I’ve always wondered how politicians such as Tony Benn were able to keep such copious diaries while in office. It is when I’m busy that I don’t have time to blog and the fact that this is the first blog post of the year is testament to the deadlines that I have been trying to meet.
I had the opportunity of a place on the fairly new Connected Coach course at fairly short notice early this year just as I had finished working on a EU Erasmus application. Since a great deal of my work in recent years has been tending towards both coaching and online facilitation I decided that this would be a good opportunity to work with some of the leaders in this field with the people at Powerful Learning Practice. The set-up is interesting as I have signed up not only for a course but also to act as a real coach to a handful of teaching teams in Canada who are working on real action research projects.
The premise of the course is that you can coach teachers online but of course there are some considerations which are specific to the online situation as well as taking on the whole coaching mindset. So far in week 5 there are three main issues for me.
Firstly, there is a whole new language to learn, language which I am not used to using in my everyday dealings with people whether face to face or online. I have for example learned not to object but to push back. One word I have had to explore is judgemental since a coach must not be judgemental. I can see why it is desirable not to jump to conclusions and pre-judge the situation of your coachee. However the English teacher (read pedant) in me wondered how it was possible to be completely non-judgemental. What about the decisions and conclusions that we make everyday to survive? Evaluating situations is what makes us human and ranges from whether it is safe to cross the road to whether we can trust a stranger to help us in an emergency. But being non-judgemental in relation to your coachee of course opens up many more options than if you have already made up your mind about what your coachee’s problem is and what the solution should be. In fact I shouldn’t even be talking about problem-solving and finding solutions since the job of the coach is to ask sufficient questions so that the coachee comes to their own conclusions about those.
The second major aspect of this project is the online nature of the coaching. I am fairly used to online facilitation but this is proving somewhat different in so far as the teams I am coaching don’t necessarily have a strong online presence. If I, in Denmark, am to coach a team in Canada then the only way I can do it is online. But I can see that, especially where the team members all work in the same building, they will until now have seen little need to go online. This faint digital footprint has been the biggest obstacle to getting to know my teams so far.
And thirdly one of the exciting aspects of the whole experience is to be involved with teams who are working together for tech integrated approaches. So far I have mainly been working with individual teachers and they often report institutional barriers and lack of understanding from colleagues about what they are trying to do, so to work with teams attempting to achieve something at the institutional level is somewhat of a novelty for me and very exciting. This feels like progress. The projects that I have learned about so far are on a different level to what an individual teacher can achieve. For example:
1. How to foster collaboration projects which involve students with external parties.
2. How to change a culture of learned helplessness to a culture of active helpfulness
3. How to increase student engagement
There is a much greater chance of success in these areas when whole teams are working consistently on the same goals than if an individual teacher takes the initiative.
I am also seeing connections with Connected Coaching and distributed Concurrent e-Design which I have been working with in the UnderstandIT project since 2010. Both involve imagining the future and teasing out current strengths. Both involve empowering the team and both involve expert facilitation. Sheryl Nussbaum Beach’s ability to choreograph the teams through scissor sharp questioning and strategic wonderings shows just how effective this approach is, even online when you are missing all the cues of normal social discourse. These are the skills which I need to hone.
It’s week 5 already of the course and there is already a great deal I can transfer to my other work activities. So for now I will continue my efforts to learn about the work which my teams are engaged in and how to place myself where I can be a part of their efforts to achieve their goals.