Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Epic Fail? Nope, just a First Attempt In Learning

I know it's counter-intuitive to start an entry reflecting on appreciative inquiry by using the word, "fail", but I really love the re-thinking of the word expressed above. I've been attending a conference (re-framed as "Literacy Leadership Camp") set on the beautiful shores of Lake Simcoe and am finally having the opportunity to "flex my coaching muscle" as it were. In wrapping up my PLP Connected Coaching course this week and with another school year ramping up, I am finding myself in a very reflective place.

Over the last few days, I have repeatedly found myself in situations where I am coaching individuals. Part of it is because of the conference and the focus on leadership (it's been a fantastic experience and I will blog about it separately), but part of it is that I am actively seeking opportunities to practice the skills I have been developing. I'm a little late to the party, but hey...

My previous post,"My Journey as a Connected Coach" explored some of my thinking about the course -- and the fact that I was disappointed with my performance in it. I really didn't apply my skills, so of course I was unable to feel confident about the course or my role as a Connected Coach of appreciative inquiry.

BUT, as Steven Katz stated about two hours ago, "nothing breeds success like success". This is a basic tenet of appreciative inquiry. In acknowledging my own successes this week in coaching people I have just met and coaching via email two teachers (one of whom I have yet to meet), I am starting to feel a bit more confident in appreciative inquiry.  The feedback sheet I completed for the course is still riddled with level 2s, but I feel like I am finally working towards level 3 in a number of areas (and inching closer to level 4 in others!). I have surprised myself this week -- I didn't intend to coach people, but I find I am starting to live and enact the tenets of appreciative inquiry.

I was able to engage in deep listening, paraphrase, validate, discuss successes and passions with the coachees, and ultimately, guide them towards new actions, all while not just telling them what I think or what they should do.

I have been most challenged by the idea of starting with the successes and the positive. Too often, our system (admin, school leadership, teachers, parents, even students) are too focused on the weaknesses. We discuss the problems, the challenges, the barriers... I love the re-framing of appreciative inquiry. The idea is to coach people, often through questioning, to wonder about possibilities and move towards their achievement of their ideas.  What if? What's possible? What do you dream of for your students? For yourself? What would your life be like if you realized your best intentions? 

This last question had my mind spinning for the last week; it really resonated with me during an online session.  I think it's so full of possibility that I am having trouble articulating what I want.  I need to dream big, determine what I really stand for, and determine how to live that. Plan my actions so that I can foster this thinking in others.

If I realized my best intentions...

Sunday, August 18, 2013

My Journey as a Connected Coach

Copyright: PLP Network

I began my last post with an aspiration: "In my current job, facilitating professional development is an expectation. But, I hope to do more than that: I hope to facilitate professional learning."

I was coached to aspire by my wonderful PLP Network Connected Coaching instructor/mentor/coach, Lani Ritter Hall (@LaniHall). Fundamental to this coaching model is appreciative inquiry:

"Connected Coaching adopts a bit of a different paradigm -- SOAP; this is coaching through the lens highlighted above -- strengths, observations, aspirations, possibilities." 
The model is appreciative of an individual's strengths and assumes positive intentions. Moreover, a coach approaches a coachee through a questioning lens as demonstrated by this series of questions Lani posed to us early in the course:
"Do you see strengths based approaches: 
  • focusing on the positive, are optimistic?
  • seeing problems and needs as opportunities?
  • seeing every new relationship as an opportunity to connect that person to others?
  • identifying peoples’ strengths and gifts?
  • loving to unearth other peoples dreams and visions?
  • treating everyone as peer – of equal value but not the same?"

Copyright: PLP Network

It's been a sometimes difficult course for me: trying to keep up with the online workload during the summer has proven challenging, other commitments took precedence, and on the whole, I have not given it my best effort. I'm disappointed in my own performance as I had hoped to build better relationships with the other participants and learn so much more. That said, I still believe I have learned a number of things from the course (as outlined below). I will continue to build my toolkit and aspire to become a better coach.

Below, in bold, are the coaching standards as outlined by the PLP Network.

The Connected Coaching standards from the PLP Network:

Persevere in exploring ideas and concepts, rethinking, revising, and continual repacking and unpacking as they build upon and assist in uncovering strengths of those they coach.

I will persevere. As I shift back into the school year, I hope to continue the process of rethinking, revising and repacking ideas with my colleagues. I especially look forward to discussing their strengths as a starting point upon which to build our discussion. I look forward to exploring the SOAP protocol (rather than SWOT analysis) in order to maintain an appreciative stance.

Our system of education generally does not encourage system leaders to build on an individual's strengths; too often, we focus on the weaknesses and the gaps in the system and try to effect change from the outside. I very much agree with the notion of re-engaging teachers in their own learning, re-igniting the passion for teaching that they have. I will persevere in shifting my own thinking and practices towards an appreciative inquiry stance.

Engage in discussions on difficult or messy topics from an appreciative inquiry perspective to increase confidence and self efficacy.

I love talking about teaching; I love to discuss what we're doing, why we're doing it, and how to make it even better for everyone involved. The challenge for me will be to let others do the talking and to really focus on my listening. Fundamental to the appreciative inquiry perspective is the need to paraphrase, actively listen, and ask great questions. Once again, the PLP Network has provided great tools to facilitate this process. Additionally, my co-learners in the course have been building a great tool-box for us to use.

Use activities to create a connection to the content and context, to oneself, and to those who are part of the learning community at school and online.

There are so many great tools and protocols that have been introduced throughout the course. I am only beginning my learning in using some of these tools. I've had opportunity to run protocols in face-to-face settings with some of our staff (especially protocols from National School Reform Faculty and the Facilitator's Guide to the Adolescent Literacy Guide). I'm looking forward to trying more of the online coaching. One of the most difficult parts of doing this course was the fact that it was outside of the school year and as such, I had difficulty in applying the skills I was learning in a meaningful context (that is, in my school board). Opportunities were provided to interact with people and groups seeking coaching, but I found this difficult (especially as the timing didn't work for me). I look forward to exploring this new approach in the fall with my colleagues.

Collectively review and analyze with an open mind and without judgment all and many perspectives on coaching.

I feel that I have been doing this for some time (and this is what led me to the course). My previous posts explore some of my learning as an instructional coach. I am finding it difficult to declare myself a "competent coach" of the appreciative inquiry stance. I like that it explores possibilities and encourages educators to be their "best self". However, I still worry that the term "coach" implies "expert" and I never want to take an "expert" stance.  I see myself as a co-learner. I very much want to work collaboratively with colleagues to wonder, to think out loud, to explore possibilities, and generally, to facilitate educators' learning. As they say, "the journey has just begun!"

"If you want to build a ship, then don’t drum up men to gather wood, give orders, and divide the work. 
Rather, teach them to yearn for the far and endless sea."  
 - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

"Panorama View of Pacific Ocean from Point Lobos", Copyright: Jacob Mederos