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Coaching a Veteran Teacher

Pathways for engagement, growth, and a trusting relationship that empowers educators at every career stage

Before becoming a coach, Tori Anders was a high school English teacher in Kentucky for 16 years. Her first year of coaching threw a lot of challenges her way: a global pandemic, remote learning, and navigating new relationships and responsibilities.

“One of the most challenging things I faced in my first year of coaching was working with another veteran teacher,” said Tori. Many times veteran teachers have seen curricula, initiatives, programs and resources come and go over the years. When a new coaching program is introduced, these teachers may be understandably cautious. But a reflective coaching relationship can be just as beneficial for a teacher with 20 years of experience as it is for a teacher with two years of experience. It just requires a different approach and an open mind.

The first thing Tori did was contact her supervisor and say “We need to have a session here because this is not something that I was prepared for.” And immediately she had the support in place to talk it through. Together, they began to list some solutions that might work.

“I realized I had to put my expectations on hold,” said Tori. “I had to work a lot harder to get her to trust me before I could ever jump into any observations or collect data.” Tori quickly realized that building trust and mutual respect was a necessary cornerstone for this relationship to work.

“I had to make sure she knew that her needs and what she needed from me as a teacher in the middle of a pandemic, were way more important than anything I needed from her,” said Tori. “So I took it really, really slow with her.”

She worked to build a relationship with the teacher, trying a variety of techniques to help her listen and communicate with empathy. Tori focused on intentional, respectful listening and creating space for the teacher to lead the conversation, instead of the other way around.

Finally, there was a breakthrough. Tori said something that reframed the relationship entirely. “I told her ‘I’m really excited about having this opportunity to learn as much from you as you can from me,’” said Tori. “And immediately I could just see her soften.”

Pencils on notebook

From that small moment came a great transformation. “Over time we formed this really great friendship,” said Tori. Because of their similar backgrounds, Tori and her teacher could connect and share on a variety of levels — in the classroom and beyond. “We’re on the same level,” she said. “We can have a partnership and bounce ideas off each other and learn from each other more than anything else.”

Once the hard work of building a relationship was in place, the coaching process became much more natural. “By the end of the year, I had completed two coaching cycles with her,” Tori happily reported. “We had done so much analysis of student learning, writing and reading. We had so many conversations about engagement strategies that she was using in her classes to get her kids involved.” And Tori had grown too. As a mentor, a teacher, and a friend. “I really did learn from her. Much more than she realizes.”

Keys for coaching veteran teachers:
  • Start from a place of respect for their years of experience.
  • Listen first and build trust. You may need to take it slow in the beginning. That’s OK.
  • Establish a collaborative partnership. Design a journey where you can pool ideas from your collective experience.
  • Understand that veteran teachers have seen many cycles of initiatives in education. Stay focused on helping them connect with and engage their students.
  • Demonstrate how data and observation with guiding support can lead to better outcomes for kids and to a radically connected teaching experience.
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