Tuesday, August 20, 2013

I Totally Missed It!

So, it has been right there is front of me the whole time, my whole life.
Shared by cal.west on Flickr.com
From early on, the experiences in my life pointed me in a direction that I intuitively knew, but was unable to manifest within my career as an educator. I was taught the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” As a youngster, growing up, helping my father to fix a broken lamp, or helping my mother to bake a lemon meringue pie, I watched and learned, but yearned for the day I could do it myself. As a parent, raising my own children who often use me as a sounding board, but they certainly are not looking for me to direct their lives, to tell them what, how, when to do something. As a educator, the innumerable times I heard teachers rail against the newest changes being mandated and feeling that they were not trusted to be professionals in their classrooms. Teaching in my own classroom, the inspiration and passion that blossomed as I developed a new approach or idea for enriching the learning of students. The excitement that bubbled out of students as they engaged in their own learning and self-reflection because of the choices available to them.
Shared through Flicker.com by IceSabre

How did I not see a different way to support teachers, students, and parents when it was so obvious from so many collective experiences in my life ?

It was only after after completing my Connected Coaching course through Powerful Learning Practice and experiencing the power of  Appreciative Inquiry, that I really, FINALLY, Got It!

The Difference
Appreciative Inquiry offers a different approach.
A positive one.
One that builds on strengths.
One that believes in the power to leverage individual strengths to create the most desired future.
Undergirded by three Pathmarkers, Trust Building,  Questioning,  and Facilitating Design Thinking, Appreciative Inquiry empowers individuals to be the difference that makes the difference.

Shared via Flickr.com by Chris Wieland
Imagine the ability to empower individuals to be self-reflective and self-directed learners whose strengths are realized, unleashing their energy and courage to be the best of what each individual can be.
Imagine what we could accomplish.
Imagine how teaching and learning would be different.

What took me so long?   
What teacher doesn’t want the passion they brought to teaching realized as a difference in the lives of children? Unfortunately, the system, bureaucracy, and culture of education also live within a climate of politics, testing, supervision, and mandates. Together they have wrought a world that is not especially conducive to building up and supporting those who need it the most. It impacts the teachers, who work tirelessly, to make a difference helping students as learners but find themselves, instead, caught in a spiraling world of frustration and self-doubt, leading to believing that someone just needs to tell them what to do. It impacts parents, who want everything that is good and engaging for their children worry that their children’s school experience is not what it could be. And, it impacts students, the bedrock of education’s existence, who know, intuitively (just ask them), what would be a better way to learn, yet no one asks, or if they do, they choose not to listen.

The current culture in schools focuses on finding problems, analyzing problems, and fixing problems.  Why is that? According to Leslie S. Kaplan and William A. Owings, authors of a new book, Culture Re-Boot: Reinvigorating School Culture to Improve Student Outcomes,
"School culture may be understood as a historically transmitted cognitive framework of shared but taken-for-granted assumptions, values, norms and actions – stable, long-term beliefs and practices about what organization members think is important. School culture defines a school’s persona. These assumptions, unwritten rules, and unspoken beliefs, shape how its members think and do their jobs.” (pg. 4) Kaplan and Owings state that  “school cultures develop in their unique ways because they once solved problems and continue to serve a useful purpose.” (pg. 7) In addition, the authors say: “Because society, people, objectives, and resources change over time…once useful solutions may no longer function in the organization’s best interests.”

Time for Change
It’s time to step back, reflect, and recognize that we need to refocus, to change our ways. If learning is truly a lifelong practice of keeping up with the changes of the world -- and we know that it is -- then the most important thing is to teach people how to learn. To support learners. To create learners. In other words, what are the ingredients we need to infuse into the culture of school to fuel passion, commitment, perseverance, and life-long learning?
 For me, my AhHA! moment was when I recognized that the Pathmarkers in Connected Coaching were the ingredients that could help to change the culture of a school one person at a time.

    • Build Rapport and Trust
    • Respect Differences
    • Discover Connections
    • Invoke the Thinking of Others
    • Seek Stories that Highlight the Best Experiences
    • Be an Active Listener
    • Paraphrase and validate the Thinking of Others
    • Help Others to Mediate Their Thinking
    • Affirm the Potential Within Others
    • Help Others to See Their Strengths
    • Help Others to Become Self-directed
    • Ask Appreciative Questions

    • Uncover Possibilities
    • Frame and Reframe Aspirations
    • Invite and Engage in All Possibilities
    • Brainstorm Ideas
    • Accept Ideas Without Evaluation or Judgement
    • Design and Field Test Experiments 
    • Encourage Others to Try Out New Ideas
    • Discover What We Learned

Now, just for a minute, imagine what could be. Imagine all of us collectively listening, trusting, questioning, sharing and supporting one another’s visions and efforts at designing and creating.
What a difference it could make!
I’m wondering if you are open to actively listening to someone talking about their capacity, open to asking Powerful Questions of them, open to being a part of facilitating their journey as they take steps to realize the capacity within themselves to discover the “best of what is, to generate the best of what might be.” (Evocative Coaching, p. 24)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Essential Dispositions for Nurturing Passion, Learning and Growth

You've seen the commercials, the ads in the newspaper, the stores stocked full with pencils, markers, notebooks. Yup, it’s that time again!
If you are in the United States, you are getting ready to (or have already) headed BACK TO SCHOOL! You have rested, relaxed and rekindled the passion you have for teaching and the reason you choose to be a teacher, to make a difference in students’ lives. You are imagining the possibilities for this year, having reflected, reconsidered, reworked and re-imagined how this year will be different and even better than last year.

FAST FORWARD...to the opening in-service days when you reconnect with your colleagues, sharing your energy and hopes for the new school year. Then, the district initiatives for the year are introduced along with the district scores from the latest round of state testing. Common Core State Standards, a new writing program, changes to the math program to align with Common Core, a new professional employee evaluation system along with school level plans to address deficiencies related to not meeting Annual Yearly Progress. Your heart sinks, your energy deflates, your positive outlook turns, your belief in your ability to make the difference in your students’ lives waivers.

OK, Let’s REWIND to those moments and feelings just before the district initiatives were announced. What would school look and sound like if it instead nurtured your passions, supported your belief in yourself, facilitated your efforts in trying new ideas and becoming the best teacher or administrator possible?
How would you want a coach to approach you if you were going to commit to really putting yourself out there, being transparent, trying all kinds of ideas, taking risks, to follow learning where it took you?

Let’s take a few stabs at what it is not.

  • It’s not simply having your performance rated.
  • It’s not with a stance of judgement.
  • It’s not by offering advice that was not requested.
  • It’s not by hearing about all of their problems.
  • It’s not with expectation of failure.

Instead, imagine the coach or colleague who approaches you with essential dispositions that encourage and empower you to develop your learning and growth. How would you want them to approach you and interact with you? What would be those essential dispositions? What are examples of the essential dispositions in action? What dispositions could you foster to develop the culture and atmosphere that will nurture your beginning of the school year hope and optimism throughout the school year?


This is the ability to create a safe, supportive environment that produces ongoing mutual respect and trust. Strong, respectful and supportive relationships are at the heart of coaching and learning.
Trust opens our work and dreams to each other and makes possible
continuous improvement of how we teach and what our students learn.
-- Carl Glickman
Taking time and employing a range of strategies to develop trust is a critical first step in coaching and an essential disposition for meaningful engagement. But, what do TRUSTING and TRUSTWORTHY look and sound like? Getting to know each other, sharing interests, family stories, photos, social media ID’s such as Twitter or Facebook help to build an atmosphere ripe for learning and commitment to the group and group norms. Maintaining the initial trust that is built is supported through collectively developed norms. Having integrity, being there for each other, listening to each other, being truthful and open, and keeping promises are all hallmarks of trusting relationships.

This disposition is evident in the ability to focus completely on what another is communicating to understand their intent in the context of their values and goals, and to support self-expression non-judgmentally. How often have you begun to share a story or concern with another and they respond with “A similar thing happened to me...” and then share their own story? Active and mindful listeners focus all of their attention on the one speaking, listening for words, tone of voice, and feelings to hear what is actually being said. They demonstrate respect for and interest and belief in an individual’s strengths, goals, style, and learning. The locus of control is shifted to the speaker because the active and mindful listener recognizes the importance of “self-discovery.” In addition, the active and mindful listener demonstrates appreciation for the other’s perspective, even when it is different from his/her own. Through the use of paraphrasing, clarifying, and asking questions, the active and mindful listener, encourages, explores, and accepts without judgment the expression of feelings, perceptions, concerns, beliefs, and suggestions of the one speaking.

You were all set, had thought through your new approaches to the school year and then the district threw you a curve ball. How do you respond? Are you open to possibilities and welcoming the unexpected? This disposition is evidenced by the ability to shift perspectives and approaches as needed in the moment. It is about a willingness to leave your comfort zone and experiment with new strategies. It is about being a learner, a passionate learner who believes that with trying, collaborating, and experimenting anything is possible. By embracing the unexpected, considering broader perspectives and seeing different, interrelated factors, you will find new possibilities for action. It will require perseverance as you explore ideas and concepts, rethink, revise, and continually re-pack and unpack, resisting the urge to finish prematurely.

Accepting the role of being trustworthy, an active and mindful listener, and open to possibilities is a tall order! The fourth disposition is the ability to integrate and accurately self-evaluate multiple sources of information, and to make interpretations to guide future efforts. As you develop, try, practice and deepen the newly adopted learning and practices the ability to be self-aware and self-reflect on self-directed actions is needed. As you consider your newly adopted actions, think, “What have I learned? What have I accomplished?” A learning stance, reflects from a positive perspective. Energized by our own thinking and accomplishments, expansive thinking is engaged, generating new possibilities, new ways of thinking, new connections, new goals and actions.

As much as the fourth disposition is about self, self-awareness, self-reflection, and self-directed action, it it buoyed by the belief in collective intelligence, that none of us is as good as all of us. It is through collegiality that the efforts and contributions of everyone leads to learning and growth for all. The answer is “in the room,” but it will take trust to emerge from the collective good, active and mindful listening to recognize when you hear it, openness to possibilities to activate it, and self-awareness, self-reflection, and self-directed action to refine and make it a reality.

How will you approach this new school year? How will you continue to kindle your passion and spirit for teaching, learning, and growth? Where are you on the “I think I can” journey of learning. What step will you take today? What will you reach for?

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Design Thinking

We are almost ready to head into the final phases of learning how to be a Connected Coach. The last phases move into crafting the "what do you wonder about?" and with refinements to the question, moving into action research. Tom Barrett, created the image below using ThingLink.

What parallels, if any, do you see to Connected Coaching and other work you do with educators and students?

Friday, August 02, 2013

Coaching: Ten Essential Ideas

Coaching is a challenging job. Change is often not welcome. Being told what to do often results in compliance, not growth and learning. My recent work and learning as part of PLP’s Connected Coaching course has been different. It has showcased an alternative view of coaching, Appreciative Inquiry. One where the individual and their growth is honored. In addition, it has taken that alternative view and added the dimension of coaching online, not face to face. During the past several weeks, ten essential ideas, so far, have emerged for me that ARE the difference that MAKES THE DIFFERENCE.  Let’s take a look at them.

“Seek opportunities to show you care. The smallest gestures often
 make the biggest difference.”
John Wooden

What does it encompass when you trust someone? What do you expect? Building trust is an essential first step in any coaching endeavor.  Building, growing and nurturing trust and relationships is at the foundation of all coaching. How does that happen online? Through many avenues - through checking in with the coachee first, to ascertain where  their thinking and feelings are that day;  through sharing about yourself, your interests, your job, your aspirations; through storytelling and images, that say more than words alone; and by having your ideas and thoughts accepted non-judgmentally. Jumping in too quickly into the focus of a session, can derail trust and the willingness of a coachee to ‘lean into’ the coaching relationship.  While an essential first step, nurturing trust and relationships is an ongoing part of coaching and vitally interwoven with the other essential ideas.



Stories serve as windows into the architecture of {our} psyches and
the longing of {our} souls as well as the platform from which to
build and express new ways of being in the world.
- David Drake

Storytelling is powerful. It invites us in. Invites us to imagine. Invites us to participate. Invites us to re-envision our world as different, something more desirable. By inviting others to share their stories, we become partners looking through an open  window into their perceptions and feelings. The story is the raw material we have to connect and understand the coachee. By listening attentively to a story, the coach communicates respect, acceptance, and appreciation of the coachee. This is turn, opens a space for nurturing personal growth. http://flic.kr/p/HCKLc 
By learning how to see stories as one perspective with alternative storylines, coaches can guide coachees to seek deeper meaning and alternative possibilities from their stories.


“Coaching is helping people grow without telling them what to do.”
- Tony Stoltzfus

Connected Coaching combines a strength-based approach with the positive approach of Appreciative Inquiry. It approaches coaching through the lens of SOAP- strengths, observations, aspirations, possibilities. Together they redefine how we can help others with the process of change. The goal is to not only identify the positive core, but to leverage it in creating the most desired future.

“That which dominates our imagination and our thoughts will determine
our life and character.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

We are what we believe about ourselves. If we focus on negative experiences, problems, and complaints, they we will believe that we are victims, powerless to make a change. On the converse, we focus on the positive, the hopes and dreams of a person in Connected Coaching, By building off of the strengths of a person, they are encouraged and see possibilities.


“...The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person
is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps, the most important thing we ever
give each other is our attention.”
- Rachel Naomi Remen

The quote pretty much sums it up. As a coach...Listen. Listen. Listen. Don’t talk. Don’t tell your own autobiographical story. Don’t give advice. Don’t offer solutions. Do not direct. And, certainly, do not criticize or pass judgement. Clear your mind of everything that is bothering you and on your to do list and listen with everything you have in you - all of the focus and energy you can muster. Along with listening, learning to be comfortable with silence is important. We extol the merits of ‘wait time’ for students. Coachees are no different. Resist the urge to fill the silence with questions. Give it time. Value it. The silence provides an accepting space, where the coachee is in control of the content, timing, and path of their thinking.



"We don't see clearly because we don't see with the eyes of our
- John Eldredge, in Waking the Dead
“It is with the heart that one sees rightly; what is essential is invisible
to the eye.”
- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Listen for the ideas you hear, but also listen for the complete message including the feelings. While there is a lack of ability to read facial expressions, gestures, and mood in an online environment, you can hear the unsaid. You need to look for the things that are said or not said in order to reinterpret that like we would if we were able to use body language.Then translate what might not be said into your paraphrase to see if you got the words but also got the feelings that go along with them. The coach's role is to mirror back thoughts and feelings in their paraphrase. By ‘leaning into’ the coachee’s words, the coach is able to feel and experience what the coachee is thinking and feeling.

While no conversation is guaranteed to change the trajectory of a
career, a company, a relationship or a life- any single conversation can.
- Susan Scott, Fierce Conversations

Well, we jumped ahead a bit, mentioning paraphrase in the last essential idea, but let’s take a deeper look at the power of words in appreciative inquiry. My work and learning as part of PLP’s Connected Coaching course has highlighted the the power of words to make a difference. Mirroring back thoughts and emotions without injecting your feelings, your judgments, your ideas-- without sharing is a completely different way of interacting with others. In a paraphrase, capture the essence of what was said while also reflecting the tone. Paraphrasing helps to bring clarity to a coachee’s thinking. By paraphrasing what is said, the coachee is able to affirm and clarify their thinking. Through affirmation, the coachee feels accepted, valued, and respected. Remember a single word can change an attitude. Learning to be conscious of choosing your words carefully is important. Using the word ‘you’ instead of ‘I’, ‘could’ instead of ‘should,’ and ‘and’ instead of ‘but,’ communicates your belief in the genuine capacity of the coachee and opens the world for them to contemplate their own possibilities.


“Great coaches do not tell people what to think. They point people
in the right direction to find the answers. This self-restraint is one
of the most difficult challenges of leadership.”
- Thomas Bandy

Probably my best quality as a coach is that I ask a lot of challenging questions and let the person come up with the answer.
- Phil Dixon

At the core of Appreciative Inquiry is the belief in the complete capability of the coachee to identify their next step and to learn and grow. It is within them, they may  just need someone to guide them in discovering it. Having built relational trust and validated their stories, we turn to wondering, Now What?  Through questions, coachees are able to discover their own strengths and devise their own outcomes. Questions are asked with genuine curiosity following a coach’s paraphrase. Powerful Questions invite a response from the coachee. Powerful Questions are open-ended, have multiple answers, are phrased to help the coachee consider new perspectives or next steps, think more deeply, make connections, and imagine alternatives.



“Coaching is unlocking a person's potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.”
- John Whitmore, in Coaching for Performance

“I never cease to be amazed at the power of the coaching process
to draw out the skills or talent that was previously hidden within an individual, and which invariably finds a way to solve a problem
previously thought unsolvable.”
      - John Russell, Managing Director, Harley-Davidson Europe Ltd.

“That which dominates our imagination and our thoughts will
determine our life and character.”
    - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Positive Presuppositions are about assuming positive intentions. By inquiring into strengths, we set into a motion the generative power of a self-fulfilling prophecy. As coaches, we speak with a positive intent, believing in the competence, dedication, and capability  of those we coach, no matter what we have seen, experienced, or believe. There is always something positive that is working. The coach’s job is to find the positive to communicate our belief in the coachee’s abilities.  Here, again, choice of words makes all the difference. By stating a positive intent, the conversation turns to talking about positive experiences, those where the coachee has been successful. By focusing on strengths, the coachee uses their experiences as a touchstone to what they are capable of achieving.


When teachers are filled with a sense of their own strengths, vitalities,
and aspirations, and when they are invited to imagine the possibilities
that would make their life and work more wonderful, they get fully 
engaged in self-directed learning. Their energy goes up and their 
resistance goes down.
- Tschannen-Moran, Evocative Coaching

Take time to talk to teachers and ask they why they became teachers. Listen to their idealistic vision of what they hoped to accomplish. Those aspirations are genuine, but perhaps stamped out by the stresses of keeping up with the day-to-day world of education today. How many times have you heard a teacher say, “we aren’t allowed to have fun anymore at school?” How do we rekindle their spirit? How do we tap into their aspirations and realize them? By using an Appreciative Inquiry approach, coaches can help teachers to explore their aspirations - 
values, beliefs, strengths, motivations, and desirable outcomes.

Aspirations are visionary, embracing hopes and dreams, but not easily realized without first considering the possibilities. Possibilities help teachers to imagine what they could do next to begin to process of realizing their true aspirations. Possibilities enable teachers to try out different ideas and to explore different paths of actions. Possibilities unleash a world of creativity, imagining and play with ideas. There are no wrong answers, only possibilities. Wonderings and brainstorming are the means for helping teachers generate possible avenue to experiment with, to play with, to re-envision a path toward the realization of their aspirations.

When teachers see the possibility of learning or doing something
that would help to make their future aspirations a reality, they often
smile at the thought and jump at the opportunity.
- Tschannen-Moran, Evocative Coaching


Twitter, Facebook, and other social media - even largely nonverbal Instagram, which is all about photos - invite us to be storytellers around imaginary campfires, ringed with friends, acquaintances, and family.
- John Timpane

While coaching has been mainly a face to face endeavor, with the increasing use of technology worldwide, coaching naturally moves into online spaces. How does a coach build relationships and trust, facilitate self-directed learning, support a learner in realizing their strengths, and empower them to learn and grow when you are not “Seeing” and “Talking” to the learner? A coach does this through a creative, eclectic use of a wide variety of tools and experiences. A Learning Management System, LMS, is used as the classroom space where assignments and information are shared through the use of video, podcasts, links to online resources, and playlists using www.mentormob.com. Delicious or Diigo are used to collaboratively share additional resources. Synchronous weekly webinars use protocols that have been adapted for online use and a variety of interactive experiences that engage learners in exploring course topics more fully and deeply from differing perspectives. During the week, asynchronous experiences invite learners to explore topics more fully using a range of formats. Learners collaborate in sharing and creating ideas using Google Docs and Google Presentations. The Visual Ranking Tool is useful for working together to rank ideas while  flitsi.com  is useful for taking online polls. Collaborative ranking and polling Collaborative brainstorming is accomplished using www.padlet.com and http://todaysmeet.com. Building trust is essential for all coaching. Online, engaging learning in activities that request information about themselves, and asking learners to share core beliefs and values and their passions are successful through the use of tools that help learners share more than text alone. By incorporating images, video, and audio in their responses using tools such as www.pixlr.com, www.ribbit.com, or AudioBoo opens up new ways of “Seeing” and “Hearing” the learner.