Posts Tagged ‘coaching’

The most challenging, rewarding work we do in schools happens when we have the opportunity to build a partnership with the school over time. We really love this aspect of our work. Through these partnerships we gain a deep understanding of the school’s culture and priorities, develop meaningful relationships with teachers and often we act as a consistent, driving force for change.

The advantages of having a relative outsider come into the school community are many – but one in-particular stands out to me. At a number of schools, I have reached an optimum level of integration into the landscape of the place. That is to say, I am known and familiar but am still objective enough to see the ‘big picture’ of the school. Because of this, I am able to ‘connect the dots’ of its people and culture in order to design suitable curriculum, engage teaching teams in effective planning and map the actions that will lead to culture shift over time. When speaking about this to a fellow coach recently, I referred to it as ‘standing across the street, looking into the school.’ Close enough to see everything, but with a wide enough perspective to see the whole picture. I strongly believe that there is not enough perspective in our schools – and that there is an urgent need for it. No matter how competent and skilled the internal personnel of an organisation may be, the fact remains that schools are like bubbles encasing small, intense communities that can become all-consuming to those inside them.

Our role as consultants who are practical and passionate about learning and teaching is clear in this scenario:

  • Bring perspective and clarity to the development of school-wide initiatives
  • Model positive, effective relationships with both leadership and teaching staff
  • Bring global education experts and initiatives into the school’s sphere for discussion and application in relevant areas
  • Promote a shared language of learning throughout the school community that reflects a highly consistent approach to culture and pedagogy
  • Facilitate substantive conversations about developing evolving practice
  • Skill the teaching team to provide progressive, differentiated challenges to students across a range of disciplines
  • Support and facilitate exploration and application of teaching strategies that align with the general capabilities of the National Curriculum in order to promote deep, practical understanding of these transferable concepts
  • View ourselves as lifelong learners who have as much to discover from working within a school community as we have to impart.

By modelling these practices, reinforcing the pedagogical beliefs and language that the school wants to build and nurturing real relationships with teachers, we are able to make a definitive difference. The relational aspect of teaching is often emphasised by classroom teachers and educational experts alike – and trusting relationships are undoubtedly at the core of education. But trust must also mean challenge, measured risk-taking and a strong sense of shared responsibility. This is vital when building a high performance school culture – both in terms of teacher-student relationships, and teacher-teacher relationships. As facilitators and coaches on this journey, we need to be deeply empathic towards those who are finding change confronting, but also to send high-expectation messages about accountability, openness to change and developing resilience in the process of dynamic culture shift. We are able to play this critical role because we occupy the space between school and society – and it is this ‘big picture’ view that can sustain schools through transition from what Sir Ken Robinson refers to as ‘industrial-age education’ to a twenty-first century learning community.

The final, critical piece of the coaching for change puzzle is to develop classroom teachers as coaches. One of my colleagues refers to this process as ‘doing ourselves out of a job’ and this is the ultimate indicator of our effectiveness. As we know, the best teaching is that which achieves genuine transfer of the skills we want students to build so that they can apply them to a range of real-world situations. To do as this a coach means being skilled in assisting teachers to develop the skills of meta-cognitive reflection so that they can monitor their mindsets and stay vigilant in evaluating the conscious and unconscious habits and practices that they bring to the learning space. Additionally, it requires us to be able to teach the critical skill of design to teachers so that they become strategic, innovative planners of curriculum.

At present, this seems to be the ‘missing link’ between organised professional learning and implementation of new teaching strategies. The professional conversation often ends after a ‘one off’ session and the ideas discussed remain ideas, nothing more. We must change the way we offer and access professional development so that we see consultancy as a partnership in moving the school forward and give teachers the real, ongoing support they need to be able learn, trial and reflect on their practice. If we can do this, the ‘bubble’ will burst and schools will become empowered places where people can not only see the possibility of change, but with supported, consistent effort, can embrace it with enthusiasm.

I just finished scanning through a fascinating report that I think is worthwhile reading by Secondary School teachers and administrators about “How High Schools become Exemplary”. Now while it is focussed in the United States (and I actually don’t think too much of their educational school structure … and that’s a loooong story there) I think the analysis carried out in this report has some fabulous insights for Australian Secondary Colleges.

Here is an excerpt from the abstract that I am thinking about:

“The main lesson from the presentations was that student achievement rose when leadership teams focused thoughtfully and relentlessly on improving the quality of instruction. Core groups of leaders took public responsibility for leading the charge to raise achievement. Stakeholders crafted mission statements that later helped keep them on track; planned carefully, sometimes with outside assistance, for how they would organize learning experiences for teachers; clearly defined criteria for high quality teaching and student work; and implemented in ways that engaged their whole faculties. As they implemented their plans, these schools carefully monitored both student and teacher work in order to continuously refine their approaches.

Leadership teams succeeded initially because they used their positional authority effectively to jump-start the change process. Then they built trust. More specifically, they demonstrated commitment through hard work and long hours; they studied research-based literature to expand their knowledge and competence; they persevered to follow through on the promises they made; and they found ways to remain respectful of peers, even when asking them to improve their performance. In these ways, leadership teams earned the respect of their colleagues and the authority to push people outside their comfort zones. With cultivated competence and earned authority, they were able to help their colleagues overcome the types of fear and resistance that so often prevent effective reforms in American high schools. All these schools remain works in progress, but they are not typical. Their stories convey critically important principles, processes, and practices that can help high schools across the nation raise achievement and close gaps.”

The report can be downloaded here How High Schools Become Exemplary

This summary reflects completely the work that we are doing in two realms – coaching schools and coaching companies.

We are working with a couple of schools to assist their year 7 teacher teams to redesign the way they approach educating new high school students. Year 7 is a critical year for a student as they come from their primary school communities to a new high school community made up of many smaller groups. Year 7 thus begins as a mish-mash culture that needs to be created and built right from the moment they walk in. However, if the language and the schools’ approach is not consistent this can lead to many transitional challenges as well as poorer learning outcomes. So the work we have been doing with these schools and colleges is to have them identify what is the culture they wish to create and then how are they going to develop it in every aspect of the educational life of the students. From this point we support them in developing classes, rubrics, and curricula that reinforces the culture and language used through out the year level. The process is remarkable and what we are finding is that it ignites the willingness of the teachers to experiment and think from empowering the whole (not just the individual).

Which then leads us to the domain of coaching the company. I discovered a fabulous book through the year as I was coaching a particular financial company called the Speed of Trust (by Stephen M.R. Covey – son of the “Effective Habits” Covey). Stephen Covey clearly and simply articulates the power of building trust and creating trust at the personal, relationship, organisational, market and societal levels. The ideas contained in the book have assisted us in transforming the culture of the company and doubled its profit in the past year. The comment made in the abstract quoted at the start of this blog reflect exactly what Covey was saying. As trust grows so does productivity.

In schools, if we are building a culture, one of the questions we need to be asking is “How are we building trust amongst the teachers, administrators, parents, students, and the community?” Fundamental action taken to build trust will create an extraordinary school.

What do you think?

In last week’s blog we begun a discussion about developing leadership whilst student’s are learning. This week we explore, what John Maxwell calls “the quickest way to developing leadership“.

F.F. Fourneis, in his wonderful exposition Coaching for Improved Work Performance, CoachingImprovedWorkdiscussed four common reasons why people do not perform the way they should:

  1. They do not know WHAT they are supposed to do
  2. They do not know HOW to do it
  3. They do not know WHY they do it
  4. There are obstacles beyond their control

Despite that this was originally written about work circumstances it is apparent that this can also be said about students in a school situation.

The first two reasons are normally dealt with reasonably well within a classroom environment. We provide excellent explicit teaching on the WHAT and the HOW of doing specific tasks. Having well designed assessment rubrics go a long way to providing students with what they need to show that they have develop knowledge as well as skills and capacities.

Reason three, the WHY, is sometimes not addressed well in classes but can be developed with well designed “tuning in” sessions and linking to the students’ understanding in other areas. A strong WHY will have the students engaged, passionate and enabling strong transference of skills AND knowledge.

Reason four, however, is poorly dealt with by many schools, and in fact most people rarely develop the wherewithal to overcome the obstacles that life throws at them unless their survival is at risk!

[Interestingly, a social psychologist at a conference once shared with me how in a survey he performed of his clients he discovered that 6% changed their unproductive habits from advertising, 17% from an emergency (e.g. heart attack, cancer) while over 70% because a close friend or family member nagged them until they changed!].

One can consider that one major aspect of leadership is the ability to overcome obstacles to achieve the goals you set out to achieve. You look at any successful individual and you will find that they failed many times before they succeeded and what made them successful and leaders in their areas was that they learnt how to overcome or get around obstacles (the youtube video below gives some examples of this).

John C Maxwell in his book Developing the Leader Within You suggests that there are only two things that allow for powerful problem solving and leadership: the right attitude and the right action plan.

Given the importance of attitude to being a leader, next weeks blog will go in depth about the right attitude. At this point I just want you to consider that in a content focussed curriculum and school environment the right attitude of students is to give what the teachers want and what the assessments ask for that will give them the best marks. This does not naturally develop leadership.DevelopingLdrWithin

With respect to the right action plan John Maxwell outlined the following process to develop the problem solving approach that will give people the ability to tackle the obstacles they face

  1. Identify the problem – quite often we attack the symptoms not the cause. Identify the real issues that lie beneath the symptoms
  2. Prioritise the problem – quite often we become stopped because we seem to have too many problems or things to deal with. Being able to list the issues and them prioritise them will allow students to grapple with the reality of the situation and learn how to deal with what is most important first
  3. Define the problem – defining what is the problem you will tackle (e.g. a critical question the students will tackle in an inquiry learning project) gives direction to the solution process. Maxwell discusses 4 steps to this aspect
    1. Ask the right questions
    2. Talk to the right people
    3. Get the hard facts
    4. Get involved in the process
  4. Select people to help you in the process – I have observed that many people try to solve problems on their own and get stuck. What I have found is that the answers always lie in community. Consulting as widely as possible will allow for solutions that you, as an individual, have never thought of.
  5. Collect problem causes
  6. Collect possible solutions
  7. Prioritise and select the best solutions
  8. Implement the best solution
  9. Reflect on and Evaluate the solution

You have probably noticed by now that this process IS the process of project-based inquiry learning. Pure inquiry learning, where the students choose a critical question to research and then go about in a discovery approach to answer their question, requires the skills and capacities I have just outlined.

What I ask you to reflect on is … how are you developing your students in the above process EXPLICITLY? Do you have rubrics that the students fill out to train them? Do you have particular practices you use in the class to do this? Do you have specific templates where the students can ritualise this process?

Feel free to comment on the blog!

Next week .. developing the right attitude!

OneMinManIt is interesting when you start reading out of your field how many interesting ideas one discovers that are applicable to education.

Ken Blanchard is one of the world leading experts on management and leadership. He is the author of a series of books called the “One Minute Manager”. He, and his team, have sold millions of books and empowered managers and leaders in a range of industries worldwide in simple and effective approaches to developing leadership and managing their organisations.

In “Leadership and the One Minute Manager” I discovered an interesting table (see Figure 1 below) where the One Minute Manager discusses “Situational Leadership”. The principal behind the approach reminded me greatly of how inquiry–learning, project-based learning can be designed to empower and develop skills in young people. It actually reflects the essence of what Bertram Bruce from the University of Illinois pointed out about the stages that teachers must go through to develop skills in leading inquiry learning (Figure 2).

Figure 1

Figure 1

The table outlines the relationship between four developmental levels and the four leadership styles that a manager / leader would use with the person in that developmental level.

  1. Directing – for people who lack competence but are enthusiastic and committed. They need direction and frequent feedback to get them started.
  2. Coaching – for people who have some competence but lack commitment. They need direction and feedback because they are relatively inexperienced. They also need support and praise to build their self-esteem, and involvement in decision making to restore their commitment.
  3. Supporting – for people who have competence but lack confidence or motivation. They don’t need much direction because of their skills, but support is necessary to bolster their confidence and motivation.
  4. Delegating – for people who have both competence and commitment. They are able and willing to work on a project by themselves with little supervision or support.

So if one was going to develop independent learners who are responsible for their own learning teachers would need to use a variety of leadership styles. Teachers would also need to ensure that the students develop competencies and skills. They need to have the basic knowledge as well as the skills to use that knowledge.

Figure 2

Figure 2

However, how many teachers become stuck using one leadership style? Some are all about directing. Some are all about supporting or coaching. If a teacher does not use the appropriate leadership style to the student (and it gets even more complicated because students can be in different developmental levels for different subjects … and the One Minute Manager actually shares a story about this) then we can actually be counter-productive to learning.

What do you see? Tell us in the comments section of the blog.

Next week we will discuss another aspect of leadership … how do you actually set up your teaching to develop leadership.

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