Podcast: Exploring Intellectual Humility in Coaching & PLCs - Steve Barkley

Podcast: Exploring Intellectual Humility in Coaching & PLCs

steve barkley, Exploring Intellectual Humility in Coaching & PLCs

In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, listen as Steve explores the concept of intellectual humility and how it relates to educators learning through coaching and PLCs.

Listen to Daniel Pink’s podcast here.

Read “When Do Teachers Cooperate and When Do They Collaborate” here. 

Read “Why Hypotheses Beat Goals” here.

Subscribe to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast on iTunes or visit BarkleyPD.com to find new episodes!


Announcer: 00:00 Take a deeper dive with Steve Barkley and one of his five books. Available in electronic and printed formats, add Steve’s books to your district’s resources or to your personal collection at barkleypd.com/books.

Steve [Intro]: 00:14 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: 00:42 Exploring intellectual humility in coaching and PLCs. The Daniel Pink podcast, the link which can be found in the opening to this podcast, introduced me to the phrase, intellectual humility. Pink defines it as being less certain about my views and more intellectually humble about what I know and understand. It is a willingness to recognize that what you think and what you believe might be wrong. As I considered his comments, it struck me as having an application to coaching and to learning in a PLC. Pink identifies that it’s not easy to do to be intellectually humble. And he recommends the work of Warren Berger, the author of the book, “The Book of Beautiful Questions” as a resource. Pink identifies four questions pulled from Warren Berger’s work and I’m going to explore those four questions within this podcast. Question number one, do I think more like a soldier or a scout?

Steve: 02:09 You see soldiers defend a position where Scouts explore new territory. That created a great image for me for coaching. Scouting for possibilities, for opportunities, scouting for unidentified problems. John Hattie states that 80% of what’s happening in the classroom is unobserved by the teacher. Definitely it would be valuable to have a scout around. I found a definition for scouting that said to go and look in various places for something you want. That’s the verb scouting. To go and look in various places for something you want. It struck me that as a teacher, that would be a constant that I’m looking for what it is I want in student learning and how I might use a coach in my classroom to assist me in finding it. In my pre-conferences as a coach, I’m often asking the teacher, what are the learning production behaviors you want?

Steve: 03:24 In other words, what do you want students to do that will cause the learning? As I observe, I’m often scouting to see when that is happening and when and where it isn’t. And then in post conferencing with the teacher, having the feedback that I’ve gathered, we’re often scouting for opportunities to get us more of that desired student learning behavior. In PLCs, when we’re exploring student work and assessments, we can be seen to be engaged in scouting. Looking for patterns that might provide a new understanding for us. Rather than defending the instructional process that we used, the PLC is on the lookout for new opportunities, perhaps a new learning pathway that goes faster, deeper, further, maybe finding a view that we’ve been missing. The second question from Berger and Pink, “would I rather be right or would I rather understand?”

Steve: 04:39 I can see exploring with a coach or as a PLC, what is it that as a teacher I’m currently not understanding what is it that I should be questioning? My favorite PLC question when looking at student learning outcomes is this – what do our students need us to learn? Whenever we would like and desire a different learning outcome than the one we’ve just received from our students means that we have to engage in some kind of learning ourselves as educators in order to get our students closer to that desired outcome. COVID-19 moving learning into that virtual process has created important signs to challenge some of our long held understandings. I’ve had teachers tell me that a good number of students surprised the teachers with their independence and responsibility as learners during this time. What understandings of ours about student learners and student learning emerged during this time? And how will we use that new understanding? As educators we’re forced change their usual instructional practices. They engaged in experiences that frequently challenged what we thought we knew we need to engage now in major reflection on the insights that are emerging and making decisions about how we move ahead, how we increase, how we use new understandings about teaching and learning.

Steve: 06:34 The third question that was raised – do I solicit and seek out opposing points of view? That’s powerful. We often examine how we respond to opposing points of view, but it’s another step to say, how do I seek out opposing points of view? When I’m coaching in a post-conference and a teacher identifies a new plan or strategy or idea that she’s considering implementing, I like to encourage her to predict the positive and possible negative outcomes that could occur from moving ahead. In examining what I sometimes call, “worst case scenario,” the teacher is often encouraged to proceed with an action because she’s identified that the worst case really isn’t much of a risk, or she has modified the idea to counter the worst thing happening and therefore has confidence to plow ahead with her idea.

Steve: 07:54 Making the choice to go ahead with implementation or to modify the strategy often creates look for’s that the teacher may engage a coach to collect, to assist her in finding information that is reinforcing or questioning her current thinking. Opposing views are an important part of voices in a PLC that promotes increased teacher learning. I recently wrote a blog called “When do Teachers Cooperate and When do They Collaborate.” Again, the link is in the lead-in to this podcast. I was motivated to write that blog after having read an article by Zachary Herman that was published in ASCD’s Educational Leadership titled, “Cooperate and Collaborate.” Herman differentiates cooperative teams from collaborative teams. “Cooperative teams are those that aim to achieve goals more efficiently and effectively while collaborative teams explore and solve problems that individuals alone cannot.” Herman shares that while cooperating, teachers are sharing resources and that may benefit their work, but it won’t likely delve deep enough into issues of difficult learning experiences. Not getting to deal with the students with whom teachers are struggling the most, or figuring out how to build stronger relationships with students.

Steve: 09:41 These kinds of questions require deeper inquiry and more extensive problem solving. Such questions require the utilization and the experiences, perspective, ideas and insights of all the team members to get beneath the surface and work together to create new approaches. That’s the role of collaboration. Collaborative teams value conflict. Differences fuel the team’s collaborative efforts. Solving complex problems requires learning and we stand to learn the most from those who are different than us, seeking opposing points of view. And the last question that Pink and Berger provide us, “do I enjoy the pleasant surprise of discovering I am mistaken?” Being wrong isn’t a failure, being wrong is a success. You’ve just learned something new. This concept of a mistake being a pleasant surprise is illustrated in an MIT Sloan article by Jean Ross. Again, I’ve provided the link for you. In the article, she describes why hypotheses beat goals.

Steve: 11:21 Ross suggest that companies should focus organizational energy on hypothesis generation and testing hypothesis force individuals to articulate in advance, why they believe a given course of action will succeed. A failure then exposes an incorrect hypothesis, which we can more reliably convert into organizational learning. But doesn’t that seem that that’s exactly where we should be in our PLCs? Forming a hypothesis about student learning production behaviors and the action we as teachers are going to engage in to make that happen. And then we’re collecting evidence using our Scouts, being our instructional coaches and the other members of our PLC to be gathering evidence that assists us in learning whether or not our hypothesis is well founded. And when it’s not, when we find out we’re wrong, it has actually increased our understanding. Ross suggests, building a culture of effective hypothesizing can lead to more thoughtful actions and a better understanding of the outcomes.

Steve: 12:50 Not only will failures be more likely to lead to future successes, but successes will foster future successes. I’ve been applying this idea of hypothesis to educator’s professional growth plans. That rather than being driven by the goal, the growth plan should be driven by the hypothesis that a person is implementing with the hopes of reaching that learning goal. Often an increase in successful learning for students, therefore throughout the teacher’s work in their professional growth plan throughout an administrator’s work and her professional growth plan, one is constantly seeking to increase understanding as we explore the evidence that’s emerging from what we’ve implemented. Has the change in my teacher behavior or in my administrator behavior produced a change in behaviors of others, teachers and students? And are those changes in student behaviors looking to have an impact on changes in student learning outcomes? Well, Ross’ article was published months before COVID-19.

Steve: 14:13 She wrote, “The current uncertainties and speed of change in the current environment, render traditional management approaches ineffective. To create the agile evidence-based learning culture, we must be asking people not what is your goal, but what is your hypothesis. Consider meeting with your leadership team to explore this concept of intellectual humility. Here are four questions that you might use to start the conversation with that leadership team, and then decide how you’d like to expand the conversation to working with your whole school staff. As a leadership team, consider, when should we be more scout-like in our approach? What would that sound like and look like among our leadership team? Are there times that we, as leaders are too focused on being right and not focused enough on understanding? How and when should we be soliciting opposing views on the topics we’re discussing? When we discover that we’ve been mistaken, how do we respond?” Thanks for listening and consider how increasing intellectual humility can advance learning, teaching, leading, and getting us closer to the goals. We all desire.

Steve [Outro]: 16:08 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.

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