The term teacher has taken on many variations over the years. The term I hear most right now is “learning designer”. I like that. I mean, I wanted to be fashion designer for most of my life. So, as a traveling education coach to learning designers, I have found the best coaching advice from the one and only Tim Gunn. While I read a lot of books to hone my coaching skills, I learn most of the best stuff from my favorite place: Project Runway. Tim Gunn is basically my coaching guru. I just finished watching the Project Runway rewind episode of the best Tim Gunn moments, and I was reminded of all the things I’ve learned from this designing Yoda. So, here are 5 lessons I’ve learned from Tim Gunn:
- Tell the truth. The best way to build trust is to be truthful-even when it’s hard. Give people credit. They know when you are sugarcoating. Find the seeds of great, but weed the plant. Otherwise, it will choke. I think this is the hardest part of coaching. You want teachers to like you. I’ve learned that it’s not as important that they like me as it is that they trust me. That comes with truth.
- Believe in people. 99% of the time people are trying to do what they think is right. Sometimes they have a bad day or are influenced by things that lead them astray, but rarely are they intentionally trying to do something the wrong way. They may not know another way. Believe that they want to do what is good and help them do it ...in their way.
- See the person. Tim Gunn works with designers, but he sees them as individuals. His conversations and critiques address that person as an individual. Sometimes he consoles, sometimes he laughs with them, sometimes he celebrates. When a teacher that you are observing tells you her mother is in the hospital and she’s waiting to get a text to find out what’s wrong, put your notebook down and ask her what’s going on. Let’s face it. We all have lives outside of that classroom. There are deaths, sicknesses, divorces, marriages, babies, and just plain life that happens 24 hours a day. Sometimes you have to put away the notes, data, lesson plans and just listen or hug or hear.
- Let it go. If you give a harsh critique, you’re not going to be liked...for a minute. Let it go. Tim is the mentor because he knows his stuff and he knows how to help people grow. You don’t see him question himself after he’s given someone a hard critique. He lets them soak it in. He knows they know he cares about them. He walks out and comes back the next day like it is what it is...a new day.
- Use your save. I love that Project Runway enacted the Tim Gunn Save a few years ago. Sometimes, it is needed. There are those times when the judges don’t see the things that he sees. That save has gotten some designers to fashion week! (childhood dream...seriously...moment of silence) Sometimes, that is what a teacher needs. As a coach, I am often a bridge between teachers and admin. There are times when teachers need a Tim Gunn save. I see things or get to see the thinking behind decisions that admin don’t see. The fact that I don’t have admin training has been incredibly beneficial as a coach. I can look at things from a different perspective. At times, I have had to go to bat for someone. I’m okay with that. Sometimes, they deserve fashion week.
Teaching is hard. Coaching is hard. We all need somebody to be on our side. If you are a coach, I can recommend plenty of books that will serve you well, but you might start by simply watching Project Runway! After all, aren’t we all learning designers?