Article Review: Improving Professional Performance Linguistic Coaching: Helping Beginning Teachers Defeat Discouragement by Paul F. Caccia

The article, "Improving Professional Performance Linguistic Coaching: Helping Beginning Teachers Defeat Discouragement" by Paul F. Caccia (1996) is very relevant to the experiences of beginning teachers in the north. Smaller, isolated Inuit schools are known for high teacher turnover; many teachers originally from the south do not envision themselves as staying in the north more than two or three years. Many teachers hired are at the beginning of their teaching career and may have never taught in an Aboriginal or remote community. Caccia (1996) suggests that linguistic coaching is one way that veteran teachers can help these beginning or new teachers defeat discouragement during these starting years.

When first hired to Netsilik School, I had never previously held a permanent teaching position, let alone lived in a completely different culture. The approaches to communicating with Inuit students and parents varied greatly from the ways I had experienced in the south. As Caccia (1996) states, I feel that the main problem I was facing was "an inability to cope with challenges to (my) authority." I was having power struggles and communication problems that would have benefited from linguistic coaching. Linguistic coaching would have helped me to cope with stress, establish authority in teaching roles and improve performance and attitude (Caccia, 1996).

Caccia (1996) begins his article by giving background about linguistic coaching. The author describes linguistic coaching as a comprehensive approach to effective communication (Caccia, 1996). The author describes that the premise underlying linguistic coaching is that "all speaking and listening can be categorized into some kind of action . . . in which the speaker makes a commitment with the listener" (Caccia, 1996, online). Teachers can learn to work more effectively once they investigate how they are communicating with one another. Caccia (1996) believes that "all speaking and listening arise from a preexisting background of beliefs, attitudes, experiences and emotions. . . [A] host of personal and cultural interpretations influence teachers’ frames of reference for understanding and reacting to each teaching situation" (online). According to Caccia (1996), some of these interpretations are not valid, and invalid interpretations impede the ability of teachers to adapt and perform effectively in their work. For example, a stereotype of Native students is that they are lazy; this interpretation is incorrect but if left unchecked, this interpretation can negatively effect the performance of a teacher and the approach taken to teaching Native students.

Caccia (1996) uses two case studies to illustrate how linguistic coaching can help beginning teachers get beyond frustration and blossom into expertise. The first example deals with a male teacher whose interpretation of being a strong teacher interferes with his ability to communicate to his students. The teacher has blurred the distinction between his interpretation of strength and the fact of being strong; he began to believe that his interpretation of being a strong teacher meant that he could never ask for help. His effort to be strong was actually weakening his ability to teach.

Once trust is established between the coach and the coached, a relationship for improved instruction can start (Caccia, 1996). Caccia (1996) describes the fundamental elements of linguistic coaching to improve communication performance. Meetings are broken into three sections: 1) stating the relevant facts of the communication conflict; 2) describing the reaction of the teacher; and 3) the actions taken in the exchange. The resulting comments are used to develop new interpretations which leads to effective actions.

As the coaching continues, Caccia (1996) believes that the person being coached begins to make more valid interpretations and premises that allow them to develop resilience, clarity of purpose and authority. The author summarizes the fundamental elements of coaching for improved communication performance: identify the performance to be improved, investigate interpretations behind the performance, and make changes by coaching for new interpretations and actions (Caccia, 1996). "By giving priority to externals -- techniques and methods - - many beginning teachers remain trapped in a struggle to reach a preconceived solution without recognizing that their difficulties stem from their perception of the problem itself -- like people in the 1400s trying to figure out how far it was to the edge of the earth" (Caccia, 1996, online). What should be done to figure out problems is to delve deeper into the perceptions behind the problem and determine what interpretations are invalid.

Linguistic coaching is not just for beginning teachers. Caccia (1996) uses the second case study to illustrate how linguistic coaching can help improve the performance of administrators and experienced teachers. It can help teachers to become aware that they may have certain ways of thinking and acting that do not get effective results. Linguistic coaching can be used as an intervention for serious professional breakdowns like teacher burnout (Caccia, 1996). It not only helps the person being coached but enhances the ability of the coach because it forces the coach to be able to communicate and solidify understandings which deal with the same problems of authority, self-confidence and self-awareness (Caccia, 1996).

Finally, Caccia (1996) ends the article by describing how linguistic coaching can work towards creating a climate for learning. The whole building is enhanced by such an approach. Our school has just participated in a two-day team leadership workshop and is beginning to work on solving critical communication problems. By becoming more aware of our communication styles and the perceptions we bring to an issue, we will be able to build better working relationships with our colleagues. Enhanced working relationships will consequently benefit our students. Linguistic coaching is a valuable way to accomplish ongoing growth of communication for all teachers.

Caccia (1996) believes that many of the goals for educational reform can be achieved through the implementation of coaching, with its emphasis on partnership, open communication and continuous learning. Linguistic coaching can help beginning teachers defeat discouragement and veteran teachers become more effective. These are important aspects in providing consistency and long term commitment to northern schools and communities.

References:

Caccia, Paul F. (1996). Improving Professional Performance Linguistic Coaching: Helping Beginning Teachers Defeat Discouragement. Educational Leadership [On-line] 53/6. Available: www. ascd.org/educational leadership.