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the context of mainstream education, puts the teacher in the role of competent, striving expert rather than deficient, out of date, out of touch victim which is how many teachers feel when leaving traditional professional development events.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.