Should a coach be curious?

On Twitter recently I have noticed a few people talking about the qualities that a good coach might have. One of the qualities that has been raised more than once is that of being curious. During the last #educoachOC chat, I had this interchange with two respected voices in educational coaching, Christian van Nieuwerburgh and Chris Munro.

snippet of conversation from the last #educoachOC Twitter chat

snippet of conversation from the last #educoachOC Twitter chat

And it got me thinking. What might be the focus of a coach’s curiosity? Does being of valuable service as a coach involve being curious? Does being curious mean showing genuine interest in a coachee and demonstrating eagerness to hear the details of their experiences? Is it about paying close attention or finding out more? Does a coach’s desire to find out more make a coachee feel valued and empathised with, or does it sidetrack the purpose of the conversation?

The notion of coach curiosity rubs against the grain of Cognitive Coaching in which the coach–while encouraged to be open, inquiring, flexible, caring and compassionate–is instructed to set aside the following unproductive patterns of listening:

  • Autobiographical: This is ‘me too!’ listening in which the listener is compelled to share experiences of their own that they see as relevant to the speaker’s experiences. The coach needs to restrain their urge to be drawn into thinking or speaking about their own stories.
  • Solution: This is listening in which the listener is drawn to thinking up their own solutions to the listener’s problems. Rather than problem-solving, the job of the Cognitive Coach is to assume that a) the coachee knows their own context and problem best, and b) has the capacity to solve their own problems, using the coaching toolbox to help that person access their own internal capacities and thereby developing their self-efficacy.
  • Inquisitive: This is curious listening in which the listener wants to know more about the details of a particular situation. However, the purpose of a coaching conversation is not for the coach to know intimate details, or to provide advice, so what purpose does curiosity serve in a coaching conversation? Who is it helping?

This is what Art Costa and Bob Garmston write about inquisitive listening:

Inquisitive listening occurs when we begin to get curious about portions of the story that are not relevant to the problem at hand. Knowing what information is important is one critical distinction between consulting and coaching. As a consultant, a person needs lots of information in order to ‘solve the problem’. As a coach, a person needs only to understand the colleague’s perspective, feelings, and goals and how to pose questions that support self-directed learning. (Costa & Garmston, 2006, Cognitive Coaching: A Foundation for Renaissance Schools, p.65)

Coaching is a form of self-restraint: setting aside personal preferences; refraining from telling one’s own stories; withholding one’s own ideas or advice. Coaching is a service and the coach a servant. The coach is mirror, conduit, bucket in the well, water on the grass; a gentle influence that helps the coachee be the best version of themselves, and move towards where it is that they want to go with increasing capacity. In Cognitive Coaching this capacity development is focused around the Five States of Mind: consciousnesses, craftsmanship, efficacy, flexibility and interdependence.

So, should a coach be curious, or is curiosity a form of self-ish, rather than self-less, listening? If a coach’s questions are focused on seeking to understand the inner details of a coachee’s experiences, is that of value to the coachee? Often I find that as a coach I don’t need to know details. The coachee knows the details of their own situations and their thinking is benefited by being able to focus on where they want to go, rather than recounting minutiae for my benefit.

When I am being coached—my thoughts flying and forming and jelling and tumbling—I don’t necessarily want to be diverted by the well-intentioned interest of the coach. A coach’s curiosity to know more can sometimes take me from my own desire to move forward in my thinking, backwards or sideways to having to explain the specifics of my situation. My coach might not know the context or background of my issue, but I do. I don’t need help knowing the situation I am in; I need help to think my way to future solutions and successes. I want a coach to be present, to listen attentively, to hear, to paraphrase, and to ask me well-crafted questions that I haven’t thought to ask myself. Coaches might ask themselves: ‘If I’m being curious in this conversation, is that about me and what I want to know, or is it of benefit to the coachee?’

What do you think? Should coaches be curious, and if so, about what? If coaches are on a need-to-know basis, what exactly do they need to know?

Reflecting on my PhD graduation ceremony

my Tudor bonnet and graduation shoes

my Tudor bonnet and graduation shoes

My Tudor bonnet brings all the cred to the yard

At my PhD I worked so hard

Wherever I lay my hat that’s my home

Its soft black velvet quells imposter syndrome

The PhD is seemingly never ending. Its end is emotional. Completion and post-PhDness is identity-bendingly confusing. And in Australia, with no viva or oral defense, there’s no clear end to the PhD. No full stop. Certainly no celebratory exclamation mark. I’ve reflected that my PhD ended with a whimper, not a bang.

So, while I have tended to avoid graduation in the past (only thus far attending my Grad. Dip. Ed. ceremony because my mum was graduating from her PhD that same night), the messiness of post-PhD identity wrangling, combined with an inner desire for a rite of passage or moment of celebration, drew me to attending my PhD graduation ceremony. While I have enjoyed some other milestones – submitting the finished thesis, having thesis amendments signed off, having the published thesis book in my hands, being conferred with the doctorate and getting the doctor title – a university graduation ceremony seemed to offer the acknowledgement and closure I felt I was missing. It was the last PhD milestone. The final carved stone obelisk at the end of one road and the beginning of another.

How I felt attending my graduation ceremony, 5 months after conferment of my degree

how I felt attending my graduation ceremony (5 months after conferment of my degree)

Graduation didn’t disappoint.

It was a great reason to design and purchase some graduation shoes, but also to procure a Tudor bonnet, age-old symbol of the doctorate. With its stiff round brim, silken tassels and floppy (impossibly-soft!) velvet top, this hat is at once unflattering, medievally ridiculous, and a long-standing symbol of scholarship. The red satin facings on the front and sleeves of the academic gown (which is burgundy at my university), and the accompanying Cambridge hood, represent the doctoral degree. Altogether it is quite the ensemble.

It was a lovely ceremony that allowed PhD graduates to feel acknowledged and respected for their achievements. We processed in past the seated audience, leading in the academic faculty procession, and were the first of the night to receive our degrees. Each of us was introduced, with our name and a blurb about our thesis (its title and description), at which point we walked across the stage to be personally congratulated by the Chancellor and to receive our degree. We were then invited up onto the stage to sit behind the Chancellor, professors and other academic faculty, a gesture welcoming doctoral graduates into the community of scholars.

Graduation was a wonderful opportunity to bring together some of the people who had been supportive during the PhD. It was an excuse to share this ritualistic formality with family and friends. As PhD graduates, we and our guests had VIP tickets that allowed us to mix with other PhDs, their families, their supervisors (including mine; I’m her 24th PhD completion), the faculty and distinguished guests, in a private room beforehand. There were more drinks and refreshments following the ceremony.

I can highly recommend attending your PhD graduation. After a journey that is often isolating, long and difficult, without a clear end, the ceremony was special, memorable and about coming together with your favourite people (and an applauding auditorium).

I now feel more able to rock those robes, not just with a saucy dash of red lipstick, but in terms of owning the achievement and assuming-subsuming-becoming the doctoral identity. I’m more ready to continue to move on from the PhD into The Next, The Beyond and The As-Yet-Unimagined-Faraway.

#graduationselfie #rockyourrobes

#graduationselfie #rockyourrobes #lovemybonnet

Is teaching an art?

close-up of Monet's Nymphea at the Musée de l'Orangerie

close-up of Monet’s Nymphea at the Musée de l’Orangerie

How can we appreciate an artist’s work or know an artist’s worth?

We can see the genius of Frida Kahlo in one of her paintings, get a flavour of her life at La Casa Azul in Mexico City, or understand her dramatic story arc through a comprehensive exhibition of art she produced throughout her life. We can marvel equally at one of Monet’s early Impressionist works as at the spectacular exhibition of his Nymphea in the naturally-lit oval rooms of the Musée de l’Orangerie. One of Salvador Dalí’s paintings can give us insight into his skill, style and artistic significance, but a visit to his Teatre-Museu in Figueres allows us to more deeply know his life, work and mad genius.

Richard Olsen tweeted in the #educoachOC chat this week that he considered teaching an art, and that he thought that when being appraised, teachers’ teaching should be looked at as a body of work, rather than as individual pieces. You can see Richard’s tweets, which got me thinking, in the screenshot below. His view is consistent with those who warn against the compartmentalisation and atomisation of teaching into disparate, de-contextualised bits.

There are also, however, those who advocate for clear maps and standards of teaching in order to develop shared understandings of what good teaching might look, sound and feel like. My own school uses the Danielson Framework for Teaching as a tool for developing our shared language of teaching and the precision of our reflections on and planning for teaching and learning. These reflections are also based on lesson data snapshots of practice, which provide the basis for Cognitive Coaching conversations. Our approach seems to fit into Richard’s notion of “critiquing specific pieces”, rather than looking at a body of work. Yet fine-grained lesson data and consequent reflections allow teachers to drill down into aspects of their teaching practice, while acknowledging that one lesson is only ever a moment in time, a snapshot of practice, a through-the-keyhole-peek into their teaching as a whole.

Many, including Robert Marzano, describe teaching as an art and a science. The notion of blending art and science, creativity and systematisation, resonates with me. It was the approach I took to my PhD research, one that I outline in this paper in Narrative Inquiry. I have blogged about viewing research as sculpture, as art-esque conversation, about teaching Art, and about textiles as political metaphor for academic writing and identity.

Elliot Eisner’s body of work explores education as artistry and connoisseurship. Eisner advocates for the arts as a frame for re-imagining education as innovative, artistic practice, rather than as a cookie-cutter or assembly-line one. Conceptualising teaching as an art, or arts, or artistic, assumes a complexity, a non-linearness, a rich tangled web of intangibles and un-pin-downables.

Is teaching art or science? Or both? Is it inappropriate to look at a single work, a close-up of the brushstrokes or the marks made by the sculptor’s tool? Should we only talk about teaching in terms of bodies of work, portfolios of evidence, the whole and not the parts? Can Michelangelo’s David be separated from his Pietà, the Sistine Chapel ceiling and his unfinished ‘slaves’? Can or should meaning be sought in a singular laboured-over artwork, or in a dusty pile of experimental sketches found in the attic? Or should we only assess or seek meaning in a body of work accumulated over time?

How might a teacher’s performance be appraised? How can the whole, as well as the parts be considered? Of what use is the performance of teaching for observations by management, versus relaxed one-on-one discussions with students or an experimental lesson tried for the first time? And of what use are the ‘individual works’ such as unit plans, student work examples, lesson data and external test results? Data from particular lessons can provide a tangible, depersonalised third point for professional conversations, just as a particular work of art can be representative of an artist’s work. An exhibition from a particular period of an artist’s work can give a broader picture of their work during that time. A posthumous exhibition of their life’s work can provide the broad narrative of how their work has evolved. These are all different but meaningful lenses for appreciation and critique; each is a useful way of viewing the work and worth of the artist or teacher.

On the one hand, teaching does become a body of work over time. A life’s work for some. This gestalt includes ever-expanding subject knowledge, evolving pedagogies, relational skills and behaviour management tools. Many of the things teachers do become internalised, less-deliberate moves, part of a way of being. Perhaps a teacher should not be judged by a lesson that they teach or one set of student results, but there is value in each piece of work being reflected upon and closely considered for the understandings it might surface about that teacher’s practice; the details it might reveal; or the points of celebration, critique or change it might incite.

#educoachOC Chat 11: Differentiating Coaching

Tonight (or this morning if you are in the northern hemisphere) is the #educoachOC monthly chat. We’re talking diffefentiating coaching.

I’m really interested in what the global edu-coaching community has to say about how we might tailor coaching to address a variety of coachee needs and contexts.

#educoachOC

educoachOC

This Monday, on 5 September, our monthly #educoachOC chat will be exploring the topic of differentiating coaching.

If coaching is viewed as a catalyst and support for professional growth, then the process should be able to be applied to any individual’s contexts and priorities. Often we see coaching as a model differentiated by its open processes and intent to focus on the individual being coached. But does any coaching process, framework or approach fit most individuals and their growth needs?

In education, coaches are involved in coaching people at a variety of places in their careers and personal lives. People come into a coaching conversation with different priorities, different starting points and different needs. Early career teachers. Mid-career teachers. Veteran teachers. Highly reflective practitioners. Less reflective practitioners. Those struggling with change processes, work contexts or personal events. Aspiring leaders. New leaders. Middle leaders. Executive leaders.

As coaching is about helping…

View original post 235 more words

Power of a nerd herd: Ode to my people

Nerd Face Emoji

It seemed Liv had spent the last eighteen years in search of her people, and in one sudden explosion of fate, they’d all been brought together in this place in time. Her eyes filled with tears as a sudden awareness filled her. They were all nerds.” ~ Danika Stone, All the Feels

The word ‘nerd’ is often given a bad name, being associated with relational ineptitude and being socially outcast. But for me nerdiness is about finding joy in knowledge: attaining it, interrogating it, producing it. Immersion in it. Consuming, curating and creating.

I love it when a nerd is positioned as a central figure of a story. One example is astronaut and botanist Mark Watney, the protagonist in Andy Weir’s 2011 novel The Martian. At one point Watney, stranded on Mars alone, yells, “Hell yeah! I’m a botanist! Fear my botany powers!” Watney embraces his nerdiness, calling himself a “space pirate” and invoking the metaphor of Iron Man when he catapults himself into space near the novel’s end. The story arc of the novel, and the Ridley Scott film in which Matt Damon plays Watney, is carried by this nerd-hero and his melding of science knowledge and affable humour. Watney is the epitome of the lovable nerd.

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on those people in my professional and personal spheres who make me feel like I’m at home when I’m with them. Many of these are fellow nerds. That is, we connect over our mutual love of something geeky (reading, writing, teaching, research, literature, coaching, art, science, story). We have a shared joy in finding things out and in doing purposeful work.

These are family and friends who, while I was completing my PhD, asked me about my research and listened to my responses. They are colleagues who get excited about a project we’re working on. Who co-plan courses, lessons, cross-curricular opportunities and assessments with a fervent enthusiasm and a twinkle in their eye. Who understand, or at least watch with knowing amusement, when I get excited about a new academic text or education book arriving on my desk (O, Book Depository, my faithful friend!), or about a paper being published. Who smile patiently when I cyclone into their office full of ideas busting to get out of my head or words tumbling out of my mouth. They are the past or present principal who continues to show an interest in and support of my work. Who sometimes says ‘yes’ and sometimes challenges me to think and do more.

They are the mentor or coach who waits while I work through my messy thoughts and helps me to arrive at cleaner ones. They are the colleague and bloggers who trust me enough to listen to their unformed thoughts or read their still-emerging ideas.
They are the professional friend who coaches me on Voxer or takes a phone call to help me work through a professional problem or issue. They are my PhD supervisors who gave me the space to explore some off-the-wall ideas, while challenging me to construct airtight rationales for non-traditional approaches. They are the well-known academic who shares their expertise via social media, flattening hierarchies and transgressing time zones. They are the conference-goer who stops me in the corridor after my presentation to talk for an hour, before moving our conversation to the long lunch it deserves. They are the co-author I’ve never met face to face, or spoken to on the phone, but with whom I’ve collaborated, co-written, and whose thinking and writing has pushed mine into new crevices.

They are my kind PLN who engage thoughtfully with me on Twitter, respond to my blog posts and meet up with me in cities around the world. Twitter is full of generosity. In my PhD acknowledgements, I thanked family and friends who had shown an interest and those in the social media world who had provided an antidote to isolation when I felt alone in my own head in the PhD wilderness.

Those people who feel like my tribe provide a space that is at once safe and challenging, celebratory and questioning, inspiring and industrious. It’s a place I can be excited about an idea, a text or a possibility. I can geek out and nerd it up without risking an eye roll or a snigger. I can share narrow interests and pursue broad passions.

In a world in which we are more connected than ever, we can be buoyed, empowered and supported by our connections, our people, our herd, our tribe, our squad. We can pay forward and give back. We can support each other’s nerdy excitement. In the karmic circle of knowing, learning, doing, being, leading and caring, we can share our knowledge, contribute our time to help others on their journeys, listen to others’ stories and celebrate others’ milestones.

Thank you to my fellow nerds who give me a sense of belonging and allow me the luxury of knowing that my personal brand of nerd has plenty of places to call home.

Achievement unlocked: I think I am Nerd Face Emoji.

Achievement unlocked: I think I am Nerd Face Emoji.

 

Schools can lead and generate research #AHISA16

Rottnest rainbow, by Deborah Netolicky

This week I’m attending the AHISA (Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia) conference, which brings school leaders from around Australia together for a few days of visiting schools, conferencing, and networking. In my daily life, conversing with educators, many of whom I’ve never met, in other spaces and places tends to happen through social media (Twitter, blogging, Voxer). This week, however, via the AHISA conference, I’ve had the pleasure of catching up with those I have met and know well: my first principal and a variety of leaders with whom I have worked in Perth, Melbourne, and London. As someone who has worked in independent schools in Australia and the UK (for over 16 years, except for 6 months at a London comprehensive) this conference visit has been in some ways like watching my career flash before my eyes, as I’ve reconnected with various colleagues I’ve worked with at various times and places across the last decade and a half. It’s a reunion and a catch up with those I’ve worked over the years, a chance to talk with current colleagues about how the conference relates to our current work, and a place to make new connections with school leaders from around the nation.

In the conference sessions, I’ve been following a thread that is important for my own current work: professional learning for teachers and leaders, especially that emerging deliberately out of specific contexts. These sessions are relevant to me and my school because I have led a whole-school, evidence-based strategic intervention: a coaching-for-professional-growth model. This role has involved, since 2012, canvassing research literatures, writing papers, presenting to the school Board each year, and leading teams of teachers to prototype and iterate a context-specific model to support teacher and leader growth. This intervention was top-down (driven by the school’s strategic vision) as well as middle-out and bottom-up (developed by teams of teachers, led by me and overseen by the school Executive). It has meant generating data around the impacts of our work and tracing the influence of the model on teaching, learning, leading, school culture and the organisational language of professional conversation.

At the AHISA conference, the best workshop presentations for me have been those that have outlined how a school or system has applied systematic, research-informed, evidence-generating methodologies, with a clear aim.

Dr Gary Jones (2016) points out that schools can use evidence to make better decisions. He elevates the following from Barends, Rousseau and Briner (2014) as a frame for evidence-informed decision making in education:

  • Asking: translating a practical issue or problem into an answerable question;
  • Acquiring: systematically searching for and retrieving the evidence;
  • Appraising: critically judging the trustworthiness and relevance of the evidence;
  • Aggregating: weighing and pulling together the evidence;
  • Applying: incorporating the evidence into the decision making process; and
  • Assessing: evaluating the outcome of the decision taken.

Evidence might include: published academic research that quantitatively or qualitatively analyses empirical data; data, facts, and figures gathered from the school; specialised professional experience and judgements of relevant practitioners; and values, views, and concerns of relevant stakeholders. Schools can value and consider a range of research, as well as tacit knowledge and the richness of their own context.

As Dylan Wiliam points out in his 2016 book Leadership for Teacher Learning (and elsewhere), research cannot tell teachers and schools what to do, but can inform their decision making and their efforts. We can look to research for likely-to-be-productive avenues in education, rather than for recipes or silver bullet solutions to be unquestioningly followed.

In fact, schools can lead research, not just follow it. They can generate research, not only consume it. School leaders and teachers can be researchers, can apply research thinking, and can be critical questioners of research literature. They can challenge each other, participate in respectful debate, investigate contradictory positions, or consider multiple possibilities. They can pilot, prototype, and iterate new ways of doing things, while collecting data on the progress and impacts of interventions.

It has been great this week to connect with past, current, and future colleagues at the AHISA Leading, Learning, and Caring conference. It has been even more pleasing to see the work of some educators and schools in applying evidence-informed and data-generating design thinking to their complex work. Still, there are those who could more rigorously interrogate their assumptions, practices, and uses of research literature. There are those from whom others would benefit if they contributed their thoughts to edu-dialogues. Many of us would benefit from listening more closely to others. Whether affirming, querying, or dissenting, it is a range of thoughtful voices from multiple perspectives that together can shift the narrative, practice, and evidenced understanding of education.

PhD: The gift that keeps on giving

 

my bespoke graduation shoes

my bespoke graduation shoes

I submitted the PhD last October. I finished my corrections in March. My doctorate was conferred in April. I wrote blog posts about completion: how it felt, struggling with my doctorness, what happens in Australian PhD examination.

So it should feel long ago done-and-dusted by now, right? I should have nothing left to say about the PhD.

Yet I still have PhD reflections and I feel as thought I am still having PhD experiences. I’ve remained in a doctoral Voxer group because the after-the-PhD bit still feels like part of the PhD journey. I continue to blog about the PhD as I am still reflecting on its processes, products and outcomes, some of which emerge overtime.

Here are some of the ways that the PhD keeps on giving …

Academic writing

The wonderful thing about completing the thesis and having it passed is that it frees you up to write more tightly-woven pieces from your PhD literature, method, data and findings. Pat Thomson has recently written a very useful post on how to find journal articles in and from the doctoral thesis. You can look for interesting pieces relevant to particular journals, new ways of looking at your data, specific fields in which your work has something to add. This bit—in which you realise that your work has something to offer scholarly conversations and that you can create new offshoots of writing so that it to be heard in appropriate fields—is empowering and even fun. I’m even becoming better at seeing peer review as a growth process in which I am privileged to participate, rather than an ordeal to be endured.

The three solo-authored peer-reviewed journal articles I’ve had published (or accepted for publication) so far include one on coaching as a professional learning intervention, one around the use of literary metaphor as method in academic writing and one on my findings around professional learning (in press). I have a co-authored paper on method that is under review. I have an ethics paper I’m working on with my supervisors. I have a book chapter in preparation which re-considers my school leader data through a new lens, in a previously unfamiliar field. I have more ideas about what bits and pieces of my thesis might have to offer before I retire it. The more I read and write, the more possibilities I see for reporting on or re-seeing my PhD work.

Acknowledgements

I’ve been told that my PhD adds credibility to my voice when I present and to the work that I do. My thesis has been downloaded from the university website over 250 times since it was uploaded in March. I’m not sure where this number sits in terms of metrics for dissertations, but it does suggest that my thesis is being read (or at least filed away with the intention of reading it).

I’ve been acknowledged via the 2016 ACEL New Voice in educational Research scholarship, which I’ll be receiving in Melbourne in September. My thesis has also been nominated for the Outstanding Research Award in Cognitive Coaching.

Formal recognition of the completed work of the PhD remind me of its worth. Informal feedback, too, in which scholars or PhD candidates get in touch with me to let me know how my work has been influential for them, is also thrilling.

Graduation and the floppy hat

While I’ve been conferred my doctorate and therefore can call myself ‘doctor’, my actual graduation ceremony isn’t until next month.

This is when I get to go up on stage to receive my printed degree. I didn’t attend graduation for my undergraduate degree, but for the PhD I feel like I need this rite of passage, this moment of celebration. To embrace the pomp and find closure in the ceremony. It’s somehow not enough to get the piece of paper delivered to my letterbox.

Unlike Finnish Doctors of Philosphy, who get to wear a top hat and sword as part of their regalia, I get to don a gown, a red-satin-lined hood and the black velvet Tudor bonnet (aka the floppy hat). While I joke that I’ll be wearing my doctoral headgear to the Spring Racing Carnival (Melbourne Cup Day, here I come!), it’s likely that I’ll get more wear out of my graduation shoes, which I designed for the occasion (via Shoes of Prey). After tweeting the above photograph of my shoes, Hilary Davidson pointed me towards her great article on shoes as magical objects, the perfect symbol of PhD power, transformation and completion.

Continuing my research

While my choice has been to continue to work in my school (rather than, for instance, pursuing an alternate career in academia), I’ve also been recently appointed into an honorary research associate role at my university, which allows me to continue to read, research and write in academia after graduation. So I continue to bestride the worlds of practitioner and scholar. Each world, each role and each project informs the others and shapes me.

*                                  *                                  *

So the PhD is done-but-ongoing.

I’m still pursuing doing good work with good people. I’m still thinking, writing and researching around my PhD, although in many ways I can feel myself moving on from it and away from it. The bound thesis is like a frozen snapshot, capturing a moment in time. So, too, each academic paper. As I grow as a scholar, an educator and a writer, I feel freed to frame my PhD data in new ways and to apply alternate theoretical lenses.

Like a pair of shiny red shoes, the finishing of a PhD is both end and beginning. Designed, created and seductively new. Ready to be enjoyed until worn-out, grown-out-of or kicked to the back of the wardrobe. While in many ways I feel that I’m moving away from the PhD, it also continues beyond its end, a shoe that continues to fit and bring joy. For now.