Posts Tagged ‘Coaches’

Learning Forward Keynote: Autonomy, Accountability, and Professional Learning

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

Given the opportunity to speak at the Learning Forward Summer Conference, I asked myself, what would be the message I would consider most important to share with a large audience of educational leaders?  I decided that I should make my case that autonomy and accountability are both an important part of professional learning.

In my opinion, professional development that “holds teachers accountable” but doesn’t respect teachers as professionals and recognize their need for autonomy will not succeed. At the same time, professional development that honors teacher professionalism and autonomy but is not accountable will not succeed.  Effective professional development requires autonomy and accountability. To understand what this means, we need to answer two simple questions.

What is Autonomy?

For more than a decade, I’ve been trying to answer this question.  For me, when we respect teacher autonomy, we see teachers as full partners in their learning.  I’ve written about partnership principles that describe what such a partnership might look like.

You can download a research article about the partnership approach here

You can read more about the partnership principles and how they apply to presenting here

You can read an Ed Leadership article about partnership and coaching here

Voice:  If leaders and professional developers are going to honor teachers as professionals, then that begins with the simple notion that educators should have a say in what they do. Professional development that ignores the voices of teachers is dehumanizing.  However, when we seek out the truth and encourage others to speak, we engage in mutually humanizing professional learning.  Mr. Rogers is a great example of a person who truly wants other people to speak up and share their voice.

When professional development ignores teachers’ voices, it treats them like cogs in a machine, not people with knowledge, minds, and hearts.  Also, when leaders do not encourage teachers to speak up, they cut themselves off from the very people who spend most of their time with students, who in most cases know the most about students.

Equality:  The principle of equality is foundational to democracy, perhaps most clearly articulated in Martin Luther King’s magnificent I Have a Dream Speech, when he said, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.

Equality is about more than equal access and equity, though these are certainly important. Equality is about seeing others as of equal value to ourselves, seeing that others count as much as we do, and not seeing ourselves as better than others.

This is critical for leading change.  Edgar Schein in Helping: How to Offer, Give and Receive Help, argues that people are always judging whether or not they get the status they deserve, and when they don’t, people resist help. Schein writes:

All human relationships are about status positioning and what sociologists call “situational proprieties.”  It is human to want to be granted the status and position that we feel we deserve, no matter how high or low it might be, and we want to do what is situationally appropriate. We are either trying to get ahead or stay even, and we measure all interactions by how much we have lost or gained.

During interactions, Schein explains, leaders can take on the role of being a parent and put other adults in the role of being a child, or they can see interactions as an adult to adult conversation.  If leaders see themselves as parents, to the professionals in their school or system, they usually engender resistance.

Choice: If I see teachers as equals, then I don’t make choices for them. But choice is a nuanced principle for many reasons.

First, telling someone they must do something (and ignoring their autonomy) almost always engenders resistance. As Timothy Gallwey has written in The Inner Game of Work: Focus, Learning, Pleasure, and Mobility in the Workplace, “when you insist, I will resist.” Ignoring a teacher’s professionalism and giving them no choice will often lead to resistance.

Second, choice does not mean that there are no non-negotiables.  In any organization dedicated to public service, there are going to be some things that have to happen.  The challenge is to respect teacher autonomy and clarify non-negotiables.

Third, as  Barry Schwartz and Sheena Iyengar have explained, too many choices is no better than no choice. Sheena Iyengar gave a famous Ted Talk where she explains her research on the topic:

Reflection: Choice is essential for reflection, of course because if I just have to do what I’m told, I don’t get to do much thinking. Reflection is largely about thinking about how I will do something.  Thomas Davenport in his book Thinking For a Living provides a second important reason for encouraging reflection.  Davenport used surveys and interviews to study knowledge workers, people like teachers, who think for a living.  He found that the defining characteristic of knowledge workers is a need for autonomy.  Knowledge workers are paid to reflect, and when someone else does the thinking for them, knowledge workers resist. Davenport writes

Thinking for a living engenders thinking for oneself. Knowledge workers are paid for their education, experience, and expertise, so it is not surprising that they take offense when someone else rides roughshod over their intellectual territory.

Dialogue:  Dialogue is the natural mode of discourse for partners.  During dialogue, I want to hear what you have to say, I want to engage in a mutually humanizing conversation in which we use words to think together.

I’ve written about Paulo Freire’s conditions for dialogue in other posts on this blog. They include humility, faith, hope, love .

What is Accountability?

For me, accountability means only conducting professional learning that makes meaningful, significant improvements.  When educators are accountable, their professional learning has an unmistakable impact on student learning.  In this way, educators are accountable to the process and especially accountable to children, parents, other stakeholders, and the profession of teaching.  Furthermore, at the individual or school level, accountability is a genuine commitment to learning and growth on the part of every educator, a recognition that to have learning students, we need learning teachers, coaches, and administrators who are also learning.

Robert Fritz has explained in The Path of Least Resistance about growth coming from a creative tension between a clear picture of current reality and a goal. Peter Senge nicely summarized Fritz’s ideas in his seminal book, The Fifth Discipline

The juxtaposition of vision (what we want) and a clear picture of current reality (where we are relative to what we want) generates what we call creative tension: a force to bring them together, caused by the natural tendency of tension to seek resolution.  The essence of personal mastery is learning how to generate and sustain creative tension in our lives.

Current Reality: Getting a clear picture of reality is not that easy.  We misunderstand our personal reality because of habituation, confirmation bias, our inherent desire to feel competent, and other reasons.  (One study, for example, found that 93% of US drivers judge themselves above average).   For these reasons, real change begins with getting a clear picture of reality.  This can be done in many ways.

Video recording your class:  Learning Forward members can read an article about video and professional learning here

Gathering data:  I’ve written on this blog about gathering data on positive interactions, questions, learning time and student engagement. Many other data points could be gathered as well.

Looking at student work: Rigorously analyzing student work can also provide a clear picture of reality.

Setting a Goal: Effective goals are objective (that is you’ll be certain you have hit the goal when you hit it), measurable, and based on student learning (e.g. results on formative assessments), behavior (e.g. number of disruptions), or attitude (number of students who write about reading in their journals). A good book summarizing the power of goals is Heath & Heath’s Switch:  How to Change Things When Change is Hard

Instructional Coaching: One way to combine autonomy and accountability is through instructional coaching.

You can read a column about goal setting and instructional coaching here

You can download a study of the impact of instructional coaching here

You can download an article describing what instructional coaches do here

Creating An Impact School:  Another way to combine autonomy and accountability is to create an impact school.

You can download a presentation on the creating an impact school from Learning Forward 2012 here:

The book describing the impact process is Unmistakable Impact.

To sum up, teachers want to make a difference, and when their autonomy is respected and they are given the tools to make a difference, they will.  Teachers like Michael Covarrubias recognize that they are the ones that can ultimately have a profound impact on students:

You can see my full conversation with Michael on The Teaching Channel

Should Instructional Coaching be Confidential?

Friday, May 17th, 2013

 

This is an excerpt from my book, Unmistakable Impact: A Partnership Approach for Dramatically Improving Instruction.

In instructional coaching the practice of coaching occurs within confidential relationships. There are at least three reasons for this.  

First, when coaches deal with what matters to teachers, they are privileged to see and hear information most others will not see and hear.  To share that private information with others is a violation of a person’s privacy. Second, coaching is much more productive when collaborating teachers are open about their ideas, thoughts, and fears. For many teachers, knowing that instructional coaching conversations are confidential makes it easier for them to talk about what really matters.  Third, when we ensure that instructional coaching is confidential, we increase the chances that teachers will choose to work with a coach.

However, not everything a coach does, can or should be confidential. For example, instructional coaches need to keep principals informed of whom they are working with and what they are working on. Instructional coaches working with the Kansas Coaching Project discriminate between what should and should not be shared by saying that coaches do not share data or evaluative information. We communicate clearly to teachers that instructional coaching is nonjudgmental.  Coaches are partners helping teachers learn new practices, not evaluators. Indeed, in most cases instructional coaches have no administrative training on how to evaluate teachers, so it would not be appropriate for them to evaluate teachers anyway.

In some schools confidentiality is not an issue.  In especially positive, safe settings, teachers may be more than comfortable having their coach share any information.  Indeed, Michael Fullan (2008) identifies transparency as one of his six secrets of change, stating that “when transparency is consistently evident, it creates an aura of ‘positive pressure’ – pressure that is experienced as fair and reasonable, pressure that is actionable in that it points to solutions, and pressure that ultimately is inescapable” (p. 14).

To create settings where such transparency is possible may require baby steps.  In a culture where there is not a great deal of trust, confidential instructional coaching can be the default mode, but over time, if teachers agree, more information can be shared. The greater the lack of trust initially, the more important confidentiality usually is.  What is most important is that principals and coaches clearly delineate what they will and will not discuss, communicate that policy across the school, act consistently with the policy. Perceived betrayal of trust can severely damage an instructional coaching relationship. For example, when a teacher says something to a coach that she think will be kept privately by the coach, and then discovers that what she said was shared with others, it may be impossible for the coach to ever win back the teacher’s trust.

Push and Pull Learning

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

In his book Masterful Coaching, Robert Hargrove makes a simple distinction that I’ve been thinking about ever since I read it.  There are two types of coaching, he says: Push and Pull.

Push Coaching, Hargrove says, occurs when coaches start with a series of ideas and then try to convince others to implement them. Learning, in push coaching, is pushed along by the coach.

Pull coaching, Hargrove says, occurs when coaches ask others what they would like to do in the future.  Learning, in pull coaching, is pulled along by the goals and desires of the learners.

This distinction between push and pull learning, of course, can be applied to most other learning situations.  What is the motivation for learning:  the goals of the teacher or the goals of the learner?

In my own life, I know I learn a heck of a lot more when I am learning because I am fired up about it, because it matters to me, than when I am doing something that has been chosen for me. And I bet that is the case for most learners.

The importance of pull is also the biggest idea in Daniel Pink’s nice summary of the literature on motivation, Drive. Pink explains, after reviewing piles of research on motivation, that we are not motivated by other people’s goals, but only by our own goals. This is a pretty simple idea, and yet it is one that we all too often overlook when we plan instruction.

Our learning is driven by standards, tests, objectives and so forth. But shouldn’t we pay at least equal attention to our students’ interests, desires, and goals?  What would happen if, instead of trying to push learning on children every day our educational systems started with a simple question:  What is going to interest, motivate and inspire our students?  What if we gave as much attention to the hearts of our learners as we do to the standards on our tests?

This does not need to be a theoretical question. There are strategies we can employ today to unleash students’ interests.  We can ask our students about their interests. We creating meaningful activities that help students target their interests. We can give students choices.  We can try to deeply understand our students, and when we know them, we can build at least some learning around what we know.  We can link students up with mentors who helped them define and pursue their goals.

“People love to learn but hate to be taught,” Diane Dietz has said.  Maybe people hate to be taught because what is being learned is being pushed on them.  We will keep the desire to learn alive much longer if we create opportunities for pull learning. If we start with the student, something really powerful can happen.

Scratching

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

Teaching is a creative art as much as painting, writing, composing, or dancing. Teachers who are radical learners constantly tap into their imaginations to create the best learning environments. Much of the challenge and joy of teaching comes from creating learning experiences that work for kids.

Twyla’s Tharp’s The Creative Habit is packed with ideas that empower people to exploit the full power of their imagination.  One of her best ideas is called scratching.

In describing scratching, Tharp writes that this is a creative act that all of us engage in. But, for me at least, until I read Tharp’s book, it had never had a name.  Here is what she writes:

You know how you scratch away at a lottery ticket to see if you’ve won? That’s what I’m doing when I begin a piece. I’m digging through everything to find something. It’s like clawing at the side of a mountain to get a toehold, a grip, some sort of traction to keep moving upward and onward.

Scratching takes many shapes. A fashion designer is scratching when he visits vintage clothing stores …

A film director is scratching when she grabs a flight to Rome, trusting that she will get her next big idea in that inspiring city …

An architect is scratching when he walks through a rock quarry, studying the algebraic connections of fallen rocks …

Tharp suggests lots of ways to scratch for ideas, including “reading, conversation, environment, culture, heroes, mentors, nature – all are lottery tickets for creativity.”  Scratching, she writes, “is a wildly unruly process … it’s about unleashing furious mindless energy and watching it bounce off everything in your path … [it's] where creativity begins.  It is the moment when your ideas take flight and begin to defy gravity.  If you try to rein it in, you’ll never know how high you can fly.”

There are many places where educators can scratch for ideas. Teachers’ lottery tickets can be books, especially innovative books on learning such as Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mindor Sir Ken Robinson’s The Element; ancient texts on learning, written by authors such as Charlotte Mason or John Dewey; or books by iconoclasts such as John Taylor Gotto. It can also be conversations with other teachers, students, mentors, coaches, or other educators. Other places to scratch for ideas include the web – by viewing presenters on TED or asking questions throughTwitter or Facebook; or simply by mining their memories of great teachers and great learning experiences.  Teachers can even scratch for ideas by thinking about failed learning experiences, and flipping those experiences around to make them successful.

Every creative person has his or her lottery tickets to scratch.  For radical learners, the prize is meaningful, inspiring, and fun learning.  How do you scratch for ideas?  We’d love to know.

Are You A Radical Learner?

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

The people who will save our schools are not the policy makers, the educational researchers, the textbook developers, the consultants, or anyone else who works outside of a school.  Our schools will be saved by the teachers, principals, superintendents, and other educators who live to learn.  This new group, people I call radical learners, is emerging in schools all across the world.  They are people who are driven by learning, people who get up in the morning fired up to try something new, to make a difference, to teach and learn.

Radical learners are everywhere.  Often alone, they stand up for kids in board meetings, the principal’s office, and the staff lounge, but mostly they stand up for kids in their own classrooms. They are creating PLNs, grabbing good ideas off of Twitter, writing, reading, and sharing good blogs, reading new thinkers like Godin, Gladwell, and Pink, and old thinkers like Friere, Dewey, and Mason. Radical learners are loving people who will not let schools let kids down. They work the system to make it better, and kinder, more loving, more equitable, more challenging, and more supportive. They work hard because they know how much learning matters.

Who are the radical learners?

Radical learners:

  • believe we are here on earth to learn, so they are turned on by every chance they get to discover something new
  • use technology to learn, to teach, or lead (and because it’s cool)
  • have hope because they know that to teach without hope is to damage but to teach with hope can save the world
  • love the members of their PLN
  • have mentors and coaches
  • mentor and coach others
  • are witnesses to the good
  • are brutally honest about what is really happening in their classroom and welcome any visitor who could help them improve
  • don’t blame others but accept personal responsibility for whatever task they take on
  • infect everybody with their love of learning; most important, the children they teach
  • make a difference

Are you a radical learner?