In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, Steve is interviewed by Kim Cofino and Clint Hamada from Better Coaching.
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Steve [Intro]: 00:18 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For over three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with educators at all levels, both nationally and internationally. I invite you to listen as I explore my thoughts and learning on a variety of topics connected to teaching, learning and leading with some of the best and brightest educators from around the globe. Thanks for listening in.
Steve: 00:50 Coaching Better Podcast interviews Steve Barkley, part one. I had the great opportunity to be interviewed by Kim Cofino and Clint Hamada at Better Coaching. And you’ll find their website contact information in the lead in to our blog. Kim and Clint have each, 20 plus years of international education experience working as coaches and they offer a podcast and a video clip and training programs especially geared for international coaches, but open to everyone. In the first half of the interview, Kim and Clint give me the opportunity to discuss changing cultures of schools to include more of a coaching culture, the deep privatization of classrooms. We explore the role of teacher leaders by building trust for a coaching environment. And we look at when the coach is in a position to work from their expertise and when a coach needs to hold back some on expertise and making those decisions to match the desires of a teacher. I hope you enjoy the conversation.
Kim: 02:37 All right. Welcome back to another Coach Better podcast. Today, I am super excited – Clint and I are both super excited because we’re here with Steve Barkley and Clint and I have both been following and reading and learning from Steve for so many years so it’s like a super honor/pleasure for us to be interviewing Steve on this call today. And I know that most of our listeners know who Steve is but I’m going to put him on the spot and ask him to share a little bit about himself and his education and coaching experience just so we have that straight from his actual mouth into his actual words. So Steve, thank you so much for being with us and tell us a little bit about you.
Steve: 03:16 Well, thank you for thank you for having me on. And probably the most important part of what you said is you’ve been listening to Steve for so many years. So a large part of people working with me is they get a history lesson along with any information about coaching. So just a real short part of that story is I began my my teaching career in 1970s. And I was in an experimental program that had me student teaching for an entire year from September till June in a grade 4 classroom that had a master teacher, two student teachers, a graduate intern and visiting professors.
Kim: 04:08 Holy cow.
Steve: 04:09 I spent an entire year being observed and getting feedback every day straight through the year. So every day I taught a lesson, it ended with leaving the room with some adult and a cup of coffee, getting feedback on what had happened, getting out my lesson plan for the next day and making changes or modifications based on what I had just learned. And then I then I spent the the rest of the day watching other people teach and having similar conversations. So with that as an introduction to teaching, I then started teaching in a public school in New Jersey and I was in a open concept middle school. So that was four people working with a 100+ grade five and six kids in one large open room. And after five years of that, I transferred to teach first grade, which I team taught.
Steve: 05:05 So all of my teaching experience was always about working with other people, somebody else always seeing what was happening and having those conversations. When I became a teacher trainer and I began to travel to other schools, I was shocked to find how different my experience was from everyone else’s or for most people and to meet teachers and said in five years they hadn’t watched another teacher teach. So that’s what sent me down a career of focusing on peer coaching initially. Then I began to work with the training of mentors for beginning teachers, cooperating teachers for universities, beginning to train administrators in a coaching role. And then I was on the scene when the instructional coach movement hit. And so then I dug into study things from the instructional coaching side as well. But my initial focus was on creating environments where teachers coached teachers.
Kim: 06:16 I am so jealous of your early teaching career. I think so many teachers would have wished they could have been in that kind of situation because you get so isolated in your own classroom, in your own practice and you never have these opportunities to have these really deep conversations on a regular basis with your colleagues and perhaps experts, like you, had that amazing experience in your first year. How did all of that influence, obviously it influenced your choices hugely in getting you into peer coaching. Is there – do you feel, I’m not even sure what the question is. Do you feel like there’s a background that you bring to every conversation that you need to almost share with people when you get started?
Steve: 06:57 You know, the statement that I make in most of the work that I do is that I see teaching as a team sport. And in order to be on a team, you have to develop a high level of trust in the people you’re working with. And I can’t figure out how you can develop trust in people that you’ve never seen work. So the second element I talk is teaching has to be more of a public activity and I don’t mean public outside of school, but public inside the school. Today, the goals that teachers are being asked to achieve with students have become so complex that you really can’t approach it in an isolated single year scenario. So I do a lot of work with professional learning communities and I see peer coaching being a natural component of professional learning communities.
Steve: 08:01 So the teachers who are working and planning and assuming a responsibility for a group of students learning success have the opportunity to be in each other’s classrooms and learning from each other as part of that experience. And just a sideline on that – when you said that a lot of people would wish that, I just can’t believe that we can’t bring about the change that we need to bring about in teacher education at the university level. With what we know today in my head, people should be going out to student teach as a team. You know, the university, I’d be putting a group of four or five students together, sending them to the same site and having them spend that whole student teaching time functioning as a team. Because I believe if people had those experiences early on, then no matter what kind of setting they landed in, they would work to make those things happen. I don’t believe after my experience that you could have locked me in a room by myself. I would’ve made holes in the wall. But if you start the experience by teaching people that this is an isolated thing that you head off to do, then we shouldn’t be surprised that that’s how new people gravitate.
Clint: 09:24 How do you – I totally agree, and I think your early formative experiences as a student teacher really shaped your views and like Kim, I’m a little bit jealous because I know when I started as a public school teacher in Los Angeles in the 90s, I was in my little classroom all by myself, you know, and for me, I knew that that wasn’t what I needed and I needed more than that. But I think a lot of teachers maybe have gotten used to that privatization of their classroom and so almost feel threatened by the de-privatization depending on how it is sort of laid out for them. How do you work with teachers to maybe do that or in with coaches to do that in a non-threatening or in a less threatening way so that those teachers who are used to the privatization are actually welcoming and opening their doors rather than sometimes feeling like they’re barricading their doors. Because I think that’s what we hear from a lot of our coaches and aspiring coaches is how do I get in? How do I get that collaborative feel? How do I build that trust and those trusting relationships?
Steve: 10:37 So, I guess I want to respond to that from two directions. First of all, I would make sure I’m capturing all the new beginning teachers. So anyone who’s coming in new, I just did some mentor training and I’m real big on bringing together mentors with instructional coaches. So my suggestion is if you’re a mentor working with a beginning teacher, the first thing you should do is invite the instructional coach to coach the mentor and invite the beginning teacher to sit in on the process. So that as a mentor, the first thing I’m gonna model for you is my openness to being coached and the value of that coaching. And so I see instructional coaches and mentors doing a large part to set that stage. The next piece then, has to be the teacher leaders within the building. And you know, my example is, I came to a high school and they had had an instructional coach for I think three years.
Steve: 11:45 And I asked the principal, were there any department heads who had yet invite the instructional coach into their classrooms? And the principal informed me there were several and I said, how could they possibly still be instructional – how could they possibly still be school leaders? That, you know, to me, that ought to be an element of being a teacher leader. I worked – in the state of Iowa, they have funding for teacher leaders and school districts get extra money to pay a stipend to teachers for taking on leadership roles. And when I’ve worked with them on selecting those people and training those folks in the selection process, I said the most important thing to look at was vulnerability.
Steve: 12:38 A teacher leader is a person who will make him or herself vulnerable before the trust has been built. So why are you a teacher leader? Because you – student learning is so important to you that you would make yourself vulnerable. You would put your ego aside for the possibility that you might be able to learn something that would advance the cause for your students. And so administrators and instructional coaches working with leaders who stepped into those positions, I think is the ultimate way of beginning to change that picture for teachers. And the third part I would connect to that is, you have to begin to define student success as a team outcome rather than as an individual teacher outcome. So once I know that I can only be successful and once I know that I have responsibility for what’s happening in other classrooms, then I have no choice but to move into that area of vulnerability.
Kim: 13:58 Sorry, I’m writing down what you’re saying because like it’s all so critical. I think it is such an interesting point. Like, all of those are in all three of those are like, yes, yes, yes. I think the point about school leaders – that an essential element of being a successful school leader is that aspect of vulnerability and accepting that there might be a possibility that there is something you could learn. How do you help school leaders make that shift? Because many school leaders that Clint and I have worked with in our various experience in public and private school maybe don’t feel so much like they have something to learn or that maybe they don’t want to expose that vulnerability for themselves. How do you help people internalize the possibility that there is something they might learn?
Steve: 14:48 One is, you got to put the examples in front of them. So I am right now, I’m working with a high school and a middle school where the leadership team had me personally interview 15 teachers on the staff to develop the improvement plan for the leadership of the school. They’re doing that because I told them the story of a head of an international school who hired me to interview all the direct reports to the head of the school so that the head of the school could build his professional improvement plan for the coming year.
Steve: 15:35 When people in those roles step out and do things like that and model it for the school, the high school principal I’m working with, that will be his opening day with the staff. The very first day with the staff, one of the items he will be doing is presenting his professional growth plan for the year based upon the input, the feedback that came from staff. The phrase that I use with leaders is “you got model the model.” So, if you’re leadership in a school, you’ve gotta be taking on the behaviors that you’re looking for teachers to be taking on. As an instructional coach, you should be the most coached person in the building. Instructional coach should be receiving more – you know, every time an instructional coach does a model lesson, there ought to be somebody else observing a model lesson and providing the feedback. And allowing the teacher whose classroom you’re modeling the lesson in to sit in on the coach receiving the feedback and showing how you use that feedback, which is no different than what we need to be modeling for students. When a teacher can collect feedback from students on a lesson and redesign her instructional approach because of feedback she received from the kids, she’s doing the exact modeling that she wants the kids to do and having them open themselves up to feedback from their teacher and feedback from other students to guide their own learning. So beginning to present that as empowerment rather than as evaluation.
Kim: 17:17 I really like how you have sandwiched this – like, coming from above and coming from the grass roots. Like, you can change the culture of the school by having the highest level leaders model that they are willing to be vulnerable and then also have the coaches model that they’re being vulnerable like at the ground level as well. And I think that idea of making sure that it comes up from below and down from above, working in synergy is a really important element of that successful coaching culture.
Steve: 17:50 I’m working several international schools now with their leadership teams on presenting a culture of coaching. And one of the issues I keep putting in front of them is, are you building it into your hiring practice? So what question are you asking in your interview as to how open the teacher is to being observed by colleagues and getting feedback? My guess is anybody who wants that job is going to give you the answer that you want. Okay? Now that you’ve got the answer that you want, now you’re in a position two months into the school year to start holding them accountable to the answer they gave you back in the interview. And it’s all pieces like that that you begin to put together until you change the culture. So it’s getting your teacher leaders to step into these roles, getting new teachers to step into these roles, building it into your hiring practices. It’s having that mindset in your head that this is the culture we have to get to. You know, when I wrote the first book I wrote on coaching was quality teaching and a culture of coaching. So it was titled that for a very purposeful reason. I wanted people to see coaching not as an isolated activity, but as a culture, that you brought into the school.
Clint: 19:19 Earlier, you were talking about connecting those new teachers and I think when you were saying that, I think you were meaning new to the profession teachers and their mentors along with the instructional coaches and Kim and I both have lots of experience, much more experience in the international school world than in the – particularly in the US public school world and we have so much turnover and so much transients. We may have teachers who have worked for 15 years, but they are new to the school. And I think what’s a really exciting possibility in international schools in particular, is the ability to, like you were saying in those hiring practices, lay down your school’s stance on coaching and receiving coaching. And it doesn’t matter if you’ve been doing this for 15 years as the best, you know, standard level or higher level math teacher, the expectation is you are going to to become a part of this culture of coaching because that’s the culture that we have for everybody.
Steve: 20:14 I want to give you the best model I found in an international school of that. When a new person was hired, the first thing they were given were the names of two teachers on staff who were inviting them to coach them. Now that’s the reverse of what most schools would do. Most schools would go to a new teacher and say, here’s the name of two people who will help you out if you’re having trouble. Instead you walk in brand new, here’s the names of two teachers on staff who are inviting you to come to their classrooms and provide them with feedback. I can not think of a better way to send a message out about the culture of the school and I would call those two teachers, teacher leaders. So here’s two teachers and don’t know who you are, don’t know anything about you, but they’re willing to make themselves vulnerable for what they might gain from it, as well as making themselves vulnerable to communicate the kind of culture that a school wants to have.
Clint: 21:25 And it goes back to what you said, vulnerability before trust. A lot of times you show vulnerability after you gain trust, but that leadership role is –
Steve: 21:33 Absolutely. But see, you can’t build trust without somebody being vulnerable. If nobody’s – somebody’s got to go out on the branch and hand the saw over to someone else and then trust can be built. But if you never make yourself vulnerable – as a parent raising your kids, if you never give the kid the keys to the car and let them drive off, you’re making yourself vulnerable. Your child hasn’t done something yet to create that trust. You’ve got to create the experience for trust to be built. I can’t tell you the number of places I’ve worked and people say, well, we aren’t ready to have peer coaching here because we don’t have a trusting culture. My response is, you never will. It’s the peer coaching getting started that allow you to begin to build that trust factor present that you need. So leaders make themselves vulnerable to build trust. When a school principal says, here’s the names of 15 people, I want you to call up and interview them about how I could improve, that’s making yourself pretty vulnerable. When the head of a school says, here’s all the people who are direct reports to me, call those people up and ask them about how I could improve. And if you take the same thing back to the classroom, it’s a teacher who could make herself vulnerable to her students that caused the students to begin to risk making themselves vulnerable. Back to the teacher
Clint: 23:07 You came to visit a school that I was working at – must’ve been almost 10 years ago now in in Vietnam. And we were talking about peer coaching at the time. And I remember something that you said distinctly, you said exactly, you said you have to start with your heads of department and it’s not the heads of department and going in and offering coaching. It’s them inviting those teachers in and it might even be, again, something that really sticks in my memory. If I’m the head of department and I have an idea of maybe something for you to think about, that’s what I’m going to ask you to also look at in my work as well so that we can now start a conversation, but I’ve started it with my vulnerability around that and getting your ideas. And that’s something that’s really stuck with me as I’ve progressed through the years and thinking about how I work with teachers and how you can invite that conversation rather than forced that conversation.
Steve: 24:04 Yep. See, I share, I don’t need the best science teacher to be head of the department. I need the person who’s most comfortable sitting down at a department meeting, laying out a lab that you did with kids that didn’t get the results you wanted to get and lead four or five people in the department in a conversation about how you might change or alter your approach so that you’re now opening the door for somebody else to engage in that same conversation.
Clint: 24:37 Yeah, we often conflate expertise with being the right person for the job. Joanne Killion and I and I have have had this conversation that, I’m sorry – Joellen Killion and I have had the conversation that very often expertise gets in the way of coaching. It’s frequently easier to coach outside the area of expertise. So very often, in a high school when I’m introduced to coaching, peer coaching, I suggest that they start by coaching people outside their department because it’s actually less threatening. I am more comfortable that you’ll stay in that coaching role. Now, there’s times that I want to go to the expert for things that the expert knows, but in my mind when I’m working with an expert, my coaching actually gets closer to mentoring. I’m telling you, I don’t know enough about this and I need you to teach me and help you with it.
Steve: 25:38 Different from peer coaching, where the only feedback I’m giving a person in peer coaching is feedback that they themselves requested. And instructional coaches find themselves in both of those roles and so they need to learn how to communicate with the teacher, which role are you asking me to be in? I was doing a coaching session with the library and media specialist in an international school and she and I were modeling it for a larger audience. And about halfway through the post conference, she changed the request from me peer coaching to me taking on more of an expert role. And it was so cool that I can actually stop, call time-out and point out to the audience what had happened and point out to the person I was coaching what had happened. You’ve just asked me to switch roles and I’m willing to switch roles, but I want you to understand that I’m switching roles because you requested it. Not because I took off the peer coaching hat and put on the expert hat.
Clint: 26:52 And she was unaware of that shift in that conversation.
Steve: 26:55 Yes. It just naturally shifted to her desire to know something that I knew and wanting me to play that role rather than to stay in just a colleague brainstorming with her. She wanted the expertise. So some coaches make the mistake of using the – become the expert when the teacher wants you to because they’re trained not to be the expert and I agree with that totally. But, you infuriate a teacher if I think you know something and you’re holding back from giving me this piece that you know. So you have to create that structure that they can put the request out and then I can step into it. Or I can even ask them, you know, I’ve done quite a substantial study in that area. Are you interested in knowing more? I’m happy to share that with you. It kind of steps outside of the pre-conference we had and what initially you were asking me to do, but I’m happy to shift these roles with you if that’s what you’d like. And most teachers are extremely happy at that time because now they’ve decided they want to know. It’s not you coming in with your expertise and telling them they should know. Your coaching, caused them to get to the point that they want to know more now. They’ve discovered their own desire.
Kim: 28:15 You totally hit the nail on the head with the teachers feeling infuriated by the probing questions when they know the other person actually knows the answer. And I think that’s sometimes why coaching gets a bad rap, right? Because teachers have had these long drawn out conversations where they know the other person can just guide them in the right direction, but the other person is trying so hard to do a good job coaching, nothing is done with malintent. Right? But they’re just working at cross purposes. So I think that understanding that in that position there are multiple roles that you fill and that there needs to be clarity and structure for how you can transition from one to the other is so critical. And I think – I worry, in particularly in schools in the Asia region, that that is getting lost because of how much interest there is in peer coaching and there is so much interest in the cognitive coaching model for example, and everyone can be a coach and there’s like a resistance to having this structure for coaching because we want to make it this like, we have a culture of coaching and everybody can coach each other.
Kim: 29:22 Do you have any thoughts on that?
Steve: 29:24 You’ll be able to catch my thoughts on Kim’s question in the startup to part two of this interview. Thanks for listening.
Steve [Outro]: 29:41 Thanks again for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean and please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.