This is the second in a series of posts co-written by myself and Kristian Still, an educator from the U.K. with whom I connected on Twitter. You will learn more about each of us and why we connected as you read the posts. He will be posting our writing on his blog as well. You can read our first post together, Making Global Connections, here.
After Kristian reached out to me, we exchanged a few DMs on Twitter, and then decided to expand our conversation in a Google doc. We each wrote down a few questions for the other person to answer. In this second post, you will be able to read the questions that I asked Kristian and his responses. Stay tuned for future posts that include his questions for me and our reflections!
Questions for Kristian:
- Can you describe your instructional coaching journey? Where did you begin and how did you end up where you are?
In the summer of 2018 I received four sessions of coaching in exchange for my professional advocacy of the Education Support Partnership. It changed and opened up my views on the potential of coaching for my own leadership practice and effectiveness quite dramatically. It led me to question why I had deliberately overlooked coaching when it was presented and to see if I could understand why I had not responded or act differently. I recorded my reflection in a series of unpublished blog posts right up until the point of seeking accreditation.
In answer to your simple question, here is a rather extended and full response. ‘I was wrong about coaching’ which ended up as a seven part series, charting that journey from missed opportunities to seeking coaching accreditation. http://www.kristianstill.co.uk/wordpress/2019/01/24/i-was-wrong-about-coaching-part-1-7/
Formal accreditation here in the UK is not straightforward. Coaching is an unregulated industry and there are numerous routes / organisations to getting formally accredited. Whichever route you take, it is relatively expensive and requires a sincere application. There were numerous pathways, accreditations, and training companies. Eventually I met with Jane Suter, from Red Tiger Consultancy, who deliver a range of Coaching and Mentoring courses accredited by Institute of Leader and Management (ILM).
We met and we discussed my options (time and finance). I told her about my determination to add coaching to me leadership outlook and we decided on a course.
Coincidentally, at this time the ILM, were releasing a revised specification. Together with Jane Suter we conceived the idea of designing a tailored Coaching and Mentoring course for educators and school leaders. By that, we meant that Jane would prepare to deliver the course with an education focus. What Jane went onto to design was a fully immersive coaching for schools experience. A complete organisation, with ‘real’ staff, Values, cultural norms, systems, dilemmas and opportunities.
My year long engagement since benefitting from coaching can be found here http://www.kristianstill.co.uk/wordpress/category/leadership/coaching-and-mentoring/
- What do you enjoy most about instructional coaching?
At the moment here in the UK instructional coaching is only just beginning to gain traction. We are very much stuck in a – “having to prove” teaching competency model and performance management system. As opposed to a ‘supporting to improve,’ model. As we speak, our profession is facing very real challenges, notable around funding and workforce retention and recruitment. Any UK education news site will share these two messages.
More recently, the government has been looking to take workload issues and recently released an Early Careers Framework – in response to the significant loss of recently qualified teachers from the profession. I wonder how UK retention figures compared to San Diego for example?
Until recently, graded observations and student outcomes, were the two main tools used to evaluate teacher effectiveness. Both are questionable proxies for teacher effectiveness but I won’t go into that now. And through this process, I too would have fallen foul to feeding back to teachers in more of an evaluative mentoring model, then a coaching model. I may have been fully aware of the bias I brought to the observation and feedback, and I may have been conscious that I was assessing student performance and rarely student learning, I fear I did more damage than good. From my work with the Education Support Partnership, I know that for some teachers this excess performativity models has been devastating.
As far back as 2015, (http://www.kristianstill.co.uk/wordpress/2015/02/22/learning-observation-change-the-lens/) I was looking for a better way to engage with teachers, to work alongside them and with them, rather than in an evaluative, even judgemental, manner. In our learning observation, I thoroughly enjoyed getting alongside teachers for the full ride; from planning the learning sequence, to merely recording whether or not the plan was executed and the expected outcomes redeemed. Before supporting the reflective process as a springboard to move forward. I did this without the skills and abilities I’ve been developing on the coaching and mentoring course. Will the new knowledge make me a more effective leader? One hopes so.
- What do you find to be the biggest challenges as a coach?
For me personally, I was moving from an assumed mentoring approach, to a conscientiously offering a coaching approach (and all that it entails). Up until the coaching and mentoring accreditation, I probably didn’t fully appreciate the power imbalance in play, the influence my role exerted on the learning conversations we were having and I was investing in. I am more likely to identify the power imbalance and “name it” if I feel it is impeding our progress.
On a practical level, teacher / leaders need to see value in coaching and be able to prioritise time for both the coaching and the reflection. Teachers in the UK are also some of the hardiest working teachers in world. For teacher / leaders, and I include myself in that, coaching feels like a luxury. I do not think teachers are comfortable with putting themselves first. Coaching has to offer teacher-leaders more than if they simply carrying on doing, what they are already doing. Coaching for professional leadership effectiveness – amplifies this dilemma.
- As you learn more about coaching in other countries, what you find unique about your particular setting and context?
Until I started this conversation with you Amy, I knew very little about coaching another countries and contexts. A little from Australia and the work of Growth Coaching. Other than that, I can only reference when I’ve learnt from visiting and interviewing two independent schools here in the UK, reading about Coaching and Mentoring through CollectivED Working Paper Series.