Monday, October 5, 2015

Coach Clarity: Push Past 'I Think'

No more "I think..." in coaching conversations! I have noticed when working collaboratively I begin to suggest next steps with 'I think' and suddenly others stop thinking. Sometimes this reflects disengagement, this first suggestion made is accepted and pursued; no one else voices their thinking--I only wish that was because my thought was the ideal. Other times teachers seem to feel my opinion is right "because of your position you know what is expected of us, so what you think is what we will do." What starts as an invitation, a sample to warm up a brainstorming session- ends thinking.

'I think' is problematic, not only because it stops others' thinking, it diminishes what follows. I once-probably multiple times, told a teacher, "I think that lesson was creative." The implication here is that others may not feel the same way; although possibly true, that is not particularly useful information. Identifying specific aspects of instruction or the activity which were creative, without qualification, is a more authentic, powerful compliment.

The ambiguity of 'I think...' is another reason to remove it from coaching conversations. Upon reflection I found I have used the phrase which will no longer be uttered when I mean: I feel, I believe, I hypothesize, expectations are, evidence implies, research shows, my gut tells me, et al. How can I expect others to think, or express what they think when it is used in so many ways.

How to change this habit of ambiguity:

I think you should try to chunk that content into smaller bits for students. STOP! What do I really mean? Research shows that lessons shouldn't be longer in minutes than the age of your audience in years. Chunking is an instructional strategy to create mini-lessons. I can support you with resources, including co-planning and co-teaching.

I think your lesson went very well. This comment is filling space that does not need me to fill it! Instead ask a great question: How were your students' responses to instruction -or the activity- different than you expected?

I think you don't care about other teachers. This is a feeling-based judgment that does not support problem solving. Instead: Your students have been late for interventions the past three days; what support is needed? A clear statement of the problem begins a path to solutions.

My last argument is the reason 'I think' must be removed from all professional dialog: 'I think' gets in the way of collaboration
I think homework is a waste of student and teacher time. I think homework is great for practicing and responsibility. Opposing opinions like these are often attributed -incorrectly- to teaching style and will block collaboration. I think this, you think that-there is an impasse. You won't change what someone else thinks by telling them what you think. These teachers have reached separate conclusions and do not have common understanding. Instead facilitate research or a dialog about the benefits and drawbacks of homework (you may find similar feelings about worksheets) to begin to find common ground.

Eliminate 'I think' and continue thinking about how and why!


  1. I love this! Yes, let's banish that phrase from our coaching conversations so that EVERYONE is thinking! Great post. Thanks for participating in the #educoach challenge!

  2. Great reasons to consider eliminating "I think" from our language. I find that using questions can really make the engagement of colleagues greater and can result in better (and more-likely-to-be-implemented) strategies. I must say I have a gut feeling that when I say "I think" what usually comes out of my mouth next is a clunker.

  3. Hi there! I'm visiting your site as part of the #educoach blogging challenge.

    Your suggestion is so simple and yet powerful. Using "I think" can also perpetuate the belief that others hold that as a coach, you know it all - which in at least my case, is so far from the truth. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  4. Hi Barb,
    I love this post. Language is SO powerful. I hadn't considered the subtle messages that using 'I think' conveys. I can see how it weakens the message and can also shut down a conversation. I'll be avoiding using it too!

  5. I love that you not only point out the issues with "I think" statements, but you also provide alternatives! Powerful post that provided me with a new goal :) Thanks!

  6. Great thought-provoking post! I'm going to be much more intentional about recognizing when I am starting to say "I think" during my coaching conversations this week. Thank you!

  7. By embracing the Internet the coach can add additional services to their Coaching Business.For more information:Coach Mannheim