Coaching and Deliberate Curiosity | Steve Barkley

Coaching and Deliberate Curiosity

Consider this research finding: 83% of executives say they encourage curiosity and only 52% of employees agree. Why is that a concern? The same studies found that…

…curiosity helps employees engage more deeply in their work, generate new ideas, and share those ideas with others. When feeling curious at work, 73% of individual contributors report sharing ideas more and generating new ideas for their organizations. Successful organizations are rooted in curiosity. To generate new ideas and add value to their organizations, employees at all levels need an environment where they can be curious, seek and absorb new information, and make new connections.

An ASCD post titled The Wonder Years paints a similar picture of the need for curiosity in our classrooms.

“Scientific research supports the notion that our brains are wired for inquisitiveness. Researchers found that when we seek answers to questions we think are interesting, we are better equipped to learn and retain that information. We are also better at remembering the other material we uncover while on our quest for those answers.

Curiosity releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter, which helps improve noticing and affects attention and remembering. When your curiosity is piqued, you are going to remember things more deeply.”

Like employees need for an environment where they can be curious, students need to develop tools for inquiry, critical thinking, and problem-solving.

I found the term “deliberate curiosity” in a post by Diane Kander that focused on questions CEOs should be asking.

“It’s easy enough to just ask lots of questions—but that won’t get results. Deliberate curiosity requires dedicating some time to exploration.”

Kander recommends three questions that I find connect strongly to why school leaders at every level should promote coaching and seek coaching.

What are your blind spots?

How can I identify when I am making assumptions without the information that I need? Often information that I don’t know is missing. Kandar suggests seeking surprising feedback.

In a short video clip on the topic of intellectual humility, Daniel Pink raises the question, “Do I think more like a soldier or a scout?” Soldiers defend a position versus scouts who explore new territory. That’s a great coaching image for me. I can use a coach to scout for information that leads to possibilities, opportunities, and unidentified problems.

John Hattie states that 80% of what is happening in a classroom is unobserved by the teacher. It definitely is valuable to have a scout around. Consider a teacher who is facilitating students working in collaborative groups being able to request a coach observing her interactions with a group and then observing the group after the teacher has moved on. This coach (scout) is in a position to gather information, unavailable to the teacher, which may raise possibilities, opportunities, or problems.

How will you know what’s not working?

Kandar explains this to business CEOs as hunting for Zombies. Zombies are products and services that aren’t delivering results. Killing Zombies allows us to reallocate limited resources to bigger and better ideas. She suggests that this (starting over) can be scary, so many leaders convince themselves that they don’t have time to do it.

Wow, that really connects for me to classrooms and schools where time is nearly always an issue. How are we measuring the learning impact from the time, energy, and emotions invested? Is there information we’d really rather not have? When might I ask a coach to speak with my students to gather information the students might not share with me? I am currently collaborating with a school leader who is open to information I was able to hear as a coach of teacher leaders. We’ve been able to uncover some zombies; leadership and teacher practices and policies that have been in place a long time (many prior to this leader) which take energy that could better be reallocated.

How do you create accountability?

“Accountability forces us to be curious. Take professional athletes: They are peak performers in the top 1% of their industry, and yet you would be hard-pressed to find a professional athlete without a coach or multiple coaches. Why is that? Coaches are like personified curiosity. They help identify blind spots, find what’s not working, and think of new creative experiments to try. They hold the athletes accountable for constant improvement and achieving new levels.”

Kandar suggests that we can build in accountability for ourselves and our teams using a strategy from the US Army known as after-action-reviews (AARs) to identify opportunities to improve, whether things are going well or not. I had the opportunity to record a podcast with DeShanna Reed, an experienced special education teacher, school administrator, and former health care specialist in the military who shared how she used AARs to generate reflection and improvements in PLCs. Here is a blog where Reed shared her examples.

“We should all be curious. But deliberate curiosity is about dedicating time to that exploration.”

(Diane Kander)

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