Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Book Notes & Reflections: The Art of Coaching (Chapter 8: Listening and Questioning)

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 describes the "Coaching Dance" as having three parts.  First, the coach listens.  Second, the coach responds with questions that probe for deeper learning / reflection.  Third, the coach suggests an action or learning activity.  The order of these steps and the flow between them will vary.  "The art of coaching is the ability to apply a tremendous range of skills in response to a particular situation in a way that appears seamless, effortless, and, at times, even beautiful" (page 148). 

When we listen, our goal is not to listen while thinking of our response (isn't that what we learn in all "listening classes"?).  We want to "[create] a tremendous space for [the fellow] to explore her own issues" (page 149).  This makes me think of getting to the point where the fellow is brainstorming and thinking out loud, making sense of things, and possibly even coming to their own conclusions just because they had the chance to think out loud.  I can think of times when I have had the time and space to do that with colleagues, and it is so helpful!  It does require skill on both the coach's and fellow's parts... the coach needs to be okay with moments of silence (practice "wait time", just like we would with students) and not feeling like they need to interject, and the fellow needs to learn how to process out loud and be okay with the vulnerability that comes when you are sharing unformulated thoughts.

Aguilar describes three types of listening: Quiet Listening, Intentional Listening, and Collecting Stories.
Quiet listening is similar to what I described above. As she writes, "We listen from the point of view that people don't need answers, advice, or wisdom.  They can do their own thinking, discover solutions, and figure out their next steps... We may occasionally ask a probing questions, but in this kind of listening we don't say much... We don't share our opinions, experiences, or feelings.  We don't give advice or suggestions.  We never interrupt... [We might just ask], 'Can you say more about that?'" (page 150-151).

Intentional Listening focuses beyond the surface of the words that are being spoken and delves into "assumptions, interpretations, and underlying beliefs" (page 151) and "what is not said: for what lurks below the surface - feelings, thoughts and beliefs, and for the gaps in a story" (page 151).  This is where being too quick to respond can get you into trouble because you can miss some of these things that could lead to deeper conversations.

Collecting Stories is another viewpoint from which we can listen, which is that we are continually filing away more and more stories about our fellow that will give us a bigger picture of who they are and begin to notice patterns that will help us in our work.

In all of these types of listening it's important to be an active listener.  One of the best strategies for this is to paraphrase.  I have tried to be much more intentional with this lately, and have noticed it starting to come more naturally.  Aguilar gives 5 sentence starters for paraphrasing: "In other words..."; "What I'm hearing then..."; "It sounds like you are saying... Is that correct? Did I miss anything?"; "I'm hearing many things..."; "As I listen to you, I'm hearing..." (page 153).

The second half of this chapter is on questioning.  Aguilar states, "A coach needs to know when to use a particular kind of question and when another would be more appropriate or effective  Questions are technical tools; the art of coaching is about applying judgment and discretion and about making intentional decisions after careful listening and analysis" (page 158).  The "technical" side of this is easy to build - there are question starters and frames all over, and I've worked on collecting those and organizing them for different parts of the lesson design process (prebrief /debrief, content/pedagogy/technology focused).  Collecting is the (somewhat) easy part.  Now it's being comfortable with using them in the right way and in the right time!

There are two types of questions Aguilar describes: Clarifying and Probing.  Clarifying "elicit details, specifics, clarification, or examples" (page 158).  Probing helps to "uncover thinking or beliefs - not necessarily to find an immediate answer or solution" (page 159).  It's important that a probing question not become a leading question where we already know the answer we want to hear or want to suggest something to the fellow in the form of a question.  I like the prompt "What did you notice about..." to probe about something you might have noticed yourself, but you put it in the fellow's shoes to share what they saw.

We want to try to avoid: too many why questions (fellow can get defensive) or rambling / layered questions.

There's supposed to be more about questioning in coming chapters... see you then!

...Until Chapter 9...

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