The Leadership Gift of Hope

“Hopeful individuals, families, organizations, and communities THRIVE!”

The focus of this month’s social media series are 3 Leadership gifts – solitude, resilience, and hope. Previously, we unwrapped the gifts of solitude and resilience. Now, we are ready to find out how this final gift . . . the gift of hope, when added to the previous two, amplifies the possibilities for even more powerful leadership.

A 2nd session I attended at the International Coach Federation was not a new topic. In fact, it’s one we often make light of when people are setting goals. Often, we hear the language, “I hope I will be able to use all the skills I have learned in this seminar” to which we have replied, “Hope is not a strategy.” Well, as it happens, it IS a strategy and a very powerful one, at that!

With this realization, came the third gift of leadership – the gift of hope. Hope is one of the top predictors of well-being for adults and children. It is part of our core as human beings. And, hope is the leading predictor of satisfaction and happiness in life.

Hope is universal across race, gender, culture, etc. and is not related to income, social status, intelligence, or morality. Hope can be measured. Shane Lopez, in Making Hope Happen, speaks of the beliefs of High Hope People.

High Hope People Believe

  1. The future will be better than the present.
  2. I have the power to make it so.
  3. There are many paths to my goals.
  4. None of them is free of obstacles.

What was really exciting in the session was the presenters’ connection to the neuroscience of hope and trust. Guess what! It matches what we have learned about SCARF and the importance of safety for the brain to be a “hopeful brain”.

Hope Theory contends that there is a distinction between Will Power and Way Power and that it takes both for the emergence of hope. One without the other is merely a wish. Perhaps, that is why we said hope is not a strategy. Both “will power” and “way power” are required for it to become an expectation for goal attainment.

Let’s Make it Personal

Think of a time when you lost hope. How did you know? What did you do to regain it? Who, if anyone, supported you in regaining your hope?

Leadership and Hope
Lopez says, “A leader’s personal hope is a public resource.” Because hope is a personal philosophy, the leader is in a unique position of influence holding the potential to build hope in others. Many of the convocation speeches given by Superintendents as our school year began offered a vision of hope focusing on the future, speaking about will power and way power, building capacity in others to carry the vision of hope forward.

So, these three gifts of leadership – solitude, resilience, and hope showed up unexpectedly in succession creating the opportunity for greater meaning for me. It was only in quietness that I could discover the connection and recognize that these are the attributes of a coach leader – one who reflects, bounces back, and believes in a better world for us all!

How are you using these three gifts – solitude, resilience, and hope?

Reference: Howells, K & Johnston, K (2017) Leveraging The Science Of Hope And Trust In Coaching. International Coach Federation Conference. Washington, DC.

The Leadership Gift of Resilience

“A person who falls and gets back up
is much stronger than a person who never falls.”

The focus of this month’s social media series are 3 Leadership gifts – solitude, resilience, and hope. Previously we unwrapped the gift of solitude. Now, we are ready to discover what the gift of resilience holds for us as leaders.

In August, the International Coach Federation held its Conference in DC. I found myself drawn to a session about resilience in coaching. As the session evolved, what I realized was here was a second leadership gift to go with the gift of solitude. That gift is resilience.

What is Resilience?

While resilience means different things to different people, the definition offered was this:

“Resilience is one’s ability to remain flexible in our thoughts feelings, and behaviors when faced by a disruption or extended periods of pressure, so that we emerge from difficulty stronger, wiser, and more able.”
Pemberton: Resilience (McGraw Hill, 2015).

Briefly, it’s one’s ability to remain standing. Because resilience is an outcome rather than a thing, it originates from the combination of three things – genetics, childhood experiences, and learning from adversity. No more than 30% is genetics based. Childhood factors include things such as deprivation, the degree to which a child feels safe, whether the child had an adult he/she could count on, etc. Learning from adversity is the greatest influencer of one’s resilience. It’s almost like growing a muscle and the good news is that resilience tends to increase as we get older.

How You Know When Resilience is Low

Indicators that my resilience could be declining may include:

  • A sudden attitude of pessimism
  • A loss of connection with the purpose of my work or life
  • Withdrawal from relationships
  • Outbursts of emotion
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Loss of confidence
  • Changes in my eating or drinking patterns
  • Sleep habits change
  • I discontinue doing what I enjoy
  • It’s hard to make decisions

Three Things to do to Increase Resilience

  1. Recycle – What are the knowledge and skills that you usually rely on? Reconnect to your strengths such as compartmentalizing things, using humor, listening to music, meditating, reading, poetry, etc. Re-activate them!
  2. Resource – What resources do you have access to . . . including both human and material resources? Maybe it’s accessing a thinking partner such as a coach, studying your strengths, learning something new, or actively building confidence in self.
  3. Re-Author – How might we rewrite our story? Perhaps we create a new beginning or ending, or we rewrite the narrative around the event or situation that has occurred, or we assign different powers to the players in the narrative. When we can create a different relationship with the event, we can recover more quickly. A study of widowed men vs. widowed women showed that women moved faster because they talked about the experience and expressed their emotions aloud to one another.

Because leadership is far from an act of perfection, we have many opportunities to build the muscle of resilience. By combining the first two gifts – solitude and resilience – we can remain strong in the presence of everyday challenges.

How resilient are you? How do you know?


Reference: Pemberton, C (2017) Resilience Coaching: Rebuilding Resilience When It’s A Crash, Not A Wobble. International Coach Federation Conference. Washington, DC.

The Leadership Gift of Solitude

“We live, in fact, in an age starved for solitude.”
C.S. Lewis

Principal Andy Camarda of Lemon Road Elementary in Fairfax County, VA, recommended I read Kethledge and Erwin’s book, Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude. He felt it complimented our teaching about the value of silence as well as the brain research that says insight comes from quiet reflection. Talk about a match! This book takes it even deeper.

Solitude is defined by the authors as “a subjective state of mind, in which the mind, isolated from input from other minds, works through a problem on its own.” Certainly, this sounds like a key attribute of coaching. Further, they speak of the different purposes for which leaders use solitude – to find clarity, creativity, emotional balance, and moral courage. And finally, they offer the critical idea,

“Personal leadership – leading oneself – is the foundation of leading others.

And, personal leadership comes through solitude.”

By examining the solitude habits of leaders such as Dwight Eisenhower, Jane Goodall, Abraham Lincoln, Aung San Suu Kyi, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Pope John Paul II, the authors illustrate how leaders use solitude to be more effective.

How Leaders Use Solitude to Be More Effective

  1. Ray, one of the authors, is a federal judge. When writing opinions in difficult cases, he retreats to his barn office overlooking Lake Huron without any internet connection.
  2. Darwin Smith, CEO of Kimberly-Clark makes his biggest strategic decisions in what he calls, “tractor time.”
  3. Winston Churchill would lay bricks.
  4. Bill Gates set aside entire weeks to just go away, to read, and to reflect. These were his “think weeks.”
  5. Warren Buffet found the quietude of his hometown, Omaha, Nebraska to be his place of solitude. He also offers us this quote, “Inactivity can be very intelligent behavior.”
  6. George Washington would ride his horse around Mount Vernon for hours at a time.

What About Educators?

Jim Collins, while writing the forward for the book, was also completing a study of leaders who lead K-12 schools to high results during the most difficult and adverse of circumstances to learn how they use solitude to support the demands of the work, day after day, year after year. He was interested in how these educational leaders were finding “alone time” to reflect and recharge.

He discovered one Principal who intentionally creates a “personal bubble” every morning, just sitting in her car, before heading into the building. Another person dedicates “white space” in her calendar. She makes appointments with herself for the sole purpose of solitude.

The two practices that will amplify the gifts of solitude are systematically building pockets of solitude into our life and, secondly, recognizing the unexpected opportunities for solitude and then seizing them.

How are you building daily pockets of solitude into your life?

Reference: Kethledge, R., & Erwin, M. (2017). Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

We Did It! – Measuring Impact

Congratulations! This month’s three-part focus has been on celebrating the impact of coaching from one district’s perspective. Now, we will celebrate one school’s success in a year’s time.

Jackson Middle School is a technology magnet school in Garland ISD. In 2014, the school was struggling with Index 2 on the state accountability system. This index is the Student Growth index and Jackson was at 29; one point from the minimum of 28. While other accountability indexes were okay, the team knew that Index 2 was a predictor for future problems in the other indexes if no action was taken.

In a data analysis session, the team realized that honor students were not growing; thus finding themselves at a critical disadvantage when compared with students in other schools. By the next testing year (2015), Jackson’s Index 2 went from 29 to 38 which was one of the highest in the district among middle schools. Jackson staff and students had reversed the trend and were showing the greatest growth among the district Middle Schools. In Math alone, students went from 44% to 82% meeting or exceeding expectations. In addition, Index 1 went from 79 to 82, Index 3 from 42 to 50, and Index 4 from 51 to 59.

According to David Dunphy, Jackson Principal, “There were a lot of factors that resulted in our improvement. We did intensive interventions and ensured all of our students had a 30 minute intervention/growth period, instituted the “Jackson Essential 6” – strategies and practices that all teachers were expected to implement, and initiated the coaching model with our core teaching staff.” For 2014, Jackson’s Essential 6 were Framing the Lesson, Frequent Small Group Purposeful Talk, Recognition and Reinforcement, Critical Writing, Philosophical Chairs, Socratic Seminar.

There was also an effort to separate coaching from evaluation; a concept from Bambrick-Santoyo’s Leverage Leadership. All core teachers were coached by the three administrators and the two counselors on our campus. Mr. Dunphy received the Results Coaching training in the summer of 2014 after which he requested his Assistant Principals and counselors attend the training as the school year started.

These five members of the leadership team then divided up the core tested subject area teachers and established coaching relationships with them. This included all math teachers, all reading teachers, 7th grade English, 8th grade science, and 8th grade social studies teachers. Each leader had about 5 teachers they coached each week. The coaching model was implemented with observations and coaching conversations held each week as much as possible. The administrators were careful to coach only those teachers they did not appraise with the official evaluation system (PDAS). This ensured trust was built so teachers could be vulnerable and really work on their craft without worry that it would be reflected in their appraisal.

There was emphasis on and statistics kept on the Jackson essential 6 strategies with the teachers, especially when they were at a loss for what to be coached on. For the most part, teachers were able to articulate their area for coaching each week. Some stayed with the same topic as they were improving and others went from one area to another as they saw growth and accomplishment. Videotaping of the observations and coaching sessions were also used to help the coaches improve their own coaching.

The Administrative team including the Area Director held standing meetings every Thursday where they followed a protocol for holding themselves accountable for progress. Each week’s Agenda included:

  • Reporting on the previous week’s commitments
  • Updating the Scoreboard to ensure sustained progress toward the established goals
  • Creating the next step in the plan – to clear the path for new commitments
  • Practicing coaching in a coaching lab format to review and offer feedback on a coaching video. Responsibility for the video rotated each week and was available to the team for preparation on Tuesday before meeting on Thursday.

So, that brings us back to the question posed at the beginning of this month’s series. “Does coaching make a difference?” Well, as you know from our seminars, that is a “yes/no” question that does not presume positive intent. Instead, we ask, “In what ways is coaching making a difference where you work?”

How are you measuring your impact with coaching? Stop, reflect, and celebrate your success. And, as a footnote, share your successes with us!  (*_*)

“Thanks, My Instructional Targets are Crystal Clear” – Clearly Articulated Standards and Expectations

Earlier this month we shared how a change in mindset from “gotcha” to growth, along with reflective feedback that’s focused on what’s working, can change the results one gets. This conversation is about how adding clear standards and expectations can magnify the impact of coaching. This continues one district’s story . . .

In Garland ISD in Texas, Area 3 set out to define a set of instructional targets so that it was clear what was expected in the teaching and learning cycle. Teacher focus groups were formed to create a framework or rubric of what observers would “see” when looking for the key strategies in instructional rounds – what teachers would be saying and doing AND what students would be saying and doing. Descriptors were developed along a continuum from beginning to developing to ideal with a spotlight on any “missed opportunities”.

I know the BIG question in your mind is, “What were the 5-6 key strategies of focus?” And you know, the magic comes less from naming the strategies to the process used to determine the answer to this question, “What key strategies, if we did them with fidelity and rigor, would give our students the success they deserve?” For Area 3, sample strategies included Fundamental Five, Critical Writing, Power Zone, Recognize and Reinforce, Framing the Lesson, and Frequent Small Group Purposeful Talk. Schools could customize their focus based on student needs so additional strategies may or may not have been included.

While the effort to create clarity was critical to the change process, it was not enough! The real impact appeared when it came time for administrator conversations with teachers, conversations among teachers, and conversations in PLCs about student performance. Without any language of judgment, “missed opportunities” became genuine conversations about how a teacher was working to become better. Using the framework, teachers were clear about where they were and how they wanted to advance to the next level.

Sherri Skelton, our district contact, sees this as direct transfer of the skillset from the training when she says, “It is critical that our leadership is skilled in developing relationships built on trust and respect so that the skills and strategies of coaching become an integral part of each conversation. We continue to hear examples of meaningful coaching conversations that have impacted both teachers and students.”

For this story, evidence that coaching is making a difference includes:

  • A focus on what is expected – explicitly and articulated.
  • A belief that growth will be magnified when teachers are partners in the process of improvement.
  • An understanding that judgment undermines the growth process and that trust and respect support it.
  • A belief that coaching conversations are the way to see deep and lasting change.

What difference are you seeing in your conversations as a result of clearly articulating the standards and expectations?

From “I Don’t Want Your Feedback” to “Please Give Me Feedback” – A Shift in Mindset

Let’s begin with a recent conversation with Jasper ISD Superintendent, Gerald Hudson. It’s late on a Friday afternoon, long after the work day is over and the phone rings. Gerald, who has been in his position less than 6 months, says, “My folks want coaching!” Having known Gerald for many years, I respond with surprise, “Really. You haven’t been in your district that long. What specifically did you do to convince them that they want coaching?”  He says, “Nothing!” I’m surprised again. Then he says, I took them to my “people” in Garland ISD (Gerald’s former district where he served as an Area Director.) AND they sold them on the idea.

So . . . what did they say?

One thing they said was, “In a year’s time, teachers went from being reluctant to receiving feedback to asking their administrators to come into their classrooms to give them feedback.” Well, that’s a switch. To what did they attribute this significant shift in mindset? Several things were noted as contributing to this change – training in the language of coaching, a new appraisal process that focused on a growth mindset, and clear standards and expectations for teaching. Supporting these changes was considerable professional learning for teachers that included them as partners in the improvement process. Springing from the expectations for teaching, teachers set their own improvement goal which was a new element. As a result, this focused the observation and thus the feedback on what the teacher wanted rather than what was missing or absent in the lesson. The language changed from what was wrong to what was “seen” as well as any “missed opportunities” which created curiosity and motivation for possibilities for growth.

This sounds exactly like the feedback we teach – value/value potential statements and reflective questions for possibilities – both generated from the strength of what a teacher is doing well and what he/she wants to do next.

This is just one of the things the Garland people shared with Gerald’s team. In the blog, we’ll hear about what they said about the importance of creating clarity around the standards and expectations for the work.

In summary, here is the evidence-based data that coaching is making a difference.

  • A shift in mindset from compliance to growth.
  • A goal-driven process leading to focused observation and feedback.
  • The intentional language of coaching that looks for strength and what’s working.
  • Presumption that the teacher is a professional who wants to improve and grow. (Status and autonomy of SCARF)

What is the mindset about feedback where you work? How is coaching supporting the change in mindset that you want?

Choosing When to Give Feedback

As educators, our days are full of opportunities for giving reflective feedback. Typically, one of two situations appears as the time for giving feedback. One is the cycle of listen and give feedback; the other is observe and give feedback. Both are opportunities for growth.

Listen and Give Feedback. Listening and giving feedback is an opportunity for growth that consumes much of our day. A teacher stops you in the hall and says, “Is this okay for my first parent newsletter?” Once we move from the distraction that the question can be answered “yes” or “no” along with the temptation to give the quick response, “Good job!” we hesitate because we are reminded that this kind of feedback is short lived. It lacks the specificity of what constitutes a good job. Not only does the teacher leave with the uncertainty of what was good, the likelihood of repeating or sustaining the behavior or action is diminished. One option for our feedback may be a value/value potential statement coupled with a reflective question such as, “Knowing you want a consistent message to parents, what feedback are your teammates offering you regarding this plan?” Another option is to ask a clarifying question such as, “Who collaborated with you on this grade level information?” This question accomplishes two goals. It gains clarity about potential partners and holds up the expectation that the grade level was included in the development of the content. Depending on the response to the clarifying question, a reflective question may be, “How are you wanting to ensure you and your colleagues are on the same page?”

Now, it’s your turn. You receive an email from a fellow colleague asking for feedback on his/her plan for an upcoming professional learning day with staff.

What value/value potential statement would recognize the effort/core value of this person? _______________________________

What clarifying question, if any, might you ask? _______________________________

What reflective question for possibility will “push” the colleague’s thinking for additional considerations? _______________________________

Check Up – Ask someone to give you feedback on your language to ensure internalization of presumption of positive intent.

Observe and Give Feedback. The second situation where feedback can motivate and inspire growth is after a walk-through or a formal observation. This is where reflective feedback holds the potential to make the greatest difference. Many of you tell us about observation processes you are currently using in your schools. Often the conversation rolls around to the fact that the observation is well and good; yet, there is uncertainty about the language to use in the conversation following the observation. Because we know the potential for real learning IS the conversation, reflective feedback becomes even more critical. We know language matters because it will keep us engaged and listening or it will push us away. Hmm!  Here’s the real dilemma! A threat state is an inherent part of feedback. So, what can we do (say) that immediately moves the conversation to a safer state? One possibility is we can feed status with a value/value potential statement. Again, the brain calms down and we are all breathing again! Here are other possibilities that come from the work of Jenny Rogers in her Coaching Skills book.

  • Ask for permission, when appropriate – “Knowing you are working to incorporate language that presumes positive intent, what data would you like about the questions you asked?” or “Because we are all working to include literacy strategies in our classroom, what feedback would you like on your word wall activities?”
  • Stick to the facts – Use the specific data you have collected to offer feedback. Separate fact from opinion. “Of the ten questions you asked, half presumed positive intent. How might you flip the remaining five?” or “Of the ten questions you asked in this lesson, 2 were asked of girls with the remainder going to the boys. What system will ensure equitable opportunity to respond for your class?”
  • Avoid assumptions – We know about assuming! It can really get us in trouble. Making up our own stories about what is really going on or interpreting through our lens can be dangerous to hearing the real message. As a result, our feedback can be off-base and not heard because it may come across as advice.
  • Offer as “the truth” vs. “THE TRUTH” – When feedback is offered as “the truth” it comes across tentatively as possibility rather than the certainty of something being in fact “THE TRUTH” with ALL CAPS. Even a paraphrase, “You’re angry,” stated as if it were fact can affect me differently that you saying, “You seem to have strong feelings about this,” or even, “You seem angry about this.” It’s left to me to confirm or not; it’s possibility rather than a given. Another example might be when you are talking with another person and you sense there are two conversations going on at the same time. For the sake of clarity, you know you want to raise the intuition. It might sound like this, “It seems we might be talking about two things in this conversation. Let’s just put them on the table and see if there is any truth to that possibility.”

Another possibility, given today’s focus on transforming evaluation systems to the growth mindset is:

  • Know the teacher’s growth goal – Many of the current evaluation systems have a goal-setting component. Learn what is important to the teacher and you will have insight into the language of your value/value potential statements and your reflective questions.

Again, it’s your turn. Your campus has a peer review process for visiting classrooms to observe for specific areas of focus. High engagement for all students is the goal everyone is working on. On today’s walk-through visit, data was collected to show that three students were off-task without redirection for the duration of the visit.

What value/value potential statement would you say to this teacher? _______________________________

What clarifying question, if any, might you ask? _______________________________

What reflective question will hold up the data for the teacher in a question that presumes he or she wants to take action? _______________________________

Check Up – Ask someone to give you feedback on your language to ensure internalization of presumption of positive intent.

Feedback and coaching are the dynamic duo for promoting growth!

What evidence are you seeing that your feedback is growing others?

Perfecting our Reflective Feedback

Some of the most compelling reasons to practice reflective feedback come from the TNTP study called The Irreplaceables, which focuses on the real retention crisis:  failure to retain the right teachers. The study’s conclusions demand our attention with regard to feedback. Defined, the irreplaceables are “teachers who are so successful they are nearly impossible to replace, but too often vanish from schools as the result of neglect and inattention.” Here are the startling stats:

  • “On average, they help students learn 2-3 additional months’ worth of math and reading compared with the average teacher, AND 5-6 months when compared to low-achieving teachers.”
  • “When one (an irreplaceable) leaves a low-achieving school, it can take 11 hires to find just one teacher of comparable quality.”
  • Lesson learned: “Good teachers don’t leave demanding schools that hold them to high expectations; they leave schools that aren’t serious about good teaching.”
  • Two-thirds of the leaving teachers reported that no one encouraged them to return for another year.
  • Of the eight simple, low-cost strategies identified to help boost teacher retention, giving feedback or public recognition (status) for a job well done was at the top of the list.

With clear evidence from the section above addressing “why?” feedback is an essential skill for our success as leaders, let’s focus on “how” to perfect this skill. Based on the work of David Perkins, there are two options for reflective feedback:

  1. Value/value potential statements
  2. Reflective questions for possibility including any clarifying questions, if necessary

Value/Value Potential Statements. This option reinforces, builds and preserves the positive features, such as, thinking, beliefs, actions, behaviors, and impact. It is recognizable because, in essence, it is an eloquent paraphrase. One distinction we make is the difference between value and value potential. Value is what I see in the present, right before me. Value potential refers to the impact that will be realized in the future as the result of my intention in the present. An example is what we might say after visiting a first-grade classroom where the teacher is using small reading groups as a way to teach and monitor progress in reading. A sample value statement would be, “Your commitment to building strong readers is evident in the way you work with them in small groups.” A value potential statement takes it into the future where we cannot see what might happen, yet we can predict it. “Your commitment to building strong readers in first grade will create successful students throughout their career as learners.” Attributes of this option are:

  • Presumes positive intent
  • Purpose is to recognize and reinforce what is seen in the present or future
  • Replaces vague statements such as “I like”, “Wow!”, and “Good job!”
  • Specific and measurable
  • Sincere and genuine

A value/value potential statement is the antidote to the startling statistics in The Irreplaceables report mentioned at the beginning of this article. This is the way we ensure teachers know the value and contribution they make on a regular basis. We promote generosity with this option of feedback. It breaks our hearts when we hear stories from the field where highly competent and caring teachers are leaving our profession because no one is giving them feedback on their hard work. Here are some language possibilities for how to motivate and inspire our teachers to remain in our profession.

Sample language:

  • Your high standards invite students to be the best they can be academically.
  • Because you want all of your students to succeed, you regularly analyze benchmark data to monitor the progress of each one.
  • As a teacher who is passionate about literature, you want your students to share that love.
  • Your commitment to reaching each student is evident in your differentiation strategies.
  • Your understanding of the new math standards is clearly impacting your team planning.
  • Your turn – ____________________________
  • Your turn – ____________________________

Reflective Questions for Possibility including Clarifying Questions, if necessary. This option communicates concerns and considerations toward improvement to include any clarifications of an idea, event, name or action to be certain we are talking about the same thing.

Clarifying questions are not always necessary. Yet, they can be helpful to gain additional information before asking a reflective question. They presume positive intent and can be answered quickly. Examples include:

  • How many children are in the class?
  • Of your 20 students, how many were off task?
  • What time of the day does this behavior show up?
  • What does the code of conduct say about this situation?
  • When is your collaborative planning time?
  • When does your team meet when they are doing their best work?
  • Your turn – ____________________________
  • Your turn – ____________________________

Reflective questions for possibility mediate and support our thinking for consideration of new ideas or possibilities yet explored. They are an invitation to excellence in our work and in our performance. Many a principal has recognized the value of these questions for all teachers and especially their talented, committed master teachers who are often overlooked. The attributes of these questions are:

  • Presumes positive intent
  • Open ended – cannot be answered yes or no
  • Purpose is to provoke thinking for possibility; not leading
  • Future focused
  • Require time for thinking

Sample language:

  • Because you are a teacher who considers each student individually, what are you thinking will get the best from Sam?
  • How is your team addressing this discrepancy between where the kids are now and where we want them to be by December?
  • Based on our low performance results in science, what plan is in place to ensure we show gains this year?
  • Given your knowledge of math standards, what are you noticing about your student’s ability to transfer from concrete to abstract?
  • Knowing that parent communication is vital to healthy school cultures, what new ways are you thinking about for engaging parents in meaningful ways?
  • Your turn – ____________________________
  • Your turn – ____________________________

Feedback AND Evaluation: Two Pieces of the Growth Puzzle

Imagine teachers saying . . . “give me more” . . . “your feedback is critical to my ongoing growth as a professional.” Well, that is a reality in more and more schools. Schools are making the shift to a coaching culture with a growth mindset that presumes positive intent. And, they are using the evaluation process as the way to make it happen.

Take for example, Principal Keith McGee from the Little Rock School District, who after attending our Level II seminar committed to increasing his use of reflective feedback in the evaluation process. Specifically, he wanted to include more value and value potential statements in his conversations with teachers. When he said, “Your commitment to educate our students for the PARCC assessment is valued and is evidenced by student’s engagement in your class as they prepare,” the teacher expressed her appreciation for the feedback and requested more feedback. She asked the leadership team to give her more feedback because she viewed it as a way to improve as a teacher. In other words, she had a shift in her thinking and mindset about the value of evaluation for ongoing growth and development.

McGee’s testimony is just one of many examples we hear from you about the impact of reflective feedback. According to emerging literature in the business world, the kind of feedback that promotes growth + action will be the required skillset for leaders who are exceptionally successful in the 21st century. Jenny Rogers writes, “giving feedback is a high-level art . . . more talked about than done.”  Additionally, while Rogers admits effective feedback is tough, she challenges us by saying, “You have to become an expert in the art of giving feedback.”

So, Why Do We Want to Provide Reflective Feedback?

Because . . . The SCARF research from neuroscience coupled with over 3 decades of work from the Gallup group sends us a very clear answer. People do not grow from their weaknesses or deficits. They grow from their strengths and gifts. Status is a key factor! Knowing what I do well and seeing that you see it too, acts as an accelerant for what I will do next. When feedback sends the message that “you see me!” my brain can calm down and hear what you have to say to me. That acknowledgment is an essential feature that has been missing from most feedback. When my brain feels threatened, I stop listening and move to defensiveness or some other coping mechanism.

Previously, David Rock taught us that the best way to improve the performance of another is to improve his/her thinking about the performance. In a new article, he and others note that when talent is seen as fixed, it becomes a limiting belief. Most performance management systems built on indicators, scales, or checklists inadvertently encourage a way of thinking that limits the ability to grow talent. “By contrast, a belief that talent can be developed, will lead to more effective feedback, goal achievement, evaluation effectiveness, and a culture of collaboration and growth.”

In the educational arena, John Hattie and Helen Timperly speak about the power of feedback to improve the process of teaching and learning. They say, “Feedback is one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement, but this impact can be either positive or negative. The evidence shows that although feedback is among the major influences, the type of feedback and the way it is given can be differentially effective.” Following is another story from you that describes the desired shift from fixed to growth mindset.

How Reflective Feedback Supports the Evaluation Process

School leaders across our country are working to integrate reflective feedback into their coaching conversations that support the observation/evaluation process. Principal Andy is working to show how evaluation and feedback are best accomplished through a coaching mindset. He, himself, had a mindset shift when he began to see the evaluation process as a tool for supporting his core value of growing teachers. As a result, he totally revamped his process for evaluation. Knowing the importance of certainty for the brain, he and his assistant principal, Sean, developed reflective questions that presumed positive intent, which they gave to their teachers prior to the observation. The questions became the focus of the growth conversation following each classroom visit. Teachers expressed value for this new process and feedback that was centered on their strengths and celebrations.

Andy, Sean, and others are finding their shift from a technical change challenge to an adaptive mindset change has a huge ROI (return on investment). Being in classrooms and holding reflective coaching conversations is the essential work of school leaders so that a coaching culture emerges with a clear focus on the growth mindset for all.

Positive Presuppositions—The Questions We Ask

In this month’s series, we have focused on the mindset of presuming positive intent. Now, we are ready for what you have all been waiting for . . .  the questions. How do you construct questions so that your language matches your mindset? Here we go . . . positive presuppositions.

questionsAs educators, we have perfected the art of asking questions. Our point here is to offer a perspective about the questions we ask. First, we believe that in coaching there is a difference between questions that are for gaining information and questions that provoke thinking. While we want both, we want the majority of our questions to be those that promote thinking. Here are some insights about questions that make a difference:

Most people have the answers to their own questions.

Most people find the best answers for themselves, within themselves.

Following are seven attributes of questions that provoke thinking.

Seven Attributes of Questions that Make a Difference

Building on the insights, there are attributes of questions that make a difference. These seven essentials include:

  1. Presume positive intent — “Knowing that our focus is on science instruction this year, what goals are you focused on for the first 6 weeks?” This one question presumes positive intent, offers status, lifts up a standard, and holds able.
  2. Focus on solution — “What options have you and your team determined as possibilities for your solution?” In this question, we see a standard and/or expectation for meeting with the team, talking about options, generating possibilities, and a focus on solutions over problems.
  3. Invite vision thinking — “When June of 2018 arrives, what will you and your team be celebrating about literacy performance for your grade level?” This question begins with the end in mind. It suggests consideration of measures of success, that the team is talking about these important details, and that there will be a celebration.
  4. Focus on positive connections — “As you plan for management of classroom behavior, what learning from your Love and Logic training will be most beneficial to your plan?” This question builds a bridge between what has been learned and the expected implementation. It models multiple standards — planning and strong classroom management — and it holds the teacher able to make it happen.
  5. Incorporate specific actions — “As you implement your plan, what will be your first step or what do you want to do first?” which may be followed by, “What will you do next, and so on?” In a coaching conversation, this is an important question as the conversation nears the end. It consolidates all the thinking and possibilities generated in the conversation and narrows to the intended action. Making it explicit rather than implied ensures the brain of the person speaking has crystalized his or her commitment to action.
  6. Consider resources — “What resources are you thinking you want to consider or draw from as you move forward with your plan?” Checking in on resources provides an opportunity for another to think about a body of support that is available, from other people to well-respected best practices, research, and readings.
  7. Hold able — “As we end, what are you thinking you want to do between now and the next time we talk?” This ensures the person is doing the heavy lifting instead of us. The language demonstrates my belief in you as a competent and capable person and gives you the autonomy to take action on your behalf. When we do for others what they can do for themselves, we sabotage ourselves because we send the subconscious message to status that you are unable to do this yourself.

Questions that Presume Positive Intent

For those of you who have been in our seminars, you have a strong visual image of the language that presumes positive intent when asking questions. In fact, many of you carry the picture on your phone as a reminder of how we actually “switch” language as if it were a light switch to ensure it sends a positive message. We ask that you draw a circle in the center of your paper with these words in the middle of the circle:

Have you . . .?

Did you . . .?

Can you . . .?

Could you . . .?

Do you . . .?

Now, with a very bold marker, draw a diagonal line to signify this is the language that we do not want to use to begin our questions. Not only does the language presume negative intent, the questions are closed and are answered with a yes or no response. We want positive presuppositions that show clear declarations of belief in the other person. The replacement language that we write on the outside of the circle includes phrases such as

What . . .?

When . . .?

How . . .?

Which . . .?

with value adds such as

Based on . . .?

In what ways . . .?

Using data . . .?

Relying on . . .?

Having tried . . .?

Since . . .?

to beginning with a status statement such as

Knowing your level of commitment . . .?

As someone who . . .?

Given you are a teacher who . . .?

This does not mean that we profess one should never use a closed question. Sometimes asking “Is this what you really want?” or “Would you like to stop and talk about this?” is very appropriate. We are saying there is an overabundance of closed questions, and in most cases, deep reflection comes from evocative and open-ended questions. This is also an opportunity to remind us that we refrain from asking questions that are leading others to respond in a way that has been determined by us to be the right answer. We do not ask leading questions, whether opened or closed.

Want to know more about presuming positive intent and asking questions that make a difference? Join us at one of our upcoming public seminars or bring us directly to your district.