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!

The Negative Impacts of Our Strengths?

During a conversation yesterday, I started to reflect on a pivotal experience that lead to extensive personal and professional growth. If you'll indulge my reflection, here is my story.

In a Coaches training during the summer of 2014, I was challenged to think about my strengths. I would generally think of my self as a fairly reflective person...so picking out strengths was pretty easy. 

  • Loyal 
  • Caring
  • Passionate about what I believe in
  • Analytical
  • Able to learn and synthesize information quickly
  • Driver
  • Highly Expressive

Then...they asked us to slim it down to 3. 3 characteristics that most accurately convey who we are?! Hmmm...that was going to be a bit more challenging. I remember writing and crossing out ideas. Repeatedly. Listen, I am an analytical person. This challenge was not easy for me. I may (or may not) have leaned over to my close friend and asked for help. This is what we arrived at:

  • Passionate about what I believe in 
  • Highly Expressive
  • Able to learn and synthesize information quickly
  • Driver

What?! I struggled to settle on three...so four worked fine and the process wasn't too bad. But our next steps were humbling in the best possible way. Honestly, this single experience impacted me personally and professionally from that day forward. We were challenged to think about how our strengths can negatively impact others if not managed properly. Yikes.  So I started the list...

  • Passionate about what I believe in 
    • Overwhelming
    • Off-putting
    • Talk too much
    • Frustrated easily by those not on the same page
  • Highly Expressive
    • Dominated verbal & nonverbal communication
    • Forgets to stop & listen
    • Too blunt
  • Able to learn and synthesize information quickly
    • Assumes everyone is on the same page as me
    • Misses out on social learning opportunities
    • Alienates those who can't do the same (processes information differently)
  • Driver
    • Controlling
    • Not good at delegation (which leads to burn out)
    • Wants things done my way
    • Seen as not flexible or rigid

"Oh my gosh..." I remember whispering, "I am such a jerk." My sweet friend replied, "You are not a jerk! But sometimes people might see you that way."

I cannot control how others PERCEIVE me, but I can control how others EXPERIENCE me. 

It was like a light bulb flicked on and illuminated multiple experiences from my past. My entire adult life, I had been told that I was intimidating. Each time I heard it, I fell discouraged. I love people. I care about people a lot. I have never wanted someone to be intimidated by me. But...I could not and cannot control the perceptions of others. Which is precisely the point of the exercise. I cannot control how others PERCEIVE me, but I can control how others EXPERIENCE me. 

Here are the strategies I developed after identifying the icky, icky impacts of my strengths if unmanaged. 

  • When working with others, choose not to be the first one speaking.
  • Try to clarify PRIOR to adding information.
  • Summarizing the thoughts of others is key.
  • Value ideas even if they are different than mine.
  • Check my response both verbal and non-verbal.
  • Slow down.
  • Remember, in every moment, we are always better as a team. 

Since I am on a trip down memory lane, I sought out my reflection after completing this professional development. I thought I would share it below:

"Perhaps the best place to start a personal AIW local coaching reflection lies in the more intimate, lower half of the coaching diamond. My journey to becoming an AIW coach coincided with some other life-changing events including my first pregnancy and my first child. Decidedly the conglomeration of these events has led to one of the most challenging and rewarding years of my personal and professional life. In fact, the original draft of this reflection was written on my smartphone in Gmail while in bed lying next to my newborn son. It has been in moments like these and the ones that I will discuss below that I have learned invaluable things about teaching, learning, and, most of all, about myself.

The beginning of my development into an AIW coach started with embracing who I am. I admit, on our first day of coaches training, as I scribbled out my strengths and shadow-sides, I became transfixed with the less than desirable outcomes of my personality. I missed that my passion drives me to learn deeply and often inspires others as I communicate with enthusiasm. I ignored that my ability to take in information, contextualize and analyze it quickly can help others in the process of thinking things through. I overlooked how my outgoing and friendly personality makes others feel welcome. I was unaware of the simple fact that my work ethic drives change. Instead, I focused on my tendency to lack balance, railroad others, make snap judgments, talk too much, overwhelm and make people feel under-valued. I found myself wishing that I could be the person that just wants to make everyone happy. I was so misguided. Understanding and accepting who I am is not only important in my life, it is essential to the strength of my AIW teams. Without a doubt, "people focused" individuals are needed, but so are drivers. Trying to be anything other than oneself will only result in the malnourishment of an entire group; the unit is healthier when individual parts are varied.  Groups are healthiest when each part is growing professionally and personally."

Now I am a little bit older, I have two babies rather than one. I am quickly becoming part of the "older" group of teachers. I have had a billion experiences, failures, and opportunities to grow. Still...I will always appreciate this exercise because it helped me accept myself and reflect on my impacts. I use the outcomes from this activity on a daily basis. I have colleagues comment on my changes over the years. Some of the changes are attributed to becoming a mother, but many are attributed to a hard look in the mirror!

If you work with leaders or are a leader yourself, I strongly suggest that you lead your team in an exercise similar to this. I have included a free Presentation and Graphic Organizer to use if it would be valuable. 

I would love to hear your strengths and the impacts of those. Share your thoughts with me! 

Mind the Gap?

                                    Graphic Source

                                   Graphic Source

The first time I heard "most resistance to change is not related to a will issue..." it felt like a breath of fresh air. I believe in my colleagues. But I have, also, felt the sting of resistance as I lead learning experiences. At times, I found the reactions of my peers devastating. Why were my friends reacting to new learning with such frustration? I couldn't reconcile what I knew (the teachers I work with care deeply about kids and do great things) and what I felt (the teachers I work with are frustrated with new learning related to best practice). This is why   "Mind the Gap" has been so powerful. It is not about me!

When working with others, believing the best is key. Always. Simple as that.

Very few people actually have a will gap, meaning that they are completely unwilling to embrace x, y, or z. Instead, there is usually more to the story! It is so easy to get caught up in the frustrations of others and miss what is really happening. So here is a simple piece of advice: When working with others, believing the best is key! Always. Simple as that.

Mind the Gap gives coaches a frame of reference when helping a peer work through their frustrations. Knowing where someone is coming from is essential in communicating value and care for an individual. Here is an example.

Last year, when working with a young teacher, Jenni. I noticed Jenni increasingly frustrated with the behavior of her students. The kids were being disrespectful and she was over it. Why were they treating her so poorly?! She is an engaging teacher who loves kids. Quickly, the frustrations grew to disenchantment. Jenni started to wonder if middle school was for her. Luckily, she had multiple levels of support via myself, a learning team coach, and a peer mentor. Together...we quickly identified the gap. Jenni had not been trained in a district initiative which served as a cornerstone for building relationships and managing student behavior. Without this training, she was feeling cut off at the feet. This is where the various levels of support got to jump in. We helped brainstorm some temporary solutions for Jenni's classroom and ensured that she experienced the training as soon as possible.

Knowing Jenni's gap was essential in this situation. She was missing a skill. Her frustrations weren't about the initiatives or even the kids. They were truly related to needing some skills she did not come to Nevada with. Now Jenni is still the same engaging teacher who loves kids, but she also has tools to further build relationships and manage behavior. 

The applications of Mind the Gap are endless within a coaching environment. I can tell you, from experience, that keeping these things in mind helps me depersonalize frustration and do what I am here for- support my peers. 

If you are interested in learning more about Mind the Gap, I suggest reading Elena Aguilar's "The Art of Coaching". Interested in a shorter read? Check out this article.