Teacher, Coach, or Superhero?

When you were a child, did you think your favorite teacher was a kind of superhero?

Photo by Ali Kokab on Unsplash

I recently had the opportunity to serve as an alumni coachee at the Berkeley Executive Coaching Institute during the in-person institute held at Berkeley. When I took the certification course, it was completely online and I saw the talented and skilled faculty through my Zoom screen. When I arrived at the Berkeley Faculty Club on this very hot day in October, I saw some of the incredible faculty that taught me during my course. Benjamin was playing the piano. Jennie came over to give me a hug. I saw Doy and Praew in the distance. It felt like celebrity sightings! These were the skilled and thoughtful people who taught me so much and I was actually seeing them in real life. I was surprised by my reaction. I am an adult and know that these are real human beings even though I saw them only on Zoom. Why did they seem so supernatural and out of this world?

Teaching and coaching rely heavily on the relationships that people build from human to human. I think when we see people who intentionally build safe and caring environments and work so hard to create connections and support growth, they seem larger than life. It is their impact that we feel so greatly when we see them in person. Sometimes, that feeling can be overwhelming.

I recall being on the other end of this as a teacher. One day when I was well into my teaching career, I was grocery shopping with my own children near the school I worked in. As I pushed the cart down the aisle, I heard a surprised scream, “Priiii??!!’ I turned to see one of my first-grade students standing on his tiptoes, ice cream cone in hand, lots of ice cream on his face around his giant smile. “What are you doing here?!” He asked me this with so much surprise and elation. I explained to him that I was shopping for groceries with my kids. As you can imagine, many questions followed. I wondered at the time about the level of surprise as he just saw me earlier that day in the classroom. I do think that many of my students believed that my existence was only within their orbit and in reference to them. Hopefully, I too created a safe, comfortable, and trusting environment and relationship and they felt that impact. I am human and I know that was not 100% always the case even though it was my intention. 

So, are we superheroes? Or are we humans who prioritize building relationships and creating environments that foster growth? The Berkeley Executive Coaching Faculty skillfully and intentionally created an environment that allowed many different types of learners to grow, reflect, and challenge themselves. As a teacher, I recognized many of these skilled moves. Here are some tips I have witnessed and learned along the way. They are vital for leaders of all types and in all fields.

Tips I have learned along the way.

  • Listen. I am still working on this skill myself. It has a tremendous impact when you do it well.
  • Model vulnerability. Make it okay to mess up and learn from your mistakes.
  • Practice compassion and empathy. My meditation teacher describes compassion as when loving-kindness meets suffering and that we need to practice compassion to stretch our capacity. 
  • Intentionally Build Trust. Use the Trust Equation from The Trusted Advisor to self-reflect on your practice.

Teaching and coaching rely heavily on the relationships that people build from human to human. This is the solid base of the work that coaches and teachers do with clients and students. It is a critical part of being a teacher and a coach to intentionally and purposefully build environments and relationships that foster growth, build trust, and create positive impact. This work takes time, thought, and intention and it is essential. Building the relationships and the space are some of the hardest and most important parts of the work we do.