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.

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.

Reasons Why I Don’t Give Advice

give-adviceADVICE: It’s a topic that never ceases to emerge when people are learning to coach more effectively. Recently after coaching a participant during one of our seminars, the question was asked, “How do you keep from giving advice?” I answered the question then and with your permission I’d like to explore the topic with you as a reader.

I have begun to be a collector of quotes and here are just a few to start your thinking.
As professional positions go, fewer and fewer really do offer advice because, quite simply, through the years we have both personally and intellectually learned how futile it is, and more importantly, how damaging it holds the potential to be.

Let’s review a couple of writings and research.

What if we begin with finance – the place where it would seem to be the most useful thing to give. A 2009 research study between financial advice and decision-making by Engelmann, Capra, Noussair and Berns illustrated that the brain “offloads” while it is taking in advice. The brain goes into neutral and the actual advice does not embed in the neocortex while the advice is being given. As a consequence, ownership might happen later or not happen at all. In my own experience a few years ago, I sought advice about placement of monies from the sale of my parents’ home. It was very interesting to me how the financial advisor would never offer his advice even with me asking, “What would you do?” His answer was always the same, “It depends; every person and situation is different.” Then he proceeded to lay out some pros and cons to various options that would best be determined by me alone. Wow! I was impressed and truly challenged to think deeply about my situation and what was best for me, my children and my family. I believe the process taught me so much and I felt very proud with deep ownership of my decision.

As we conclude this segment, let’s consider our field of education – that place we know best. For some reason advice giving is still very much alive and well. There are numerous writings and research that offer information to support the opportunity to pause and to reflect on what we all might do more skillfully. Education is for the purpose of learning, and to learn our brains have to do its work by considering fact and opinion, truth and non-truth, pro and con, impact and outcomes, etc. David Rock in his writings and books continues to remind us that we are in the Information Age and the most important thing we teach others is how to think deeply about how they do their work and make decisions. In Part II we will consider current leadership research and some language and strategies we might put in place to grow educators as well as students – our priority. So until then, what if we reflect on two types of situations – 1) situations where advice never enters your mind, and 2) situations when your mind is screaming to offer advice. Sounds like fun action research!

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.

Working on New Hardwiring

new mindset, new resultIn this month’s Ezine, we looked at the difference between the global notion of presuming positive intent (a mindset) and the technical skill of designing our questions or statements into positive presuppositions. The purpose of this blog is to consider ways to ensure our spoken language matches our mindset of belief in others.

So how do we get this new pattern well established in our brains? Just as we said in our first book, we presume that others are doing each of the following:

Prior and current planning — The person is already planning how they will address the topic or concern.

Prior and current thinking — Clearly, he or she has been thinking about it because of wanting to speak to you for greater clarity.

Nobility of purpose — Believing a person wants to do something even when they have not begun to do so is especially impactful to the brain. Because our brains are different, we each respond to change in different ways. My pace for change may be significantly different than your pace for change. Believing that I want to and just have not started yet sends a different message than language that carries judgment that I have not started yet. My brain may be planning for action, and when you approach me presuming positive intent, I am more likely to risk and take the next step. Approximation in the desired direction is progress!

Commitment to a standard or expectation — Our brains hold so much information that we can forget a standard or expectation. Even those of us who are Type A go-getters can temporarily forget something we know for sure. When a coach leader uses his or her language to reconnect us to what we know, our status remains intact and we quickly plug back into an existing standard or expectation. One example is the leader who says, “When you checked our procedures for a responsive classroom, what options did you find?”

Positive intent for action or behavior — Language that presumes positive intent almost always conveys an intention for follow up action or behavior. For example, the question in the previous bullet presumes the person will check the procedures for a responsive classroom if they have not already done so. This is the language that “holds able”—presuming that the person will take action in the intended direction. Additional examples include: “Knowing the importance of being at your duty station first thing in the morning, what is your plan to make sure that happens with regularity?” and “Knowing that budgets were due this morning, when is the earliest you can turn yours in to the office?”

A Story from You: My Map for Change May Be Different From Yours

One principal experienced the value of presuming nobility of purpose firsthand. A standard or expectation for using cooperative learning as a strategy for high engagement had been established as a campus goal. Extensive professional learning had been provided over time. There had been many conversations, individually and collectively, about what the expectation would look and sound like in the classroom. Still, there was one teacher who was showing hesitation. As the principal conducted her walk-throughs, she went by one teacher’s room to notice that while she had put the desks in groups, she was continuing to lecture as usual without any student interaction. The principal was upset as she entered the office area to find her assistant principal (AP). Presuming the worst, she spouted off her frustration to the AP. In response, the AP said, “Well, at least she has her desks ready for her cooperative groups.” The principal stopped in her tracks realizing the AP was spot on. She had a new view or perspective that the teacher was moving in the intended direction. Quickly, her frustration turned into hope and she marched back down to the teacher’s classroom and said, “How exciting! You’ve organized your room for cooperative learning groups. I can’t wait to come back and see the level of engagement with your students.”

Carol Dweck’s (2006) notion of growth mindset vs. fixed mindset is fundamental and deeply embedded in the concept of presuming positive intent. When you presume I have, I am, or I intend to, you convey belief, value, and trust to my brain. You are also connecting to the significant work of David Rock’s (2008) SCARF. At the heart of presuming positive intent is maintaining my status, which keeps me engaged with you rather than sensing you don’t like me or thinking I may not be good enough and ultimately pulling away (taking flight) because I sense fear or threat.

What About . . .?

You are probably wondering, “Well . . . how does one presume positive intent when we have a history with the person or we know for certain they have not done something?” One answer already described is nobility of purpose—believing I want to and that I have just not started yet. No one gets up with the goal of being the worst he or she can be. We all want to make a difference. So what can one lift up to presume positive intent? Here is a short list to which you may add:

Nobility of purpose (see story above)

Effort — I show effort in some way every day. What is it? Example: “You’ve worked really hard to ensure each student has access to the resources they need.”

Knowledge and skills — What are my strengths; what special gifts do I possess? Example: “Because you’ve been teaching for a number of years, you have a vast knowledge of classroom management strategies.”

Integrity — Defined as the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles can be a recognizable attribute. Example: “Your moral compass is a strong guide for what you see as right or wrong.” Or “Knowing your word is like a promise, this goal will be accomplished in no time.”

Caring — How do I show kindness and care to others? Example: “Your sensitivity to the lives of each of your students is apparent in the kindness you show them every day.”

Dedication — Every person carries within them a set of beliefs and values aligned with what they hold dear to his or her heart. Sometimes in the midst of the busy work, we lose sight of that dedication. Comments from others offer opportunities for us to reconnect to that personal dedication. Example: “Even when the task at hand seems daunting, your dedication to your students always seems to carry you through the tough times and toward new successes.”

Commitment — In what ways do we stay engaged in areas where we have verbally or in writing expressed that we are all in? Example: “There is no doubt how committed you are to the mission and goals of our school. What are you envisioning as the most important next step in reaching parents that have yet to attend a parent conference?”

Perseverance – What is that driving force that keeps us in the game when a part of us wants to give up or throw in the towel? Sometimes it’s being reminded that we have the internal strength to carry on. Example: “As a person with a track record of not walking away from a challenge, what is giving you the strength now to persevere, even in the mist of numerous challenges?”

?? — What additional items would you add to this list of ways to show presumption of positive intent?

Having and showing a mindset of positive intent holds greater possibility for increasing productive responses from others. Your language and attitude send a message of respect coupled with high expectations, which in turn increases the likelihood of inspiration and motivation for action. And when we presume a person has done something and they have not, typically they will do one of two things: (1) confess that they have not done what we presumed, which invites truth-telling in the conversation. My brain feels safe enough to be honest with you. Or (2) I will say to myself, “She thinks I have already done this. I better get busy and get it done.” Either way, status is preserved. We want to influence; never manipulate. When a person has a pattern of behavior indicating standards are consistently unmet, we hold up the standard with a question indicating positive intent for action, such as, “Knowing the deadline for lesson plans is the end of the day Thursday, what is your plan for consistently getting your plans in on time?” or “Because one of our focus areas this year is increased parent involvement, how are you thinking you want to engage those parents you have not seen yet?”

As you have conversations with others this week, what are you noticing about your presumption of positive intent? How is it influencing your language?

In the Nugget, we will dive more deeply into the language of the questions we ask.

Presuming Positive Intent and Positive Presuppositions

Welcome Back! It’s a new year, a new beginning, and that special time of the year that offers us all a fresh start! Just listen to this celebration from Principal, Amy Howell of Northwest ISD, Texas.

Amy Howell“I wanted to let you know a wonderful celebration we had! During our coaching conversations we talked about the power of positive presuppositions. We started our back to school kick off with “Having Positive Presupposition.” IT WAS AWESOME!!! While the teachers were talking about the article, I was walking around and heard, “This sounds like how you talk to us.” I was beaming! It couldn’t have gone better and it has given us an amazing start to the year.”

Much like Amy’s celebration, we contend that if you invited us to your school for a professional learning experience that would dramatically impact the culture of your school, it would be teaching the concept of presuming positive intent. We would also state without reservation that this is the easiest concept to get cognitively and the most difficult to internalize in our language. Why? Because of brain hardwiring! We have practiced our language patterns for a long time, so the default is to continue that pattern especially when under stress. It takes intention, determination, and a strong commitment to create new wiring.

Our words send messages to the brain that can be interpreted as safety or threat. In our first book, RESULTS COACHING: The New Essential for School Leaders, we describe in detail why language matters and how the presumption of positive intent holds the potential for influencing the conscious and subconscious mind, for creating safety for authentic sharing, and for opening the door for deep levels of trust and respect in a relationship.

A Matter of Distinction:  What Is the Difference?

Before we get to constructing questions that presume positive intent, let’s consider a distinction between the presumption of positive intent and positive presuppositions. The first is a global perspective of presuming the best of others, which then spills out into the specific language of our statements and our questions, called positive presuppositions. The first is an adaptive change — a mindset — that we hold that presumes positive intent on the part of the other person. It’s like an umbrella covering our way of thinking about how we work with another person. Second, a demonstration of the mindset is the language of our statements or questions, which is called a positive presupposition. This is a technical change meaning the skill set of how we construct our statements or questions to presume positive intent. An example of mindset is an overall belief in the other person to find his/her own solutions thus eliminating the need for advice giving. The skill is the specific language of a statement or question which demonstrates that belief such as, “When you spoke with the parents about their child, what was the response?”

Here are additional statements that demonstrate a mindset of positive intent.

  • You believe all people want to be good at what they do.
  • You believe people want to be valued and make a difference in this world.
  • You believe that people show up to do the right thing and make good choices.
  • You believe people care about those they teach or lead.
  • You believe everyone is working hard and when things prevent their best it is due to life distractions.

Creating new wiring is truly an adaptive change; an inside-outside process. It requires that mind and body align with the language we speak—so easy to say and so hard to do. It takes us to the essential mindset of a coach leader:

  • Belief in another’s ability to grow and excel — A growth mindset is mandatory. The minute one steps off the belief that a person can grow is the minute one chooses to diminish his/her own potential for impact with a person.
  • Recognition that “advice is toxic!” — Because we understand the importance of giving status to another, we get why advice does just the opposite. And we recognize that giving advice is really feeding our status rather than the status of the other person.
  • Use of intentional language that aligns with our trust and belief in others — This is the one that sounds really easy, and yet we know from our work with you that it’s really hard. You report, “My head knows it, my mouth just says something different.” Again, we realize it’s about our years of practicing a language pattern. Now that we know another option, we can create and practice new wiring. Here is a story that shows the importance of mindset and its impact on our work.

A Story From You: Coaching Begins With Me and My Mindset

This story illustrates both the essential mindset and how we show up for a conversation based on that mindset. I (Karen) was working in the Houston area and was approached during a break for some coaching about a high school department head. The math coordinator described the department head as extremely negative, so much so, that her negativity was bleeding into the attitudes of the team members and affecting their productivity together. The coaching began . . .

Coach: It is the morning that you are going to work with this particular department head. As you get out of bed, what are you saying to yourself about the person and the work before you?

Math Coordinator: Oh, I can hardly get up! Today will be excruciating, hard, and exhausting! All my energy will go toward trying to get this person to see my point of view about the work. There will be a vortex of negativity and little will be accomplished on behalf of the team or the students.

Coach: (With humor.) Please stop! Thank goodness this day is over! It’s a new day and you are getting out of bed to work with your best department head. What are you saying to yourself about the person and the work before you?

Math Coordinator: Oh, I can’t wait! Our work together is always invigorating and inspiring. Our ideas spiral up as we consider possibility after possibility. The team is on fire and future focused — what can they do next that will accelerate the learning of the team and their students?

Math Coordinator: I get it! It’s about me! What I put in my head is reality for how I will work with the department head. The work begins with me and what I say to myself.

BINGO! Through coaching, the math coordinator saw clearly what was at the center of her struggle. The mirror changed from facing the department head to facing the math coordinator (or herself). She realized that the language or story she told herself would be actualized in how she showed up for her conversation with others.

Check your Mindset . . .

How are you ensuring the non-negotiables are present in your work with others?

  1. I believe in this person’s ability to grow and excel.
  2. I believe advice is toxic and refrain from giving it.
  3. I use language that is intentional and aligns with my trust and belief in others.  

Coming up in the Blog will be ways we work on our hardwiring so that the presumption of positive intent is embedded and integrated into our language.

Results Coaching Next Steps: Leading for Growth and Change

results-coaching-next-stepsWe are extremely excited to announce our soon to be published book Results Coaching Next Steps: Leading for Growth and Change. This book will be coming out in early October and both Corwin Press and Amazon are now taking orders.

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Buy on Corwin Press

The writing of this book has been a real labor of love and was written in response to requests by so many of our loyal followers asking for more. Results Coaching Next Steps will not take the place of our first book Results Coaching: The New Essential for School Leaders. Rather our new book will be a companion to our first book and will include valuable and additional information for dedicated Coach Leaders!