Is the WHY of Instructional Coaching Being Communicated? - Steve Barkley

Is the WHY of Instructional Coaching Being Communicated?

As I was assisting a high school leadership team in the midst of initiating some instructional coaching opportunities with their staff, I uncovered the need to explore if the WHY of their plan had been communicated to staff. Teachers were not responding to the availability of coaching even though all the assurances of autonomy and non-evaluative communication were presented. After several conversations with the leadership group, I could identify what they wanted to achieve with the coaching process and wondered what the staff knew or wondered. Those thoughts triggered me to connect to Simon Senik’s work on WHY?

The Golden Circle concept introduced by Simon Sinek, is built on the insight that successful leaders and organizations start by communicating “WHY” — the purpose, cause, or belief that inspires them to do what they do. The “WHY” represents the core belief of the individual or organization, the reason they exist, the purpose that drives every action and decision.

The “HOW” refers to the processes or methods that are used to realize the “WHY”. These are the specific actions taken to embody the core beliefs in the way they operate or the strategies they employ. The “WHAT” encompasses the products, services, or roles that an individual or organization provides or performs. It’s the tangible outcome of the “WHY” and “HOW”, the visible proof of an entity’s belief and methods in action.

Sinek argues that most people and organizations operate from the outside in, focusing on “WHAT” they do without giving much thought to “WHY” they do it. However, the most inspiring leaders and organizations do the opposite: they start with “WHY”. This approach attracts people who share those beliefs.

I had realized from my time with the school’s administrators that there was a desire for more students to have more learning experiences that engaged them in greater autonomy, ownership, critical thinking and problem-solving.

I posed these two questions to the principal:

  • What do you want to make happen for your students (or for some of your students) that isn’t happening now?
  • How many teachers know what that picture is?

The principal decided to pose the WHY question to his administration and teacher leaders. Students gaining something that they currently are not gaining is a reason for change in the teaching/learning process. (WHY) There was a clear common message as leaders shared their responses: joy and fun in learning, investment in learning, student ownership and engagement, connecting learning to their futures, critical thinking, being challenged.

When the team moved to the second question, (“How many teachers know what that picture is?”)  a substantial amount of uncertainty emerged. A realization arose that there was a need to explore the staff’s views and thinking in order to decide the next actions leaders needed to take. They mapped out a plan for small group discussions with staff to find out. Engaging the staff in on-going reflection is key.  It must be more than telling staff.

Here are future questions I suggested that they need to explore as they plan administrator and instructional coaching actions.

  • Who are the teachers that agree with the WHY and have ideas to implement to make it happen? [Instructional coaching for this group would provide the support and encouragement to experiment with their ideas. Implementing hypotheses and learning with other colleagues about ways to achieve the goal with students.
  • Are there teachers who agree with the WHY but do not know what they would do to achieve the goal with their students? Instructional coaching needs to provide these teachers with learning opportunities. They may want time to observe peers who are being successful in generating the desired student engagement in learning. Professional development can provide possible instructional approaches. As these teachers decide on approaches to try, instructional coaching can provide support with modelling, co-teaching, and reflection.
  • Are there some staff who either disagree with the desired “WHY” or simply are not willing to invest in changing their current practices. In the short term the unwilling staff are not a focus of instructional coaching. (You can find my thinking on unwilling staff in this podcast.) As school leadership focuses on a bigger conceptual change, encouraging and celebrating with the teachers who are gaining progress on the desired goal is key to establishing a new culture and expectations.

How well is the WHY of your instructional coaching communicated?

By starting with “WHY,” the school ensures that every stakeholder understands and is aligned with the overarching goal, thereby increasing engagement, commitment, and the willingness to invest in the necessary changes. Applying Sinek’s thinking to the implementation process involves consistently linking back to this core purpose throughout the development and execution phases of the instructional coaching program. This means that decisions about the coaching model, the selection of coaches, the training provided to them, and the methods of feedback and assessment are all made with the fundamental “WHY” in mind.

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