Managing our Biases

We define coaching as being nonjudgmental. Yet we know that we do have judgment, biases and filters that pop up as interference from time to time as we are acting as thinking partners with another. The first step in managing our own biases, filters, judgments, and assumptions is to recognize that we have them and then to recognize the moments that trigger them.

Many of our biases are implicit. That is, we do not even recognize that we have them and would even vehemently deny that they exist for us. Unrecognized biases are the ones that are most harmful to our effectiveness as coaches and leaders. Implicit biases are unexamined. These unexamined biases may create blind spots, filters that allow only certain information in, and assumptions that may limit our access to a broader range of approaches to new or perplexing situations.

What are some ways to recognize implicit biases? One way is to begin to notice the events, words, or situations that cause us to have a strong emotional response, such as immediate disagreement, pushback, defensiveness, or avoidance. The intense need to convince others of our way of thinking is another potential indicator of a strong bias that may be holding us hostage. Lack of desire to listen to or consider the viewpoints of others may signal that we have a bias that we have not yet examined. Our innate desire to stay safe sometimes conflicts with our strong desire to grow and change in our responses to more positively impact those we lead.

Once we have identified our biases, we can be intentional about determining ways to set them aside in order to be more fully present with others. During those times we find we are being triggered, we are more able to recognize the hot button and push the “keep calm” button instead.

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Recently a TED talk by Angela Duckworth has appeared in my social media feed. Angela left a successful corporate career to become a teacher. She took a look at student success through a motivational and psychological perspective to try to understand, “Who is successful here and why?”

As she studied this question, she found that one characteristic was a significant predictor of success. That one characteristic is GRIT. What is grit? It is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina, sticking with your future—day in and day out—not just for the week or month, but for years. Grit is “Living life as a marathon, not a sprint.”

Ms. Duckworth conducted a study in the Chicago Public Schools with high school juniors. She then waited a year until they completed their senior year. Again, she found that those who graduated exhibited grit much more so than those who did not.

How do we encourage grit in others? One way is to teach and model the growth mindset, described in Carol Dweck’s work, Mindset. We know as coach leaders, that coaching exemplifies the growth mindset. Our ability to grow and change is not fixed. It is flexible. And coaching is not a fix-it mindset; coaching personifies a growth mindset.

There is no silver bullet for success. When you are promised results without the work, be wary. Successful schools do not become successful overnight nor do they remain successful without effort. Leading successful schools and successful education initiatives is not a sprint. It’s a marathon.

New Beginnings

new beginningsAs a lover of school and a lifetime student, I am always jazzed about starting a new school year. A major appeal is the opportunity for new beginnings each year. We don’t have to wait for a new year to have a new beginning, yet there is something about the flow of school calendars that makes this time an opportune one for reflection, goal setting, and the delicious anticipation of what lies ahead to be accomplished. Much reflection and planning has already taken place as the previous school year concludes, overlapping with getting ready for the new one. What remains is the buzz of excitement as new possibilities await!

Knowing it is crucial to motivate and inspire those we lead to create a sound beginning, we also must be ready for the marathon of staying the course when the new wears off and the work becomes hard.

Here are 12 crucial questions from Gallup’s Q12 Engagement Survey for coach leaders to be prepared to respond to now and throughout the year:

  1. I know what is expected of me at work.
  2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
  3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
  4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
  5. My supervisor or someone at work seems to care about me as a person.
  6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
  7. At work, my opinions seem to count.
  8. The mission/purpose of my organization makes me feel my job is important.
  9. My associates or co-workers are committed to doing quality work.
  10. I have a best friend at work.
  11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
  12. In the last year, I had opportunities to learn and grow.

Threads of our work at Results Coaching Global are present in these 12 “questions”. What connections are you noticing to the following?

  • The essential skills of listening, paraphrasing, presuming positive intent and reflective feedback
  • The trust research
  • Standards and Expectations
  • Positive psychology

Resolve to create a solid new beginning by intentionally connecting with all stakeholders through your coach leader identity. Create and sustain an environment of trust, motivation, and inspiration that is sustainable through good times as well as the more difficult times. Have a great new school year!

YET—The Magic Word

As we continue to explore our positivity mindset and genuine, authentic, heartfelt positivity, adding the concepts of possibility and potential and the word “yet”, broadens and builds on our own self-talk and the words we offer to others. People often tell us that they have the most difficulty believing in others and offering value statements and questions that presume positive intent when their history with that person leads them to expect less than standards met or exceptional behavior. When we truly believe that people can and will grow and want to contribute, the word “yet” helps us form a positive approach.

  • Self-defeating self-talk: “It’s just impossible to find time in my busy schedule to exercise on a regular basis.”
  • More empowering: “I haven’t found the best way to make regular exercise part of my weekly habit…YET! I will continue searching for something that works for me.”
  • Mental talk regarding others: “She just needs to get her act together. I am tired of the same old unwillingness to make the changes required to meet our goals.”
  • More empowering: “She hasn’t YET realized the importance of making the changes. Or maybe she really doesn’t understand how important her actions are in making them happen. Perhaps I can coach her toward deeper understanding and positive movement if I truly believe she is capable and willing and just hasn’t found a way to begin…YET.”

The word “yet” holds potential for future change as well as movement toward the desired result. It is deeply connected to the positive emotion of hope, which is sparked within the moments when despair is most likely. It contains the belief that things can and will change. It sustains us when circumstances are dire. Hope energizes us to do as much as we can to make life good for ourselves and for others.

As is often quoted, “Hope is not a strategy.” Hope IS the emotion that pulls us out of the mire into a place of developing strategies and designing actions to move us forward. Hope lifts us out of our past, our negative presuppositions and toward resourcefulness. Hope energizes us to continue forward movement.

  • How will you reframe your own negative self-talk by adding the magic word, YET?
  • How will you reframe your lack of belief in someone based on past behavior by adding the magic word, YET?
  • What is one thing you will commit to take action on that you haven’t done YET?

The Positivity Project: Making a Difference in the Lives of Students

In one of our recent seminars, one of our participants, Andy Camarda, principal of Lemon Road Elementary School in Fairfax County, Virginia, spoke about his school’s association with the Positivity Project. The Positivity Project is a 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated to empowering America’s youth to build strong relationships and to understand, appreciate, and exemplify the character strengths in us all. Students emerge with genuine self-confidence, greater appreciation for others, and stronger relationships by learning about the 24 positive character traits in all humans, regardless of culture, economics, or age. Inherit and deeply embedded in this work, is the idea that “other people matter” and students learn to think beyond themselves realizing the impact of their actions and words, supporting others when they struggle, believing that together we can achieve more, and cheering the successes of those around us. Therefore, the focus switches from solely academic achievement to relationships and purpose.

Each week, Lemon Road students learn about a particular character trait during their Morning Meeting. Some of the 24 universal traits include: gratitude, integrity, humility, kindness, zest, and optimism. Students discuss the traits with their classmates, identify ways to recognize them in others, and grow in their understanding of why exemplifying these traits is important. They appreciate the traits within themselves as well as their classmates. As a result, student relationships deepen with each other and with their teachers. They begin to say “Hey, John is demonstrating the trait of kindness just now” or “Annika is full of humor and zest!” In a recent curriculum night for families, parents and students were able to take the Values in Action character survey to identify their top character traits. They then set goals as families to develop a particular trait together. Again, switching the focus from accomplishments to relationships… from getting things done to being the person we want to be!

Positivity: Don’t Just Put a Happy Face On It

The concept of positivity has nothing to do with putting a happy face on something! This seems a bit counterintuitive, as we hear messages through songs, poetry, literature and other popular culture venues that encourage such behavior. Simply putting a happy face on something is a way of temporarily dealing with sadness or disappointment or even masking a deeper emotion or truth.

If positivity isn’t putting a happy face on something, then what is it?

Positivity has to do with a mindset that is pervasive. Positivity has long-lasting benefits that permeate day-to-day thinking and behaviors. It is a way of broadening one’s mindset. “Because open mindsets produce exploration and experiential learning, they also produce more accurate mental maps of the world.” (Fredrickson, 2009) Now there’s a concept to consider! Fredrickson claims that negativity and neutrality hold us back, constraining our knowledge and therefore our experience of the world. Heartfelt positivity has the power to contribute to moving one to higher levels of mental complexity—the self-transforming mind–open, flexible and curious.

Fredrickson describes 10 positive emotions that are present most frequently in people’s day-to-day lives. These are:

Joy: Things are going your way or even better than expected. Little effort on your part is required.

Gratitude: Gratitude comes when we appreciate something that has come our way as a gift to be treasured. It opens your heart and carries the urge to give back.

Serenity: Like joy, it requires little effort on your part. It is more low-key than joy. It is a mindful state. Fredrickson calls it the afterglow emotion.

Interest: You are pulled to explore something new or different that draws your attention. You are filled with a sense of possibility. Interest requires effort and attention on your part.

Hope: Hope is sparked within the moments when despair is most likely. It contains the belief that things can and will change. It sustains you when circumstances are dire. Hope energizes us to do as much as we can to make life good for ourselves and for others.

Pride: Pride is a self-conscious emotion. If gone to far it can become negative. Pride is positive when tempered with humility. Pride fosters the motivation to achieve.

Amusement: True amusement spurs the urge to share laughter with others, signaling that you find your current situation a safe place to share lightheartedness and build connections with others. It is a social emotion.

Inspiration: Inspiration creates the desire to be at your highest and best. Along with gratitude and awe, inspiration is one of the self-transcendent emotions, pulling us out of ourselves into a broader world.

Awe: Awe is closely related to inspiration. We are compelled to see ourselves as a part of something larger than ourselves. When in awe, we feel literally overwhelmed by greatness.

Love: Love encompasses all the positive emotions listed above. It is the most common positive emotion that people feel and has many facets. Feeling recurrent surges of love actually changes the inner chemistry of our bodies, creating biological responses linked with lifelong bonds, trust, and intimacy.

Authenticity is the bedrock of heartfelt positivity. Expressions or words that are positive without authenticity as a base do more harm than good. Such expressions are perceived as empty at best and manipulative at worst. True belief in others is the mindset that underpins the positive statements we offer in coaching and feedback. So, don’t just put a happy face on something! Reach for a genuine feeling of a positive emotion. Buoy yourself and others up in an authentic way with heartfelt positivity.

Creating a Coaching Culture

cultureHow would you describe the culture of your school? How did your school arrive at this culture?

Organizations of all sizes and types exhibit their own culture, which is developed intentionally or perhaps by default or inattention, or past practices. Realizing the importance of intentionally creating a culture of openness, engagement, fairness, trust, and reflective practices is increasingly important in the work of schools. All school leaders seek to be successful and show student results. Student success does not occur in a vacuum or even only through more and more attention to data. Although extremely relevant to student achievement, attention to data alone is insufficient. Students and staff require a trusting and trusted environment in which to do their work.

A coaching culture is created through day-to-day interactions within a climate of respect that includes a commitment to listening fully, paraphrasing to increase understanding and clarity, presuming the best in others and using language that aligns with that belief, and offering feedback that builds on what is working, highlighting strengths, and offering reflective questions for deeper thinking and to offer possibilities.

When these essential skills of coaching are evident on a consistent basis, the coaching culture begins to build—one person at a time—until suddenly it is prevalent and the coaching culture is sweeping the entire school.

What do visitors notice when they enter your school? How aligned is your school culture to that of a coaching culture as described below?

  • Adults and students in conversation who are fully attending to one another without distraction
  • Teachers who are taking risks with new and innovative instructional practices
  • Meetings and informal interactions characterized by evocative and thought-provoking questions
  • Individuals seeking solutions collaboratively
  • Dedicated time for coaching conversations

In our work we have numerous stories of ways one committed individual can begin the impetus for a cultural shift away from a culture of top-down, fear-driven, disengaged culture toward a culture of engagement and productivity and reflective practices. Intentional conversations, development of self-efficacy through providing a safe environment for risk-taking, and providing time for reflection and coaching pave the way for a broad impact on an entire school culture.

Take for example the story of Jenny. Jenny is an experienced principal who was recently assigned to a school identified as low performing and in need of immediate attention. Jenny has the mindset of a coach leader and knows how important her behaviors are in leading the school toward an authentic turnaround headed toward significantly increased student results. She understands this will call for an intentional focus on what they (all stakeholders) want vs. what they do not want. She is committed to engaging stakeholders in thoughtful conversations that result in greater degrees of confidence, competence and the courage to achieve desired results.

To read in more detail about creating a coaching culture and stories of individuals within organizations that embody a coaching culture, read Chapter 6 in Results Coaching Next Steps: Leading for Growth and Change.

Keeping The Torch Lit

flaming torch in people hand for sports concept designHow does one create a positive coaching culture that is sustainable throughout the toughest of times as well as the best of times? In our work with school leaders, certain patterns and themes emerge that build and sustain this positive, engaging school culture.

Begin with yourself. Leaders who fully embrace the mindset of a coach leader identity see its power potential and commit to the integration of coaching attitudes and skills in all areas of life. When others witness this change in their leader, or experience a leader who embodies this identity, they become believers and want it for themselves.

Presume positive intent. The mindset that others are thinkers and planners and have positive intent for action can be the catalyst that changes cultures. When leaders presume the best in others, others give their best.

Commit to one conversation at a time. We often quote Susan Scott in her book Fierce Conversations, “The conversation is the relationship.” Time after time the stories we hear about successful, sustainable positive school cultures are about offering full presence by listening fully and choosing our responses intentionally while committing to each conversation as if it were the most important conversation we will have that day.

New beginnings offer a space for inspiration and motivation. Keeping the torch lit requires visioning and intentional embodiment of the attitudes and skills of coach leadership. How will you sustain your intention and commitment to hold yourself and those you lead able to make sure the fire continues to burn?

The kids are back!

portrait of smiling little school kids in school corridorSchool is in session for many of us. Now that we have staff in place and classrooms assigned, we are ready to face the always-new experiences that greet us with the diversity of personalities we will encounter on a daily basis. Whether it is our interactions with students or with adults, we are committed to the flexible and positive mindset that others are willing and able to grow. We exhibit that positive intent through our “being”, which shows up in our body language and our verbal language. Of course, we want those to match, so we decide over and over again how we want to show up and relate with others—those we are most eager to be with and those that test our limits of positivity. We also reflect on our interactions as we, ourselves are learners and continually grow in our coach leader mindset and identity.

Creating a Coaching Culture

smiling young woman listening to a colleagueMichelle is a seventh-grade science department chair in her middle school. This is her second year in this position. She has taught in the same school for 10 years, and it is her only school experience. Michelle has a new principal this year. Kelly was named as principal in April of last year.

Michelle is a reflective thinker and learner who processes internally and takes some time before offering a thoughtful response. She sometimes feels she must verbalize before she is ready because many of her co-workers process verbally and she feels her voice will not be heard unless she speaks up quickly, even though she is frequently not pleased with those responses. In fact, she even says, “I sometimes put my foot in my mouth when I have not taken time to reflect before responding out loud.”

As Kelly, Michelle’s brand new principal, began her work in her new school, she sent out a questionnaire to all teachers requesting information that would help her get to know them better. In addition, she met with each teacher leader for an individual conversation. According to Michelle, this conversation immediately built trust with her principal in unexpected ways. She was asked for her own long-term professional goals as well as her goals for the upcoming year. She felt her communication style was honored because she was allowed reflection time to consider questions thoughtfully instead of being pressed to answer in the moment. She felt that her experience and expertise in her field and as a professional were honored and that her principal respected her and trusted her competence and integrity.

Michelle is bringing renewed energy to her work this year because Kelly is setting the stage for a culture of respect, collaboration, and individual contribution leading to increased teacher engagement in the often underappreciated and overwhelming work of teaching. The coaching culture is one which will sustain energy and engagement well beyond the initial excitement of a new school year.