The Importance of “Who” in Coaching

“To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thank you, Ralph Waldo Emerson, for reminding us that wisdom comes in the moments, the steps, and the hours! Maybe this is why coaching has become the way of those seeking thoughtfulness and wisdom. It makes a difference for all involved.

Coaching is a dynamic process that calls for individuals to look inwardly, as well as outwardly as they move toward their desired actions and results. It is a creative process where you, with an experienced and skilled thinking partner, a.k.a. coach, step into a space of openness and at times uncertainty in order to know more clearly about thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and actions. It is truly an enriching opportunity for growth and development. As leaders, we may be very strong on the outward component of this process (the “what” we want and are doing) while not yet where we desire to be on the inward component (the “who” we are).

I jokingly describe my earlier leadership style at times as somewhat like “a dog after a bone.” While it’s not a bad thing for a dog to be in search of a bone and to protect that bone once it’s found, it is also beneficial when the dog considers how the hunt will take place and with whom he might share the find. I was all about getting the results desired and yet along the way – I didn’t always take enough time, with a thinking partner, to deeply consider what I was learning about myself in the process. I needed a coach and didn’t yet realize that need.

Thank goodness, times have changed! Today, more and more leaders understand that thinking, including their own, is a critical component of any productive organization. There is no way to achieve the daunting goals expected of schools and school leaders today without taking the time to purposefully and thoughtfully think about best approaches aligned with clearly articulated values of who we are as individuals, as teams and as organizations.

As a flight attendant offers clean hot towels to refresh hands before a meal, the start of a new school year hands to each of us a fresh opportunity to consider “who” we are as we go about the “what” of our work. In so doing, we are deepening our own self-awareness, a necessity for any leader. And for a baseline on self-awareness, let’s use Tasha Eurich‘s definition from her highly engaging book, Insight: Why We Are Not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life (2017). “Self-awareness is the will and the skill to understand yourself and how others see you,” says Eurich. This must be why coaches ask clients what they are learning about themselves as they consider best approaches to deal with challenges and opportunities coming their way on a daily basis.

This month, in all three of our social media articles, we will delve into practical ways for each of us to become more self-aware, which in turn will strengthen our “who”, both big and little, as described by an admired master level coach, Carly Anderson. Let’s begin.

Most likely you have identified a set of principles that guide the way you live your life, personally and professionally. Think about your top three to five principles. Here are some examples: honesty, patience, respect, positive influence, empathy, challenging status quo, excellence for all, growth and innovation, etc.

Now, think about the last conversation you had at work or at home that became heated. You know – where you and the other person had differing opinions and points of views about the subject at hand, and where emotions became elevated, as did your own heart rate. Next, consider some or all of the following questions that might come from your coach.

  • How do you best handle conversations that become heated?
  • As you look back at that particular conversation, what did you learn about yourself and the way you dealt with the conflict?
  • How did your behaviors align with your core principles?
  • What metaphor best expresses who you were in that conversation?
  • What metaphor best describes who you would have liked to have been in the conversation, if you’d like to have a do-over?
  • How will this conversation impact the way you deal with other high emotion conversations?
  • What question do you hope someone does not ask you related to that conversation?
  • If you were the other person in the conversation, how would you describe the whole situation?

It would be wishful thinking to say that you will never be in a heated conversation. Of course you will, unless you plan to live in isolation. The real question is, how do you want to “be” when you are dealing with this type of challenge? When we know how we want to be in those tough times, then we have a strong handle, somewhat like a straphanger on a fast moving tram, to hold on to during the conversation and a baseline to reflect on as we think back about the way we actually were. And, as we follow Emerson’s thoughts about wisdom, it’s helpful to consider what we learned from a particular conversation that will most benefit us as we carry on. After all, even when we didn’t handle a conversation as we had intended, there is always an opportunity to learn and prepare ourselves for the next one.

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
  • SCARF
  • 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!

Ways to Blab Less

Summer Reading Connections – Part III

The last author, Dan, from Saturday Solutions offered a catchy title: Clarity without Blabbing. It caught my eye for the very reason that a reflective leader was working on self-assessment and decided he wanted to blab less and so he wrote Dan requesting some strategies. He was very wise in recognizing that he had a great team and that his over communicating must be very frustrating. The column author, Dan, responded with some very insightful information. What follows is an authentic response to what may seem humorous, and yet very important for a very unproductive pattern of communication.

First, Dan commended the leader for being self-aware and desiring to explore the power of piping down. Then he offered three reasons leaders become blabbers.

  1. Position, authority, and responsibility loosen lips. The person with the highest job title usually talks the most.
  2. Concern about unnecessary mistakes makes leaders jaw-flappers. It feels safer to say too much than too little. Talkative leaders are protecting people from wasting time and resources.
  3. Experience with people who nod in agreement, even when they’re confused, invites windy leaders to talk more.

As we read the above, no doubt a person or two may come to mind – even ourselves. Ouch!

And here are the recommendations made for us – “sometime blabbers.” 😊

1 – Set a positive goal: (for example) “I will be an effective concise communicator, not simply talking less. I will seek clarity and brevity.”

2 – Prepare: Leaders with the gift of gab need to prepare more than quiet introverts. It takes more preparation to speak effectively for a short time than for a long time.

  • With a project in mind, make a complete list of every topic you want to address.
  • Rank the items on your list in order of importance. Which items could be eliminated or combined? Start with big stuff.
  • Craft one or two sentences for each important item. Don’t begin with ad

3 – Leverage Relationships:

  • Include others in your development. Be transparent with your goal. It will set an example and strengthen connections.
    • Ask team members, “What suggestions do you have that might help me communicate with brevity and clarity?”
      • Explain the goal
      • Ask for suggestions
      • Dig into their ideas
      • Put one idea into practice during the next meeting.
    • Give a project to your team members. Explain your goal. Ask them to give you a knowing nod when they feel you’ve provided enough clarity. If you want to have fun, let them create the signal to you.
    • Seek feedback from team members regularly. (especially after meetings). Ask three questions:
      • What did I do that provided enough clarity?
      • What was I doing when I talked too long?
      • How might I communicate with brevity and clarity?

What a cool way for a leader to model self-awareness and self-assessment. Great leaders know that talking too long invites confusion, not clarity. Another reminder of how important it is to be authentic and always desire to “be” our best self.

Finding Time

Summer Reading Connections – Part II

Another really great article in my pile was by Thomas Oppong, Founder of Alltopstartups. Just look at all the connections for coach leaders who are always needing more time.

START AND END YOUR WORK DAY WITH THESE PRINCIPLES IN MIND

Time is the raw material of productivity. Time, not money, is your most valuable asset. Invest your asset carefully. Begin with building a system to protect your time. Warren Buffett says you can’t let other people set your agenda in life. There are 168 hours every week. Think about that. That is a monumental amount of time. Where could it go? Or better still where do you want to spend all those hours?

Principle 1: Start and end your day on purpose. “Either you run the day or the day runs you,” says Jim Rohn. If you have clarity of purpose every morning your focus will change. Steven Covey once said, “You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage pleasantly, smilingly, and non-apologetically – to say “no” to other things. And the best way to do that is by having a bigger YES burning inside.”

Principle 2: Manage your energy. Your brain consumes 20% of the body’s energy even though it only uses 2% of the body’s volume. This means that when your body lacks energy, your brain will suffer too. Concentration is like a muscle, it needs to rest to be able to function, and it shouldn’t be overworked otherwise it’ll simply burn out and take longer to get back into the swing of things. Build time in your day to take your mind off work and rejuvenate your brain. Work in sprints. Break up your workday into segments with 20 minutes between segments. We know the brain can only focus for 90-120 minutes at a time, so taking a break will bring renewal to the brain to have high performance. A break is biologically restorative. A break may include going outside, a walk down the hall, or a conversation with someone. A simple space of quiet – even 5 minutes – can allow your brain the time it needs to connect ideas bouncing around in your head.

Principle 3: Focus. Today, reclaim your ability to focus, to be mindful of what you are doing and you will create meaningful accomplishments every week. The more focused you are the higher the quality of work you’ll do and the more you’ll get done. The basic principle of success is focus. It is what makes the difference between those who are successful and those who are not, regardless of how much talent, resource, and energy that they have.

Principle 4: Start and end your day on purpose. This concept is not new. Build a work system for yourself. A system makes your goal real – it’s concrete, it gets you moving, and it helps you focus on long-term gains, instead of short-term wins. When you are in control of what to do, what is being done, and what has been accomplished, you will be in total control of your day. Work will be meaningful and fulfilling.

Yes, it’s hard, yet even a consistent application of even small habits will transform your life more effectively than striving for an overwhelmingly large goal without a consistent routine to achieve it. Be committed to building a habit of ‘deep work’ – the ability to focus without distraction. ‘Deep scheduling’ is a grand tool to combat constant interruptions and get more done in less time.

We know as a school leader these are challenging things to do – the work is demanding all the time. So, what can you control – what time of the day – once or twice a week? Being reflective about what you might do and can do will result in major focus on purpose – as often as time allows and it’s a beginning of a new habit that will give back more of that asset for play, for workouts, for fun!

Take Twelve for Leaders

Part I

From People Matters magazine, then again in Critical Thinking, January 2016, there is a look at the competencies of leadership for the future. Almost every article published from the Neuroscience or from business leader publications focus on skills needed by our leaders. We love to have conversations about these ideas in all our seminars. Let’s look and celebrate the insights from this latest list.

The rate of change has become greater than our ability to respond. The world is described as Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. Due to the major tectonic shifts, a new mindset of leadership is demanded. Traditional hierarchical structures are fading away to give way to purposeful networks and communities of people working together to achieve a shared purpose. It is reported that to succeed and thrive in the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world these 12 competencies are required.

  1. Develop an Adaptive Mindset: Be comfortable with unclear situations and unexplored paths. Giving and receiving early and frequent feedback will enable constant realignment.
  2. Have a Vision: Vision is a perpetual force, a critical anchor that drives decisions, actions and judgments. Having a compelling vision is a key driver of engaging and retaining high performing team members.
  3. Embrace Abundance Mindset: Abundance mindset sees possibilities where a constraint mindset sees challenges.
  4. Weave an Ecosystem for Human Engagement: An ecosystem of human engagement is created when leaders understand the basic driver of human engagement – the need for trust, the need to have hope, the need to feel a sense of work and the need to feel competent. Leaders who coach will clarify the meaning of the work people do and build a positive influence.
  5. Anticipate and Create Change: As leaders ride the wave of change, they will want to involve people in the process to prioritize and execute. Leaders nurture change by balancing the needs of the context, needs of others and their own needs.
  6. Self-Awareness: It is only when leaders are aware of their preferences, ways of working and blind spots that they bring their true authentic selves and thus, a significant difference to the team and the organization. (Emotional Intelligence)
  7. Be an Agile Learner: Leaders have to be constantly curious and carry a “beginners mind” which is also willing to give up familiar approaches. Leaders need meta-cognition and awareness of the bigger picture.
  8. Network and Collaborate: Leaders must collaborate relentlessly within and outside the organization; a social mindset of communication.
  9. Relentlessly Focus on the Customer: Customer centricity is and will remain at the heart of effective leadership. Customer centric leaders truly “listen” to their customer voices and build long term relationships.
  10. Develop People: Leadership in the new world is beyond tags and titles. Leaders must model the behaviors they seek, support people in building their skill set and attitude, create learning forums, design work to tap into potential and most importantly – lead thru influence not authority.
  11. Design for the Future: Leaders are designers of the future. They do so by building an emotional infrastructure, organizational structures, methods and processes. Leaders must have a compelling purpose shared by all.
  12. Constantly Clarify and Communicate: Communicating effectively is like a location pointer on a GPS – constantly clarifying the current situation with respect to the changing external demands. Leaders will reiterate and reinforce vision, values, and strategies and the meaning of the work.

The hallmark of this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world is that there are no silver bullets. The future is here and now. Communication and clarity are the currencies of effective leadership. Leadership today is about shifting our mindset, values and organizations to a better place.

It is rewarding and exciting to hear the leaders in our seminars eager to have and develop these competencies.

Join me in our nugget for some thoughts about TIME.

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?