Encouraging Risk-Taking Through Trusting Relationships

This fall kicked off with a new course in my grad program that is focused on the ISTE coaching standards along with a project that is centered on utilizing some of the coaching standards we have been learning about in a practical way in my school building. Moving into the role of a coach has had me thinking about how a coach starts off the process of mentoring and what strategies can help start a peer mentoring relationship be successful.  

The 1st ISTE coaching standard is titled “Change Agent”. You can read it below: 

ISTE-C Standard 1: Change Agent 

Coaches inspire educators and leaders to use technology to create equitable and ongoing access to high-quality learning. Coaches: 

a. Create a shared vision and culture for using technology to learn and accelerate transformation through the coaching process. 

c. Cultivate a supportive coaching culture that encourages educators and leaders to achieve a shared vision and individual goals. 

I started off by reading a book in coursework titled “Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration” written by Les Foltos. Foltos speaks to the lack of collaboration in the modern-day educational system due to an outdated model that relates schools to a production-line in which students are the products. However, we know that this thinking needs to change. For this to happen, we need to emphasize students working to possess the “Four Cs”: critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. We must first start to change the process of planning with educators at the forefront. 

Foltos also talks about the power of peer coaching and how through a mentorship, educators can start to reflect on their practices and can move together towards increasing students’ ability to poses the Four Cs. But how do we do this? How can we ask other educators to be raw in their self-reflections and then require them to take the uncomfortable step to make a change? This led me to my research question for this module:  

How can a coach create a relationship that encourages risk-taking with their learning partners? 

When I began researching this topic, I thought to myself how would I feel if someone came into my classroom and wanted me to change the way that I did something… especially if I didn’t know them very well. And I immediately was irritated at the idea. I would feel that they were criticizing me and would not appreciate it. However, if this was a trusted person, with whom I have a relationship with, I wouldn’t mind at all! This helped me to realize that if I am going to be in a position that is asking educators to make a change in their teaching, that I need to first have a relationship with them.  

I found a great article titled Peer Coaching Drives Change, you can read it here. In it, Sterman speaks to the importance of peer coaching to help influence change in a school. She mentions that peer coaching is one of the greatest ways to improve climate and culture in a school, while also giving educators the opportunity to reflect on their teaching and improve student learning. The part that resonated with me the most in this article was how Sterman acknowledges that change is challenging. She writes “change is incredibly difficult, no matter how necessary the transformation or how noble the aspiration”. I could not agree with this more! Sterman then goes on to speak to the idea that “change moves at the speed of trust”. If an educator does not trust the peer coach they are working with, they are not going to be as likely to go through the trouble to make a change in their teaching strategies.  

Below you will see “The Building Blocks of Trust” 

This image helps to illustrate the ways in which a coach can create a trusting relationship with their mentee. Without having compassion, communication and commitment… you will not be able to build a relationship in which you can focus on collaboration or ability. To me, the most important aspect of a trusting relationship is for your peer to feel cared about, that they can speak honestly, and that you are making a commitment to continue working with them.  


In “How Great Coaches Ask, Listen, and Empathize” (read it here) author Ed Batista focuses on how a relationship can begin to form the compassion piece of the puzzle by the coach asking questions that help them to understand the entire story, actively listening to their mentee, and then empathizing and relating to their mentee. These three steps help a coach to show their peer that they are fully engaged and care.  


Foltos speaks about the importance of norms and creating a space at the beginning of the peer coaching relationship that allows both members to discuss how they will communicate. Norms help both sides to vocalize the expectations that they have for the relationship. Setting communication norms (how you will communicate, how often, about what, etc) establishes a purpose for conversations and ensures that both members are respecting one another’s understanding of the relationship. 


Committing to the peer coaching model is also incredibly vital for success. It is quite challenging to achieve a trusting relationship if both members are not committed to the process and the purpose behind the coaching.  

A little goes a long way: 

Here are a few ways that you can start the process off strong with a new mentee in a peer coaching relationship 

  • Setting up reoccurring meetings (2 times a month, 2 times a week, etc.) 
  • Creating norms for communication (how frequent is appropriate to send messages, will you answer your emails only between a certain set of hours, etc.) 
  • Following through with previously agreed upon items (creating next steps for both members to have ready for the next meeting) 
  • Being present during meetings (no phones, no distractions, active listening) 

What ways do you focus on building trusting relationships? 


Batista, E. (2015, February 18). How Great Coaches, Ask, Listen, and Empathize. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2015/02/how-great-coaches-ask-listen-and-empathize  

Les Foltos. (2013). Peer Coaching : Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Corwin. 

Sterman, C. (2018). Peer Coaching Drives Change. NAESP. https://www.naesp.org/principal-supplement-septemberoctober-2018-champion-creatively-alive-children/peer-coaching-drives-c 

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