Slow Down

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Are traditional school schedules and teacher classrooms too rushed and hurried to foster creativity and innovative thinking? Is the pressure to perform in a standards-based culture too high to promote deep and reflective thought? Do factory-model schools cultivate trust and relationships that drive honest feedback, teamwork and the co-creation of solutions?

And the implication is that the real or perceived societal pressure we feel to get more and more things done, and process more and more information, can be an enemy to real love and true learning.” – Four Reasons to Slow Down by Jon Bloom

Learning takes time and patience and this conflicts with how our society and our public education system often operate.

“In an ideal world, the school day would reflect kids’ changing needs and rhythms. There would be time for free play; school would start later to allow time for students’ much-needed rest; the transition time between classes would be longer, allowing time for kids to walk down the hall and say hi to their friends and plan their next moves; kids would have the opportunity to step away from school “work” in order to regroup and process what they’ve absorbed. “The actual encoding of information doesn’t take place when you’re hunched over a desk,” she said.” – Why Kids Need Schools to Change by Tina Barseghian

Deep and thoughtful learning that generates creative and innovative ideas and solutions requires the time and patience to:

  • think
  • reflect
  • dream
  • hope
  • discuss ideas
  • ask questions
  • seek answers
  • encourage others
  • build relationships
  • generate new ideas
  • test theories
  • create solutions

“The necessity of human ingenuity is undisputed. A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 ‘leadership competency’ of the future.” – The Creativity Crisis by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman


This leaves me wondering about the learning and creativity within my school…

    • Do students know how to be creative? Can creativity be taught?

Creativity can be taught,” says James C. Kaufman, professor at California State University, San Bernardino.” – The Creativity Crisis

  • Are teachers designing learning experiences that promote deep learning and creative output?

“What’s common about successful programs is they alternate maximum divergent thinking with bouts of intense convergent thinking, through several stages. Real improvement doesn’t happen in a weekend workshop. But when applied to the everyday process of work or school, brain function improves.” – The Creativity Crisis

“When students display creativity and innovation in PBL, they are able to generate and refine solutions to complex problems or tasks.” – How Can We Teach and Assess Creativity and Innovation in PBL? by John Larmer

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Encourage Reflection & Action


As the instructional coach, I wonder what I can do to support deeper thinking and creativity within every classroom and online learning environment in my school. Maybe I should procrastinate and be unhurried! 🙂

“We’re always asked to be faster and more precise. But what can we learn from slowing down — even procrastinating? This hour, TED speakers explore why taking it slow is crucial…for all of us.” – Slowing Down from the TED Radio Hour

This radio program and Grant’s article, Why I Taught Myself to Procrastinate, illuminate the idea of slowing down in order to come up with creative and innovative ideas. By slowing down and taking time to reflect on a problem, we give ourselves time to come up with different solutions. Sometimes, our initial solution or answer is not as good as those ideas we come up with after taking in and wrestling with and testing lots of ideas.

“But while procrastination is a vice for productivity, I’ve learned — against my natural inclinations — that it’s a virtue for creativity.” –  Grant

“It was only when they first learned about the task and then put it off that they considered more novel ideas. It turned out that procrastination encouraged divergent thinking.” – Grant

““You call it procrastination, I call it thinking.” – Aaron Sorkin

I had never heard of the Unhurried movement until I started researching for this blog post, but the principles definitely align to being patient and engaging in discussions in which you truly listen (skills which I’m practicing). I love the philosophy of this approach which challenges us to relax and focus on listening instead of talking in a frenetic volley that is laden with interruptions.

The Unhurried Approach “applies to any process that requires the participation of human beings. We use Unhurried as a guiding principle in our work with people.”

I hope to apply the principles for being unhurried at work and plan some opportunities for Unhurried Conversations for teachers and students. In order to support deeper thinking and creativity within every classroom and online learning environment in my school, I will…

Photo Credit: flickr
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Foster Fellowship

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help-community

As I reflect on this week and my coaching program up to this point, I need to remember the following.

  1. Continue co-planning, co-teaching and building relationships with the willing
  2. Continue sharing pictures, videos and brief insights from classroom visits in my SharePoint Coaching site IC-SPsite
  3. Create opportunities to communicate: invite staff to the Google Classroom Teacher Community (includes a Digital Pineapple Board)

Coaches “need to begin by cultivating strong relationships, collaborating on a regular basis, and demonstrating that every teacher has some expertise to share…” – Instructional Coaching in Action: An Integrated Approach that Transforms Thinking, Practice and Schools

“Coaching creates a relationship in which a client feels cared for and is therefore able to access and implement new knowledge. A coach can foster conditions in which deep reflection and learning can take place, where a teacher can take risks to change her practice, where powerful conversations can take place and where growth is recognized and celebrated. Finally, a coach holds a space where healing can take place and where resilient, joyful communities can be built.” – How Coaching Can Impact Teachers, Principals, and Students

encourage

Photo Credits: taken from Pinterest and Instagram – no credits listed

Listen

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Reflections

This week I was fortunate to participate in a professional learning experience in which participants studied and practiced Cognitive Coaching strategies. The foundation of effective coaching is having a trusting relationship with the coachee and relationships are built upon open communication. Therefore, if I want to be an effective coach it’s imperative that I become proficient in the area of listening and fully attending to the person with whom I’m engaged in conversation.

Like many of us, I tend to focus on my own thoughts and ideas and listen with the intent to speak instead of understand the speaker. I’m also very action oriented and impatient so often I want to rush to a solution. (Because, my gosh, there are so many problems to solve! We’ve got to get busy… Hurry up! Solve those problems! There’s no time to waste!)

“You cannot listen when you have an agenda. You cannot listen when you are just waiting for a pause in the conversation so you can insert your opinion. You cannot listen when you presume to know what the problem is before it has even been explored.” – Jesus, Life Coach: Learn from the Best, Laurie Beth Jones p.210

“They [poor listeners] listen only long enough to get the topic of your conversation, and then they proceed to tell you all the thoughts in their mind regarding that topic. Or, if you present them with a personal struggle, they will quickly move to give you an answer by telling you what you ought to do in that situation. They are adept at analyzing problems and creating solutions. But they are not adept at sympathetic listening with a view to understanding the other person.” The 5 Love Languages: Singles Edition, Gary Chapman p.85

Human beings are very social and that entails talking AND listening. Now, we’ve got the talking part down pat. Most of our problems stem from not listening or simply listening reflexively.

Reflective listening takes place when you not only pause and consider what has been said, but are able to repeat it back accurately to the speaker. Reflexive listening is waiting simply for your chance to insert something into the conversation.” – Jesus, Life Coach p.211

Ouch! Many of us in the Cognitive Coaching sessions felt this sting; the sting of awareness that we are not fully attending to the speaker or listening with the intent to understand but only to give our own point of view.

“If there is any one secret to success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as your own.” How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie

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If I intend to fulfill my professional and personal vision and mission with a servant heart, then I must PRACTICE until I perfect my listening skills. If I want to improve my coaching and “mediate thinking,” then I have to COMMIT to becoming a better listener.

“…whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:43-45 (ESV)

“If I can listen to what he tells me, if I can understand how it seems to him, if I can see its personal meaning for him, if I sense the emotional flavour which it has for him, then I will be releasing potent forces of change in him.” Barriers and Gateways to Communication, Carl Rogers and F. J. Roethlisberger

In addition to the Cognitive Coaching strategies, I will practice the following skills.

Sympathetic Listening – The 5 Love Languages: Singles Edition

  1. Maintain eye contact when you are listening to someone.
  2. Don’t engage in other activities while you are listening to another individual.
  3. Listen for feelings.
  4. Observe body language.
  5. Refuse to interrupt.
  6. Ask reflective questions.
  7. Express understanding.
  8. Ask if there is anything you might do that would be helpful.

Effective Listening – 10 Steps to Effective Listening  

  1. Face the speaker and maintain eye contact.
  2. Be attentive, but relaxed.
  3. Keep an open mind.
  4. Listen to the words and try to picture what the speaker is saying.
  5. Don’t interrupt; don’t impose your “solutions”.
  6. Wait for the speaker to pause to ask clarifying questions.
  7. Ask questions only to ensure understanding.
  8. Try to feel what the speaker is feeling.
  9. Give the speaker regular feedback.
  10. Pay attention to what isn’t said – to nonverbal cues.

As I practice listening, I need to be sure to focus on PAUSING. During some of our Cognitive Coaching practice activities, I was reminded of how much I detest silence in conversations. (Eye contact makes me nervous, too, but for now I’ll focus on pausing. 🙂 ) During our planning-conversation practice, a colleague and I really struggled to keep a straight face as we made eye contact and tried to paraphrase and pause. I felt so exposed as I tried to keep eye contact, juggle all these different thoughts, paraphrase AND listen! (This is going to take a lot of practice:/ )

“From the time Americans are small children, we are taught to dislike silence. The punishment of being sent to one’s bedroom for “quiet time” or “time out” causes children to plead for mercy and promise to be good. And what is the dreaded sentence they wish to avoid? Silence.” – Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work & in Life, One Conversation at a Time, Susan Scott p.222-223

Conclusions

All things considered, I am excited, hopeful and prepared to continue this journey – the journey of not only becoming a better coach but also becoming a better human being. It’s tough, but we’re all in it together and we need one another and if listening makes the journey better, then just do it!

“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” – Proverbs 18:13 (ESV)

“…let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak…” – James 1:19 (ESV)

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” – Proverbs 18:2 (ESV)

Photo Credit: flickr

Dialogue like a Coach

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While preparing this week for my next coaching cycle, I ran across an eye-opening quote in Diane Sweeney‘s book, Student-Center Coaching. She quotes the authors from the book Difficult Conversations and it opened my mind to how I would move forward this cycle – I will journey forward with a sense of curiosity, not certainty that I have the full picture of teaching and learning in these teachers’ classrooms.

“Certainty locks us out of their story; curiosity lets us in.” – Stone, et al.

Today, I searched for more on this topic of being curious instead of certain and I found this great post in which the author explains how keeping an open mind is the avenue to meaningful dialogue and the way to engage in learning conversations.

“Instead of seeing our role as that of delivering a message to the other party, we need to engage in a ‘learning conversation.'” – Aruna Sankaranarayanan

Since instructional coaching is built upon the foundation of relationships with teachers, meaningful dialogue is a key principle for coaches to keep in mind. Teaching is a very personal endeavor so even when we engage in professional conversations, a teacher’s “sense of identity might be threatened by the conversation.”

For days I was heavy with thoughts about how to deliver a certain message to my teachers about my class visits this week, so when I discovered this idea of curiosity not certainty my world opened up! My job was not to deliver a message from a standpoint of judgement and certainty but to dialogue with each teacher through inquiry so I could better understand why the teachers were doing what they were doing in their classrooms during my visits.

“All people and relationships, especially intimate ones, are complex and layered. Acknowledging that people have different shades to their personalities will shield us from black and white judgments. By shedding our inhibitions but holding back on judgments, we can venture forth to have productive exchanges that can alter the quality of our lives.” – Aruna Sankaranarayanan

Go forth and alter the quality of coaching with a curious mind open to each teacher’s story! 🙂

*Photo Credit: flickr

Coach to the Next Level

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Phot Credit: Flickr 

“Imagine you hired a tennis coach to help you improve your game. Then you showed up for the first lesson and he suggested that you observe as he played for the next hour. You’d probably ask for your money back. What if he suggested that he spend the hour observing you? He’ll take some notes and then the two of you will go through it later. Again, you’d be wondering why you are paying this guy. What if he suggested that you focus on your game and, since you are so busy, he will help you out by picking up your balls? You would be wondering when this guy actually planned to provide you with some coaching. By now you may have recognized some of the most common practices used by literacy coaches; modeling, observing, and serving as a resource provider. While each of these methods offers some value to teachers, there are other ways we can take coaching to the next level.” – Diane Sweeney, Student-Centered Coaching

I love this analogy! This quote was taken from Sweeney’s article Moving Beyond Modeling with Student-Centered Coaching in which she highlights techniques to help coaches really move beyond simply watching teachers, being watched by teachers or providing resources. 

My goal now is to refine my coaching plan so I’m incorporating student-centered coaching which focuses on student learning, student performance and learning outcomes in every coaching session (driven by an analysis of student work). This coaching model marries well with many of the takeaways I gleaned from last week’s Assessment Conference in Louisville and the Novice Reduction workshop in Lexington. The sessions and the workshop contained a central focus on analyzing student work/performance in order to make better instructional decisions – assessment FOR learning. 

“Classroom assessment that involves students in the process and focuses on increasing learning can motivate rather than merely measure students.” – Stephen Chappuis and Richard J. Stiggins, Classroom Assessment for Student Learning (CASL)

Photo Credit: Flickr 

Coach & Learn

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Reflections on the first week of my first intensive coaching cycle.

Monday, Sept. 25th, marked the first day of my implementation of an intensive, educator-centered coaching cycle and 8 of the 9 teachers chosen for this four-week cycle are engaging in the process. The process is fully described in the book, Instructional Coaching in Action.

During the cycle, my coaching roles and responsibilities will continue with all teachers in the building, but the educator-centered model provides a structure for focused coaching in which teachers can experience leading the coaching partnership. Teachers have the final say on the purpose and activities of the four-week cycle and coaches ensure that teachers have what they need to meet their PGP goals for the year.

During the initial meeting, we developed background knowledge about the model, outlined a plan of action to support the teacher’s professional growth plan (PGP) and scheduled observations and debriefing meetings for post-observation reflections. Each meeting went well, as measured by teachers who were prepared with their PGP goals and my facilitation of the meetings; we accomplished meeting goals and kept within the timeframe (30 min.- with the exception of a couple of meetings).

During this first week, I was also able to get in an observation followed by a reflective conversation with the teacher so that this teacher will be ready to implement a new classroom management plan after fall break.

In between meetings and other duties, I was able to combine block scheduling ideas and learning strategies into a guidance document (it’s in draft form as others review and provide feedback on it). Once it has been reviewed, I will share the document with all staff. Hopefully, it will support the implementation of classes within a block schedule as well as supplying ideas for differentiating instruction.

Now, I’ve given a brief overview of intensive, educator-center coaching and some of my experiences during the first week, but what did I learn?

What did I learn?

  • Listen with your eyes as well as your ears. Not everything you need to know will be said with words; be very observant.
  • Keep moving forward. You will make mistakes; keep believing in the process and learn from it.
  • Be vulnerable. You are not an expert; you are learning along with your colleagues.
  • Admit your weaknesses. Cultivate an environment in which it’s ok to admit your weaknesses; we can’t improve until we are totally honest with ourselves.
  • Develop strength. Be brave enough to look at yourself through the lens of your struggles which highlight your weak points. (Thank you to the teacher who showed me that bit of wisdom during our debrief session.)
  • Have some fun! Live a balanced life every day. Laugh at yourself; in a hundred years from now, no one will remember the little details that are bringing you down.

Learn from Picard

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The past couple of days I have been questioning my ability to be an instructional coach and this morning I found encouragement from a few of my own blog posts as well as some words of wisdom from Captain Jean-Luc Picard. I share them here, lest I forget…

 

“The only person you’re truly competing against is yourself.”

 

 

“It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose.”