Conscious Coaching Decisions | Steve Barkley
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Conscious Coaching Decisions

As I read various descriptions of different coaching practices, I value building multiple ways to process the decision-making that coaches perform on the spot as a coaching conversation unfolds. In an earlier blog, I described the Barkley Model of coaching as not being a model.

“I’m sometimes asked ‘What is the Barkley Model of coaching?’ in order to analyze similarities and differences among other approaches. My usual answer to this question is that there isn’t a Barkley Model. But I’ve realized now, that if I keep giving that answer, it turns out to describe a model.”

In many ways, I view coaching conferences as being like jazz or improv. The deeper coaches’ skill sets and confidence are, the more coaches are making the decision about “what is next?” from reading the teacher’s response or message (both spoken and unspoken). Sometimes, what isn’t said is at least as important as what was stated.

Coach: What strengths are you seeing in your students as the new semester has gotten underway?

Teacher: Many students have very short attention spans and limited perseverance when the material is new.

Decision-making time for the coach. Does the coach look to come back to the question of strengths? Does the coach look to record this one area of concern, maybe in a T-chart of strengths and concerns, and collect more of the teacher’s thinking in both areas? Does the coach explore ways to build students’ attention spans and perseverance?

Group of business people discussing business plan in the office

I am currently reading Responsive Agile Coaching by Niall McShane. He describes a point of decision where a coach decides between coaching “across” or coaching “down”. When coaching across, the coach reads the situation as the coachee is ready and desirous of learning and implementing a change. (McShane calls this the sunny day scenario) The coach enters what I might label as a teaching or mentoring role. Describing, perhaps modeling, a strategy and then maybe co-planning and eventually providing feedback as the teacher embeds the skill into her practice. When I changed from teaching middle grades to teaching first grade, I was ready for being coached or mentored across. I knew I was unprepared to teach first-grade reading and I was very anxious to learn. (Come on coach)

McShane suggests coaching “down” when “the coach’s ideas or advice are not the best solutions for the situation, or the coach is met with resistance from the client.” I would add that for me the down process is also my choice when I realize I don’t know enough: enough about the situation, the teacher, possible strategies, or solutions. When coaching down a coach is seeking open mind, open heart, and open will to enter a co-creation step for developing a possibility to “try.” (McShane’s label—- a ‘rapid prototype’)

I like McShane’s description that the down process begins with “Open and Hold.” The “open” occurs as questions and paraphrases open the way to dialogue with the client. The “hold’ requires the coach to hold back her opinions and experiences seeking to fully understand the teacher’s communication. The guideline that I work with is to be sure I know what the teacher is thinking before I share my thinking.

McShane offers a ‘not to do list’ for coaches during the open and hold time:

  • Don’t ask “why?” It is easy for someone to hear your ‘why’ as a request to defend the statement they have made.
  • Don’t offer advice. At this point, your idea can stop the teacher’s reflection and exploration
  • Don’t ask questions that are actually suggestions. This one always jumps out at me when I am coaching coaches. “Do you think it would be a good idea to………………………………………………………?” Or “Have you ever tried …………………………………………………….?”
  • Don’t judge. This occurs when the coach isn’t open. The coach needs an open mind, heart, and will or the teacher will intuit that the dialogue taking place isn’t really open. Judgment can seep through in our tone and nonverbals.
  • Don’t indulge yourself. If you’ve experienced a similar situation there is a desire to tell your story. This switches the focus off of the client.

The earlier coaching example is one that I would likely approach with coaching “down”:

Coach: What strengths are you seeing in your students as the new semester has gotten underway?

Teacher: Many have very short attention spans and limited perseverance when the material is new.

My intuition would tell me I don’t know enough. If I knew more, I probably would not have asked that question. Some possible ways I might respond:

  • Tell me more.
  • You’re seeing something that you weren’t expecting.
  • What does that look/sound like?

I can think of at least two different directions such a dialogue might take:

  • The teacher may rather quickly point out other “problems,” things that are preventing him from implementing his plans or achieving his goals.

In this case, I would be staying with coaching “down”, listening for the most important elements of the teacher’s agenda. Listening for the teacher’s identification of something he would want to invest in….. a will to change.

  • The teacher might become increasingly focused and more detailed in describing the need for focus and perseverance. Now I might proceed with:

That sounds like something you’d like to impact.

You sense that building students’ abilities with focus would have a valuable payoff.

A positive response (with an upbeat tone and non-verbal) would lead me into offering a co-creating conversation around
directions we might take.

Coaching requires following in order to lead. Shifting improv roles.

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