Thursday, December 31, 2015

Book Notes & Reflections: The Art of Coaching (Chapter 6: The Exploration Stage: What Do I need to Know at the Outset?)

I've never blogged my notes and thoughts through a book, but I figure there's never a better time than NOW!

My goal is to create a reference & reflective place for me as I continue growing as a coach.

See my notes from all book chapters on my Coaching Page.

Direct quotes from the book are in blue.

Aguilar starts off with the analogy of a farmer - a farmer can't just walk into a field (coach walking into a school), drop off a seed (deliver some PD), and leave.  We must know "what we're working with, the history of the environment, and the health of various elements" (page 98). In addition, we must realize as the coach the "the seed has a lot of work to do by itself.  In the end, you'll know that the beautiful melon is the result of a number of factors, many of which were beyond your immediate influence, but many others were not" (page 98).  

These are two great reminders.  There's a lot of work to be done before the soil (the school, the teachers, the administration) will be ready for certain types of PD.  I have definitely seen more openness as I've spent the last 1.5 years at my current site.  However, there are still a lot of areas I have to tread softly in and several ideas I have in my head that I am "testing the waters" with, trying to figure out when the best time would be to launch a new idea, as well as which teacher(s) (individuals, PLCs, departments, fellows, whole staff, etc) would be ready for it.

Second, I have to remember that I only have a small amount of "control" over the growth at as site or within individual teachers.  With my coaching skills (both the art and the science), I can have a certain amount of impact and steer things in the right direction, providing as much support as possible for a great outcome.  However, the seed (PD/coaching) and the soil (school/department/teacher background, history, experiences) have a large impact and I must come to grips with full growth not being within my control.  Certain teachers/departments/schools will struggle a lot more with growth because of factors I cannot control.  That doesn't mean I give upon them, but I must keep trying different approaches and not stress myself out over not feeling my impact has reached everyone.

So, this "exploration" stage of testing out the field and learning as much as I can about the school / department / fellow as I can is really important.   I don't think this is something that just happens at the beginning, but it has to start at the beginning.  Aguilar reminds us that we are gathering "stories..., not necessarily truths" (page 99) in this journey.

Aguilar gives 10 steps in exploration in this chapter:
1. Gather Relevant Documents
2. Gather and Analyze Formal Data - I like that she says "Coaches should not necessarily be 'driven by data,' but coaches need to be aware of data" (page 102). 
3. Initiate Informal Conversations - purpose is to "build relationships and expand your understanding of the site" (page 103).  Talk with teachers, students, parents, staff, etc.  Get multiple perspectives and learn as much as possible.
4. Uncover Knowledge, Skills, and Passions  - This is specifically for fellows - what are they interested in, passionate about, and what other things are they skilled at?  This must be done with purposefulness - yes, getting to know things about them helps build the relationship but the goal is to help them "see the parallels between what they already know how to do and what they are trying to do better" (page 103). How can we use what they already know and care about to help them move forward in their growth as a teacher?
The one place where this can be a struggle is with teachers who love to talk.  I want to value them as people and getting to know them,  but also don't want to spend an hour of our time just talking when we are all busy.  I haven't quite found a balance with a few, and am not that great yet at steering the conversation back to a purposeful focus and making sure I'm using the stories and information they are sharing to help me find ways to make connections to our work.
5.  Explore beliefs about change - I love the 2 prompts she shares:
- Tell me about a positive change you've made in your life as an adult, something that you felt good about, such as a change in how you eat, manage time, or exercise.  How did this change come about?  What prompted it?  What were the bumps and obstacles along the way?  How did you negotiate them?  At what point did you realize, "I've changed!"? How does it feel to have accomplished this change?  What did you learn about yourself in the process?
\- Tell me about a new skill you learned as an adult - maybe it was how to bake bread, surf, or create PowerPoint presentations?  What was the process like for you? What feelings came up? What was challenging? What did you learn about yourself as a learner? (page 104-105)

I am going to add these two prompts to my "beginning of year conversation" list.  The answers can tell me so much about how my fellow works, how they go about their learning, what type of guidance they seek, what frustrates them, etc.

6. Offer Personality and Psychological Self-Assessments - We found one this year that I really liked.  I had each of my fellows take it and then we talked through their results and I shared mine with them. 
7.  Observe the client - this is an opportunity to look for STRENGTHS!  I struggle with this at the beginning of the year because of all my non-fellow responsibilities that come up in terms of supporting the whole school.  I wonder what it would be like next year to set aside a day to just walk in and out of all my fellows classrooms multiple times throughout the day for 5-15 minutes as a time and just observe different times in their class, how they interact with different groups of students, etc.  Hmmm that would be interesting and provide some good insight into who they are.
8.  Conduct Formal Interviews and Surveys 
9. Look for the fires
10.  Engage in self-awareness exercises for coaches - I really do need to journal more (probably not bloggable material, but my own reflections from my experiences), but it needs to happen as soon after each meeting or observation as possible.  I find my days just flying by sometimes and not having time to sit down and journal in the middle of the day.  I wonder if I could use on of the teacher lounges, so I'm not "findable" in my office, and block of time each day to do it.  It would be more helpful if it was 5 minutes multiple times throughout the day, but I could start by finding a 30 minute chunk of time each day.  This would help me to process and plan.  I already spend about an hour at least on Fridays planning the agendas and such for the next week.  I could be taking care of that throughout the week, immediately after the current meeting or observations while it's fresh in my mind, after I spend some time journaling and reflecting about what happened and what my next steps are.
On page 117, there is a list of 11 question for "Coach Reflection: Stage of Exploration" that would be really helpful to journal through within the first few weeks of the school year.

...Until Chapter 7...

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