In our last post we raised the question whether the widespread observation process used to improve teacher practice is worth the time and trouble. There is little evidence that the observation methods we currently employ improve student achievement. Teachers rarely attest to how it improves their practice. This exists amidst a lot of evidence that times have changed, children and their families have changed, the economy has changed and we are attempting to change content. Why not change the way we focus on improving teacher practice?
We offer an alternative. What if we replaced observation with a purposeful coaching model? In many cases, coaching has been used, without structure, as if everyone knew how to coach and was open to coaching. Among athletes and vocalists, it is a way of life. Identify a weaknesses and the intervening strategy to correct it. Fundamentally, coaching is a process encouraging the change necessary to become the best each of us can be at our work. It is a relationship, not a momentary interaction. It requires a structured set of mutually understood steps and processes. It is not a series of unstructured conversations. Coaching is a mutual investment resulting in growth.
First, we have to learn how to have conversations. The coaching conversation involves a dance between listening, asking open questions, and enough silence so that answers come from a deeper mind than the reactive one and a more heartfelt place. We think we all do that, with each other and with students. But, in truth, isn't our time short, our mind on the ready and our interest superficial sometimes? Being listened to is in and of itself transformative to some. Listening is a skill like all others; it requires practice to maintain it at its best. It is not a hallway conversation; it takes time and attention.
Margaret J. Wheatley, begins her book, Turning to one another: simple conversations to restore hope to the future, in this way...
I believe we can change the world if we start listening to one another again. Simple, honest, human conversation. Not mediation, negotiation, problem-solving, debate, or public meetings. Simple, truthful conversation where we each have a chance to speak, we each feel heard, and we each listen well...Human conversation is the most ancient and easiest way to cultivate the conditions for change - personal change, community and organizational change, planetary change. If we can sit together and talk about what's important to us, we begin to come alive...(p.3)
Megan and Bob Tschannen-Moran are founders of the Center for School Transformation. In their book, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, they provide a comprehensive and detailed journey thorough the process they call evocative coaching in order to invigorate the learning environment and improve practice, ultimately producing transformational change. The book is encouraging and hopeful. How refreshing is that this year? It asks us to remember that our work is a human interaction and the process they unfold for evocative coaching may even improve our other interactions as well. In the very beginning they capture our present state:
If ever there was a setting ripe for the new possibilities and energy that such conversations have to offer, it is the twenty-first-century schoolhouse. Teachers and students alike are adrift in a sea of expanding requirements and dwindling resources. The toll of such pressures is evident in both the process and outcomes of education: people are neither having fun nor doing well. People are discouraged, frustrated, and spiraling downward. It is time for the change coaching can bring (p.5)
The book is drawn from the confluence of Megan's previous research on trust and Bob's work as a coach. Part two of the book explores the four steps of evocative coaching: Story Listening, Expressing Empathy, Appreciative Inquiry, and Design Thinking. It is a detailed and instructive book and is a worthy read for anyone interested in renewing the process we use for improving our practice. It is an opportunity for learning and reflecting on the conversations we have daily in schools.
How much time do we spend attending routine, non-generative processes? We are frustrated by mandated deadlines, tests and reporting and find ourselves still falling short of our dreams. What if we took better control of how we spend our time and began to learn how to ask open and honest, focused questions and listen without expectation and judgment for another person's answer? What if we took the time to learn what this coaching thing is truly all about? It would be a huge and courageous leap and we contend a restorative one.
The cry that we have no time or the current system won't allow us to do this is one of frustration and holds the belief that we cannot change things. Author Carol Dweck calls this a "fixed mindset." We need to recognize that is where we are and then, with intention, begin developing a "growth mindset." It takes courage. It takes the knowledge that as leaders, we can find our authentic voice, create clarity of purpose, cultivate potential and strength, and the ability to spark hopeful creativity (Adele Bovard) This is the work of a change leader. It cannot happen without the belief that possibilities are ours to create.
Adele Bovard, Superintendent of Webster Schools in New York. Presentation at NYSAWA (New York State Association of Women Administrators on March 24, 2014).
Dweck, Carol. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballentine Books
Tschannen-Moran, Bob & Megan (2010) Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
Wheatley, Margaret J. (2002). Turning to one another: simple conversations to restore hope to the future. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.