What You Say vs. What They Hear: The Importance of Clarity in Coaching

One should be aware of the distinction required in terms one uses in their profession.  As a coach, I’ve often wondered about some of the terms I’ve heard for the pairing of a coach and teacher.  For example, some models refer to the teacher as a “client.”  This seems an odd choice if no money exchanges hands.  It also implies that this is a transactional relationship that is predicated upon delivery of a concrete product.  I’ve never liked this term, but it may be accurate for some situations, especially those where a coaching service has been hired for a specific purpose.  However, if a coach is assigned to a school, one would hope that the relationship between them and their faculty is not exclusively transactional.

Another I’ve heard is the term, “coachee,” which seems odd to me, mainly due to the strangeness of the sound of the word.  It seems like it should be an adjective, as in “isn’t that a little too coachy sounding?”   Further, the term seems to suggest that coaching is something that is being done to the teacher, and by referring to them by a term other than teacher, seems to remove their job title and transform them into another being.

Both “client” and “coachee” take the teacher and set them apart from the coach, which is not the ideal situation.  The coach and teacher should be together in their work, moving from start to finish side-by-side.  This is why I prefer the term, “partnership” to be used in what I do.  This takes out the language that sets those engaged in the coaching work apart from each other, and uses a collective noun that implies an equality of participation.  So, instead of saying, “I’ll be working with my coachee/client” I’d either use the teacher’s title, or the term, “partnership,” or both.  For example, I might say, “I’ve got a partnership I need to schedule an appointment for.”  Or, I might say, “ I have a teacher I’m going to meet with about their work.”  It may seem petty, but to me, I feel there is great importance in saying what you mean when you’re working with people who depend on your clarity.

One more note, and I’ll step down from my soapbox.  I learned that asking a teacher if they need help is not as successful as offering to support their work.  When one starts from a stance of being able to help someone, that assumes that there is a need for assistance, that the teacher is in some sort of compromised situation that can only be remedied by your presence.  It can be taken as presumptuous from a teacher’s perspective if that’s the approach from a coach to them, leaving them wondering, “why does this person think I need help?”  And if the coach is working in a principal directed model, then using the term “help,” becomes problematic real fast.  Offering, or even stating that you’re hoping to support a teacher in their work has a much more positive sound to it.

While this may sound like a bit of political correctness, it isn’t.  Really what it is, is calling things by their right names.  This type of thinking is hard work, and requires one to consider how they sound to others, and not only that, to really try to get a sense of what is being heard, despite the intent or the words used.