Dialogical Coaching?

Listen...I am not going to deceive you. Dialogical coaching was not "new" to me. I have had the opportunity to learn from a few Jim Knight books AND attend his training on "Better Conversations". But sometimes... you just aren't ready to hear information until a specific time. One of those moments came about at ASCD's Empower18 Conference.

As an instructional guide, I nerd out on coaching. Coaching books. Coaches training. Coaching articles, webinars, blogs...you name it and I want to learn. What can I say?! I LOVE the idea supporting my peers as they seek to provide the best instruction for our students. I also believe in partnership rather than a hierarchy within schools. One of the most powerful learning experiences around coaching was Cognitive Coaching. The CC approach highlights the internal capacity of professionals. At its core, CC advocates for paraphrasing and using meditative questions to walk an individual through their thinking. This facilitative approach is excellent to build up teachers and ensure that coaching remains focused on the recipient and not vice versa. I believe in CC. I have seen it work wonders. But I have also felt like there were times I did not fully meet the needs of my colleague by attempting to avoid sharing my ideas. Giving suggestions is where coaching can get murky. So, in general, I have avoided it.

Cue Jim Knight's "Every Teacher Deserves a Coach" presentation at Empower18. 

As I listened to Jim present, I appreciated rehearing some of the learning I have happily gulped up from previous experiences with his Instructional Coaching Model. But then I heard something that had not struck me before. Why now? I don't know. More context? More learning? More experience? 

Here is what I heard. There are three types of coaching. 

  • CC seemed to fit well into the facilitative coaching approach. Facilitative coaching was the zone I was comfortable in. 
  • Directive Coaching was a hard pass for me. Not my job. Not my vision. Not my goal.
  • But then...Dialogical Coaching...
Excuse my messy notes. You should see what my mind following Todd Whitaker looked like! Hint: it's not pretty. 

Excuse my messy notes. You should see what my mind following Todd Whitaker looked like! Hint: it's not pretty. 

Dialogical Coaching: an explanation

Dialogical Coaching is all about partnership. Thinking together! It begins in the facilitative realm to ensure that facilitation is not the only thing needed, but then...it moves into the sharing of ideas. This was it! This was where I struggled.

Dialogical coaching is about shared thinking to identify the best solution for the situation. 

In CC, we switch hats to collaboration or consultation when facilitation is no longer working. But with a dialogical approach, you simply offer choices. Multiple options. Different ways to address a potential problem so that the individual receiving the coaching has the opportunity to choose what works best in their context. It's not about giving advice. Dialogical coaching is about shared thinking to identify the best solution for the situation. 

Dialogical Coaching: an experience.

Like any nerdy learner, I was excited to put this AHA into practice. So after arriving home in Ankeny at 11:30 pm the night before, I came to school running on the fumes of excitement. I had an appointment scheduled with Karen, a colleague and friend. Karen loves Social Studies and is willing to try new things to keep her teaching fresh and to better engage her students. This year, Karen had focused attention on personalized learning. As the final quarter of the year quickly approached, Karen was ready to plan for three final personalized learning experiences. Through a facilitative approach, I was excited to hear that Karen intended to use the experiences as scaffolds-- adding complexity as the students moved from one experience to the next. Karen expressed wanting students to have choice in their process and product during all 3 experiences. During our conversation, we identified pace being the component she most desired to maintain control over. After all, the year is quickly drawing to a close. This is where Karen found herself stuck and I had a few ideas.

I suggested: You could give kids a pacing guide. Tell them where you would like them to be and when OR You could conference with kids multiple times a week as accountability for their progression. Karen liked the idea of conferencing but was concerned the conferencing would limit her availability to all students. Good point.

So I suggested: You could create a reflection document that students have to complete each day. In the document, students could be expected to share their goal and evidence for each class period. Karen loved the idea, but noted that goal setting was something her 6th graders were still developing. Together we thought through the problem and decided to gradually release the goal setting responsibility to allow students to learn how to control their own pace. Project one would have goals set by Karen. Project two would have goals set as a class, Project three would have goals set independently. Through partnering, Karen and I had identified a solution that worked best in her context! Awesome!

Dialogical Coaching: a reflection

When I think through the process I had with Karen, I am so excited about the potential. Jim Knight explained that facilitative coaching is an incredible tool, but often people are coming to you because they are stuck and would like suggestions. Just like Karen. Dialogical coaching gave me a context for doing it without feeling like I am telling someone what to do in their space. Karen said she appreciated the experience as she was, "stuck and [dialogical coaching] helped [her] move forward with where [she sees] the program going."

Thanks, Jim Knight and ASCD for an amazing conference that impacted my coaching within hours of being back at NMS. 

If you are interested in Jim Knight's books, I suggest The Impact Cycle and Better Conversations!

Share an experience you had with dialogical coaching below. I would love to hear from you!