Apr 042012

In relation to the PLP  Connected Coaching course I now need to address the self-assessment rubric in a bit more detail. The strength-based approach means that I should concentrate on strengths rather than deficiencies and while I don’t feel that I am unduly modest, I must admit that I am not entirely comfortable when applying it to myself. It feels somehow dishonest not to acknowledge the weaknesses. But, strengths only, so here goes!

The strengths I bring to connected coaching include seeing the potential of online tools for the promotion of collaboration, discussion and reflection, using these for co-creation and re-purposing. This includes the use of synchronous tools such as Skype and Blackboard Collaborate. I believe that I have a well-recognized online voice as I have had an online presence for over a decade and certain things such as the foxdenuk handle and my frequently used avatars (there are two) have stabilised.

I also believe that I ”engage in, demonstrate, and advocate for self directed connected learning.” Nothing pleases me more than to see and hear how participants in my tutoring work gradually find their own ways of solving problems and extending their skills. I would also say that I am open-minded after so many years exploring intercultural communication.

I guess this means that I am pretty comfortable using the online medium for coaching as I have been using it for so long and have seen the power of online communication in both training and project management situations.

Apr 042012

When you are a course facilitator it is always salutary to go to the other side of the table once in a while. Some of my work involves being a tutor for The Consultants-E, mostly on very intensive 20 week courses. It can be quite difficult for working adults to sustain that level of commitment over such a long period and it is good for me to be reminded of that by reversing roles every so often.

So this morning I am bleary-eyed, as I have been every Wednesday morning over the last nine weeks while taking the amazingly innovative Connected Coaching course. The weekly meetings have been in the middle of the night for me at various times as the world transitions to summer time on different dates and also taking into account that I was not at home and in a different time zone for two of the meetings.

I have experienced the stress of tight deadlines and the feelings of guilt for my, at times, underwhelming contribution on collaborative tasks, but also the exhiliration of working with a great  bunch of people, learning a whole lot and being led by extremely competent role models in the shape of Lani Ritter Hall and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach of Powerful Learning Practice.

Over the years I have worked with mentor training and coach training, used the GROW model and the SMART goals model both in theory and in practice. What was different about the Connected Coach approach was the strengths-based, appreciative inquiry approach which in the context of mainstream education, puts the teacher in the role of competent, striving expert rather than deficient, out of date, out of touch victim which is how many teachers feel when leaving traditional professional development events.

This has been a learning by doing experience so at the same time as I was doing my course tasks I also had five school teams for whom I was (still am) coach. I guess that these people are the trail blazers by definition but it has been breath taking to see how competent and how open to innovation  these teams are. It made me wish so much that these teams were based at my daughters’ current schools but no such luck as my teams are all based in Canada.

One of the main aims of the Connected Coach course was to explore what the strength-based appreciative inquiry approach would look like when carried out online. And herein lay one of the main problems because the teams are for the most part based in the same building or in the same town and rely on face to face meetings to move forward. This means that there is hardly a digital trace for me, as one of their coaches, to follow and this makes it very difficult for me to get a true picture of where the teams are at. So this meant that I had to do a lot of chasing by email, on their under-used online space, to individuals and to the groups as a whole just to get a picture of where they might be at for now.

The Canadian teams are taking part in another PLP course carrying out Action Research projects and I know that the need for coaches was felt very differently across the teams. That feedback has been very difficult to get however. PLP have been very responsive to our suggestions and will introduce the coaches from the beginning in future iterations. I think that this will work much better and that the coaches will have a much higher chance of being seen as part of the team if they are there from the start.

But where I have had a chance of seeing coaching in action, this has been very impressive. This has happened during the webinars which the Action Research teams attend. Listening in afterwards to the recordings I can only aspire to Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach’s scissor-sharp questioning and driving of the process. I have also seen how it is possible to brainstorm and then focus and drill down to a feasible Action Research question through an asynchronous discussion forum.

Although this is the end of the course, it is not the end of the coaching or the learning process for me. The course without the live coaching would have been pretty theroetical and the coaching without the course would probably have been fairly formless and aimless. The other important element has been the support from the course facilitators, from my buddy coach and from my course colleagues who have been fantastically supportive, insightful and talented. It’s a very powerful package.

For myself, it has been great to have an insight into what teachers are doing in public education and great to see masters in action. Stepping back a little, this seems to me to be a positive way forward into a future which everybody knows will be different to what we have now. Doing it this way means that those most involved are likely to end up with something they are proud of rather than something which they do because it has been mandated by others far removed from the situation on the ground.

Mar 082012

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.

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