George Lucas Educational Foundation

Coaching Students Through Change

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It can be frustrating to watch student behaviors that detract from personal or academic success: breaking classroom norms, getting into peer conflict, demonstrating a lack of motivation, and so on. “Why won’t they just change?” we might ask ourselves. I’d like to shift that question to “How can I help my students create change in their own lives?”

We know that kids do well if they can, but what’s the next step once we recognize that they need some help making a change? As teachers we can be in a unique position to be supportive adults in a student’s growth journey - but how do we make the most of this opportunity?  

To truly help our students change, we must first see change for what it is: a process, not an end goal. One way to conceptualize this is the Transtheoretical Model Stages of Change. Change is not a static action, but a dynamic process of contemplating, preparing, and maintaining behavior shifts, and does not always follow a linear progression. When we recognize that our students are in this process, we may better understand how to be a counsel to their change process. By matching our interventions to our students’ place in the process, we offer more supportive counsel.

For example, if my student is constantly getting into fights with peers but doesn’t think that’s a problem, my next step can’t be asking her to fix something she doesn’t think is broken. Instead, I want to help her reflect on how her actions are working out for her. I might ask non-judgmentally, “Hm, I noticed that you and your friend are at it again. What does that make you feel like during class?” and listen to her answer without inserting my own opinion. The goal is to support the student to notice cause and effect in her own life, rather than being told by others what she should and shouldn’t do. Through awareness-building, the student might then start to come to a place of labeling the behavior as problematic, and increase her motivation to find some solutions. On the other hand, if a student recognizes an area where change is needed, is motivated to make the change, and is reaching out for support, I can then offer strategies and action steps, matching my support to what he needs.

Ultimately, we are not the driver of change for our students, but a counsel to their own change process. Being a counsel to the process means that we let go of our own need to control outcomes in our students’ lives. Our area of control is typically pretty small. We can control our own actions, responses, and way of being, but not those of our students. This doesn’t absolve us from trying to help - but when we let go of the idea that we are going to control or force change our students, it allows us to do the real work of helping to influence their process. We then move into the role of guide, mentor, and coach, and open ourselves to the mess and joy of the journey.

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Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

Alex, I think this is the key: "Our area of control is typically pretty small. We can control our own actions, responses, and way of being, but not those of our students. " Learning how to keep that in mind can be crazy making, can't it? I like the perspective that Hall and Hord have on school change and I think it really can help us understand the ways people move through change as a natural part of living.

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