NTPRS15 : An Introduction to Coaching From the Heart

I hardly know where to begin. I have been to a number of national conferences and I am still surrounded by the effects of this one.

For the coaching team, the week started on Friday evening as 20 of us began to arrive in Reston, Va. We usually only see each other once a year and so our first hours are spent hugging, laughing and catching up on the previous year personally and professionally.

The following day we began with what is affectionately known as “the Retreat”. It’s a meeting amongst the coaches to craft any changes in the NTPRS coaching philosophy and approach. The coaching coordinator and the C4C coordinator also share their plan for the week with us. It’s a full day and we count on it to prepare us for an unusually busy week ahead.

This year, Lizette Liebold and Teri Weichart (our coaching coordinators) asked me to demonstrate a slightly different take on coaching that worked well in Maine and in Vermont. Dubbed “Coaching from the Heart” by Beth Crosby (Maine), this approach has two important elements: a) The coach’s job is to make the teacher feel safe and supported throughout the experience b) The focus is on the teacher’s strengths, not weaknesses.

The purpose of this approach to coaching is to empower the teacher. Teachers, particularly now, need to feel safe and to feel empowered. Without those two elements, teachers will not step out of their comfort zones to try new things nor to grow. They are ESSENTIAL to a growth mindset and a growth plan.
I wanted teachers to believe in their own abilities to understand teaching with Comprehensible Input, to apply the skills of TPRS in their own classroom and to be able to adjust without the direction of a trained presenter or coach as necessary.

Michele Kindt and Carla Tarini each took turns as teachers as we walked through the steps of Coaching from the Heart. How do I put into words what happened?

As each of them finished their 5 minute lesson, they sat down and shared what they felt had gone well. It’s so very hard to teach to, and in front of, a group of our peers, that it’s often hard to know what went well!!! When they had finished, the teachers who had been the “students” in the class each gave Michele and Carla their feedback. They were instructed, from the perspective as a student, to share what had made them feel supported, safe and included and/or what the teacher had done to make the language comprehensible. One by one each shared his/her insight with the teacher. EACH ONE had a slightly unique and personal perspective on what the teacher had done to accomplish the two goals. They were encouraged to be specific about the actions of the teacher and their own reactions.

Then the group of “observers” who sat directly behind the students during the lesson shared their observations about what the teachers had done in the lesson that had made the students feel included and had made the language comprehensible. They were reporting from the perspective of an observer and fellow teacher.

Not one “I would have” or “You should have” or “In my classroom” was spoken. When the observers were finished, the coach asked the teacher to reflect again, this time including any “Aha” moments that might have occurred during the feedback from students and observers. Then the coach asked, “Is there anything that you might try differently? and Is there anything here that you will think about differently in your classroom when you return?”

After each demo, there was almost a hushed feeling in the room, as if something profound and sacred had occurred. (No, that isn’t hyperbole.) Teachers, Coach, Students and Observers were deeply moved by the experience.

The group, who had been offering a different kind of support for teachers for a decade, offered to change to a new way of coaching, literally overnight since Coaching For Coaches began the next day at 8:30 am !!!

Within 30 minutes we had agreed on the following adaptations to our coaching plan:

1. There will be two coaches for each coaching station, a coach and a coach on deck.
2. Each teacher teaches for 5 minutes.
3. The coach does not interrupt the lesson unless the teacher asks for support/input.
4. The teacher can stop at any time to talk with the coach, make a change or restart the lesson.
5. If asked for help, the coach offers two options and invites the teacher to choose which s/he prefers.
6. The coach, students and observers only give positive feedback for the teacher to build on.
7. The feedback centers on the two questions: How did the teacher make students feel safe and welcome? How did the teacher make the language comprehensible?

Comments that I heard that day:

“It felt as if we were all in this positive growth mode together: teacher, coach, students and observers, a team.

“I could stop worrying about what the coach and the observers were thinking, because I knew that their feedback would only be positive.”

“I needed the reminder of how it feels to be the teacher.”

“I felt heard. Really heard. For the first time in years.”

“I had no idea that I was doing half of the things that they (students and observers) saw.”

“I am so touched by the love everyone is showing the teacher.”

“Student and observer reports were so insightful, I was blown away.”

“The time to reflect, as a teacher, student or observer was so valuable.”

“I learned so much more by watching than by teaching….who knew?”

It became clear that observing was the key to personal growth. It allowed us to watch and reflect in a way we had not done before. With that in mind, we welcomed participants on Sunday’s Coaching for Coaches workshop.

with love,


8 Replies to “NTPRS15 : An Introduction to Coaching From the Heart”

  1. Laurie,

    Your reflections of those two days of C4C, then the week of coaching brings me right back to the warmth and positive energy that was flowing through the groups on Saturday and Sunday. As we continued to work the magic the following week in Agen, Chill, Anny and I were always quick to give credit to you for making such a profound change to the whole role of coaches and to the paradigm shift of our “procedures.”

    Teachers were moved (sometimes to tears) as we worked through road blocks and fears of how to use our approach to teaching. Empowering them was sometimes a visible process.

    Coaches play many roles. In situations away from the major conferences, we find ourselves being demonstrator, presenter, teacher as well as coach. What we learned and practiced this year we found our “heart” to do just that.

    I can’t thank you enough for bringing the love to our TCI/TPRS world. I credit you with reminding all of us that really that is what it is all about. Building that relationship with each other, listening to what others bring to the table, guiding others to find the answers themselves, opening doors, giving teachers a safe place to grow IS what it is all about.

    I am so pleased that Blaine recognized our contribution to the point that he wanted all presenters to use the coaching team and the new approach to help teachers all over and all the time.

    I am so excited to see the next chapter in the coaching story.


    1. We all need love and we are all worthy of being loved. If we can recognize that and nourish each other in healthy ways, we can change the world one relationship at a time. I believe that teaching/coaching/living is all about relationships. When we honor those as well, we change the paradigm. It is always an honor and a blessing to work the coaching team.

      with love,

  2. Hi Laurie,
    It is really interesting what you were saying about focusing on strengths. I am reading a book called Now Discover your strengths, that explains the strengths Finder strengths inventory.I read that the university of Minnesota did a study about the effectiveness of their study skills class. Great readers and struggling readers all took the class. The expected for struggling readers to make the best games because they had the most children. They expected the excellent readers to make the fewest games because they had least to learn. They found just the opposite. Struggling readers got to be good enough leaders for college. But the ones who started off reading 350 words per minute increased to something like 1200 words per minute, which no one had really thought possible. Further study proved that focusing on strengths produce the most dramatic improvement contrary to common sense which says that we should strengthen our weaknesses for the most improvement. And in the coaching situation, the teacher who is being coached is finding out what their natural talents are for creating comprehensible input, and these talents can be quickly converted into well-developed strengths. The less productive work of “damage control” (building up weaknesses) is done through reflection on other people’s practice. I think that this really people up to not have to try to be Blaine-Laurie-Ben-Susie but rather develop into their own style.

    I also see an analogy to the general concept of teaching language to comprehensible input first. Students need to see and hear well formed model of language from the teacher, rather than their fellow students who are just learning. They absorb good form through continuous exposure to great models. Similarly, with the strengths-based coaching model, everyone is focusing on what is well formed in the model. Everyone is getting good demonstrations of how to do things while they’re watching someone else be coached. The affective filter is being lowered by the focus on positive feedback, making everything more fun and easier to learn.


    1. Thank you so much for this response and reflection Carla! I wish that you could have been there…this model really speaks to YOUR strengths. I love that you see the connection between the coaching and the teaching method. We have been looking for a way to align the two and you have expressed it so clearly!

      with love,

  3. Oops, I may not have addressed your first question. Coaches do not “teach” skills in sessions…that is the role of the presenters. Our role is to follow up sessions by working with the smaller groups of teachers that volunteer to come in rather than attend another session or workshop.

    Donna and Katya have graciously incorporated coaches into their beginner presentation and have worked with us to try to present a skill and then allow time for practice as we circle the room or meet with small groups.

    As with any teaching situation, we often end up reteaching skills during that time or later in the coaching room. We have been working in order to be able to “demo” any particular skill on command so that a participant can see a model whenever it is needed. We continue to work on that goal. Having a variety of languages per group can also complicate that a bit, but we love the challenge.

    The elementary track and the more “advanced” track has also built in more and more time for practice…..which, as you know, is what people really need.

    Blaine spoke with me at the end of the conference to let me know that as a result of these changes, he is directing ALL presenters to build in practice time for participants in their sessions for next year. I would love to see that happen, but as we know, all good things take time. (or somebody to just go out there and make it happen) 🙂

    Not sure if that answers the question…but there it is.

    with love,

  4. Hello Terry,

    It’s not about never saying that anything is wrong…it’s about pointing out possible areas of growth one on one to the teacher, not in front of a crowd of strangers.

    Coaching is available for any participant from total beginners to very advanced practitioners so coaches must converse with the teacher prior to the teaching session to see what needs the teacher would like to have addressed.

    Skills are clearly listed on the wall so that any teacher may look for, or work on, a particular, specific identified skill.

    The beginner group numbers over 100 so this small group opportunity is vital. A teacher can “hear about” a skill, or see a skill modeled by an expert, but needs the chance to see it close up and/or try it him/herself in order to be able and willing to use it in the classroom.

    The paradigm is this:

    Look for what works.
    Practice what works.
    Improve on what works.

    American teachers are also much aligned in schools today and this approach doubled the numbers of teachers that we had willing to stand up and practice compared to other years.

    I would love to observe your program…I am sure that it is amazing.

    Coaches are also NOT the instructors, so that does change the set up quite a bit. When I am working with a smaller group I can focus on/train for critical skills and then coach those particular skills. As instructor and coach I can do much more “coaching for growth’ because I have a relationship built with those teachers.

    What we have found is that people are often very aware of their problems….they do not have the confidence and/or experience to find the solutions. Our goal is to offer them options and let them choose the one that works best for them. Once that message was clear, teachers began to observe others in order to trouble-shoot for themselves.

    Prior to this summer, a great number of teachers just did not feel that they had the ability, or perhaps the permission, to do that. The result was a great deal of conversation and collaboration….as opposed to criticism….which no one was responding to.

    Because “showing someone how to do something and offering respectful but accurate corrections to help them reach that standard.” is only effective when the recipient is open to what is offered, we chose to offer that information privately after feedback from students and observers.

    It may also be that the culture that Chinese teachers have learned/taught in has created a mindset that accepts correction without personally offending the recipient. The vast majority of teachers raised and trained in the U.S. do not have that mindset…and after the treatment they have received in the past few years…they are not at all open to corrective instruction.

    I’m not worried that we will “overdo” the positive. The goal is to be specific and connect the action of the teacher to the responses of the students. “You were great!” is nice but not useful. “You slowed down when students asked you to and they could then understand you more clearly.” is useful, particularly for teachers who are just beginning to identify and develop these skills.

    Saving my pennies for a someday trip to watch you in action in Hawaii!!

  5. How are basic skills built in this approach?
    We coach multi-levels extensively at Hawaii using live coaching during the day (actual classes taught by trainee teachers, with a coach in the room out of sight of the students), off-line practice-style coaching at night, and reflection sessions based on notes taken live by observers using an online service while teachers are teaching actual classes. We have found that if we don’t teach skills, they don’t appear in the teacher’s teaching, and that live coaching is one of the most effective means of teaching skills use in a class situation. The teachers almost all opt for live coaching during their teaching, saying it makes them feel supported and guarantees their success. They typically reflect in the feedback session about what was different from what they would have done without the coaching going on.
    I am by no means against making teachers feel safe and heard. I do wonder what the right balance point is. Just as is the case in many school initiatives, I worry that going all the way over to a “never say anything was wrong” approach loses some of the effectiveness of showing someone how to do something and offering respectful but accurate corrections to help them reach that standard.
    Our situation may be a bit different, as we are training teachers who have already “declared” for TPRS (some are new, but they are going to a four-week immersion experience and know they are expected to teach during it) and we have no need to “sell” the method. We also have a lot more time to work with far fewer teachers. We certainly don’t say only negative things, either, but we have placed our focus on producing skills that teachers can take back to their classrooms in the most reliable way possible. I don’t think we could get teachers into the classroom to teach within that four-week period if we used this means of coaching. But again, it’s a different paradigm we’re working in. I thought it was interesting to contrast the approaches to coaching and the situations being used to take teachers from no-TPRS to being able to do it independently in their own classrooms.

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