach is there to evaluate them, or have other misconceptions about the coach's role.

Teachers Are Busy and Time Is Tight

We have to remember how busy teachers are and how much is on their plate. They might believe coaching can support them with their teaching, but perceive meeting with a coach as taking up their valuable planning or prep time. Sometimes teachers are reluctant to give up their precious time if they are unable to visualize the benefits in the end.

A Lack of Voice or Choice

Some of the work between coaches and teachers may be mandatory. Teachers are expected to participate in coaching cycles, or attend workshops and trainings where the topics of their coaching work are predetermined. Teachers often resist when they feel micromanaged, and don't get a say in their professional development. Reluctance may also be a result of the coaching work being the Coach consulting and telling them what to do. When we as coaches take away choice, we also take away the internal need for autonomy.

A Difference of Beliefs and Values or Personality and Style

Teachers may be reluctant to work with coaches when they don't feel a connection with them at a deeper level. Reluctance may come if a teacher feels the Coach doesn't understand who they are as an educator or is passing judgement on their beliefs and identity. On a slightly less deep level, they might show reluctance if the Coaches' style of talking, leading, or collaborating is at odds with their own.

Final Thought

The list above for what causes reluctance is not a complete list—there are other experiences and internal struggles that can cause reluctance. The most important thing is that we don't jump to solutions without really getting to know the teachers we work with. After we start to have a deeper understanding of our teachers and their needs, we can find solutions that may help them get unstuck. In my upcoming post, we will discuss strategies for supporting the causes of reluctance when working with teachers—stay tuned!

About our Guest Blogger

Cailin Minor is a literacy coach at Shanghai American School. She has been teaching overseas for the past 11 years in Korea, Thailand, Colombia, and China. She loves international education and the challenging and rewarding work of coaching. Be sure to check out her blog where explores tips, tools, and thoughts on instructional coaching or follow her on twitter @cailinminor.

Continue reading more great posts!