On this podcast, Steve is interviewed by Michael Iannini, the coordinator of PD for ACAMIS, the Association of China and Mongolia International Schools. They explore the many faces of coaching as a preliminary conversation to Steve’s facilitation of Personalized Coaching for ACAMIS schools.
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Steve [Intro]: 00:00 Hello and welcome to the teacher edition of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For over three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with teachers in and out of their classroom settings. I have a great respect for the complexity of teaching and I know that all great teachers are continuous learners. I invite you to join me as I explore my thoughts and insights on a variety of topics, connected to teaching and learning. Thanks for listening in.
Steve : 00:28 Exploring the many faces of coaching. Early in 2021, I will be conducting a personalized coaching course through ACAMIS – The Association of China and Mongolia International Schools. In this podcast, Michael Iannini, the PD coordinator of ACAMIS interviews me to explore the many faces of coaching.
Michael : 00:57 Steve, thank you so much for joining. I think really the question here that we’re addressing is this gift of coaching and why not only is it a gift that we actually be able to receive coaching, but more importantly, in terms of what we do, it’s about really developing yourself as a coach so you can be giving this gift. And you know, we’re going to get really into the meat of your experience because you have – not only are you more well-known in this area, you’ve written books about this, but I really want people to understand that when we talk about coaching, especially within a school setting, there’s coaching and I would love to get your sort of definition on that, there’s instructional coaching – does that definition change? And then there’s something that I’m really sort of – what I do with a lot of schools, which especially around change management, which is mentoring. And so you have this sort of area for developing people’s skills and capabilities, but I think really to kind of get to the heart of the matter, how do you define the difference between say instructional coaching and coaching? How do you differentiate it?
Steve : 02:04 So let me start with putting a few more words out there. I do it by collecting a continuum that runs from all the way on the left, evaluation, to all the way on the right, peer coaching. So if you look at evaluation, that’s totally in the hands of the system. So when the evaluator comes into your classroom, they’re looking at what you’re doing. They’re judging it against some outside criteria and arriving at a score or an assessment. If you go all the way to the other end of the continuum, I use the word peer coaching, and in peer coaching, now you’re talking about the teacher being totally in charge. So the teachers selecting who comes into my classroom, when does the person come in, what’s the purpose I want for that for that person to be there. So two ends of the continuum. In the middle of that continuum, I place the term, supervision.
Steve : 03:02 So most often, people who have some kind of supervisory title, they have to spend some of their time dealing with evaluation and some of their time dealing with coaching. And it’s part of what makes supervision so difficult is you need to have a relationship with the person that that you can communicate which role you’re in. So, you know, we’re working now as a coach, I won’t evaluate while we’re in the coaching role. But I do have to come back some other time and play that evaluator role. And some people question whether that’s possible for a school administrator to do and I think we need to work real hard at it because it’s pretty much the role you’re asking a teacher to play with students. You know, there’s a day where you have to do evaluation and then you come back the day after evaluation and now you go back to the teaching, coaching based on what came out of the evaluation.
Michael : 04:00 Oh, sorry. I was just gonna say this idea of roles, right?
Steve : 04:03 Yep.
Michael : 04:03 So yeah, I was going to go into that in a minute.
Steve : 04:06 Exactly. So, I took the word mentor then, and I put mentor halfway between supervision and peer coaching. Generally, when people have a formal mentor role, it doesn’t have the voluntary aspect that peer coaching does. So if a school has a mentor program and I come in new and I walk up to you and say, “hi, Michael, I’m Steve. I’m going to be your mentor.” You don’t have the option to look at me and go, “Steve you’re, you’re not who I had in mind,” you know or to go to your administrators, :I’m going to pass on that whole mentor thing,” you know, it becomes required. So a peer coach would not come into your classroom uninvited in a school. A mentor might because they have some responsibilities that they need to carry out. Now, when you’re a mentor, you can do a lot of your job as a peer coach.
Steve : 04:59 So, I train mentors and when I train mentors, I tell them one of the first things they should do is invite the mentee to coach the mentor. So if I’m a teacher as serving as a mentor, I’ll go to the new teacher and I’ll say, “when could you come to my classroom? I’d like some feedback on this.” So that you can actually model for a person how that coaching role plays out. Now when instructional coaching showed up and and I began to work with folks, when I found out in way too many places, they did not define the position. And so there’s always this difficulty of building trust when a position isn’t defined. So I, in most cases I describe instructional coaches spend some of their time peer coaching. So they’re peer coaching any time the teacher comes to the coach and requests their assistance and support. Sometimes they’re mentoring and generally when they’re mentoring, it’s because they have an expertise.
Steve : 06:02 So, I’ve been trained in the writing process and our schools using the writing process, so as an instructional coach, I’m going to be giving everybody feedback on that process. That’s my mentor role. And then, instructional coaches can, at times, get very close to supervision. I actually have a drawing where I make it like an open circle on a number line it’s as close as you can get, but you don’t really touch it. And that happens whenever an administrator strongly recommends to a person that they work with the instructional coach. So if an administrator does your evaluation and identifies a weak area and kind of assigns you to go to the coach, you end up with the person responding to you as if you had that evaluation role, though you don’t you don’t have it at all. So when I’m training instructional coaches, I talk about the fact that they’re going to find themselves in each of those roles. I encourage schools to put those roles up on the wall at the beginning of the year and talk about all the people in the building who have what roles so that you create trust by describing what you’re going to do and then doing it.
Michael : 07:20 Yeah. So it’s interesting because when you talk about that evaluation end of the spectrum, and I reflect on like change management within schools and developing these mentoring programs, which are really around developing capacity within the middle leadership to tackle change, but supported by senior leaders who often seem so disconnected from the reality of what’s going on, some people actually see mentoring as this idea of alright, what am I doing wrong? Or, why do I need somebody to look over me to do this? Now, it can be when not communicated correctly, it can really break down that relationship very quickly. I thought it was interesting how you talked about for you, mentoring is before I, as a mentor mentor, you should come into my room first and I’d like to get some feedback as a trial.
Michael : 08:09 I kind of almost call that – similar to you, I have this sort of process where it’s like, before we even start talking about mentoring, we need to have a conversation and I call it the conversation before the conversation. And what I invite mentors to do is to say, hey, look, Steve, I really want to develop my leadership skills and a big part of leadership, the number one thing leaders need to do is develop others. And an area that I want to improve in is actually working more closely with team members to develop them in an area that, you know, they’re very passionate about their own goals. Like, where do you want to develop in? To do this, I somebody to work with, you know, would you want to be a part of my learning journey and can you see yourself wanting to pursue something that I might be able to help you with?
Steve : 08:51 So, a common practice for coaches to build in is to request coaching on your coaching. From time to time actually asking for feedback, you know, was there anywhere in my feedback where you felt evaluated? Where you felt required instead of engaged? You know, when I’m training new coaches, I always tell them you want to start with safe partners. Okay? So, those are the people who know you well enough to stop and say, “you know, Michael, if I didn’t know better, I would think you just offended me, but I know you well enough to know you would never do that. So go back and try that line again, because it just didn’t come across.”
Michael : 09:35 And you have like, these different ways that coaching or mentoring can be used. In one sense, it could be – because you had mentioned about an experience earlier to me about, you know, hey, new staff coming on board, here’s someone to mentor you, help you get oriented to the school and get you to sort of started. Here’s some of this mentoring is making sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to do. There are performance management mentors that, hey, this is someone really good in that role and we think you would benefit by working with them when it’s sold that way. But there there’s this punitive side to mentoring or coaching when you’re paired with somebody more experienced. How do you help people overcome that so that they truly see it as a gift?
Steve : 10:14 When I’m working with a school that’s implementing a mentor program, I suggest to them that they shouldn’t be allowed to have a mentor program unless they have a peer coaching program. So if your mentor program is for people who are new, the job of the mentor program is to prepare people to enter into coaching. So I worked with a school and they were trying to decide how long should our mentor program be? You know, is it a one-year program, 18 months, two years? And they finally came up with this agreement. When the teacher thrill opened the door for classroom and said, you may all come in, that was the end of the mentor program. So the job of the mentor was to build the person’s confidence and skill and sense of professionalism that they are really prepared to work in an open coaching role with anyone.
Steve : 11:10 And then you begin to know, well, when do I need coaching from an expert? If I I can give you my own example, I taught in coaching because all of my beginning teaching career was highly coached. At university, I spent my student teaching a whole year, I student taught for a whole year in a fourth grade classroom that had a master teacher, two student teachers, a graduate intern, and visiting professors and 18 kids. So I was observed every day and got feedback. Then I went to an open concept school where I taught fifth and sixth grade in one large open room with – we had a hundred kids in one big open room. Four teachers, two paraprofessionals, and I was so excited about my undergrad program, that I convinced my school to be a professional development center for the university.
Steve : 12:05 So now I teach for five years, always informally being observed, if – you know, when it wasn’t formal. Well, then I went to teach first grade and I tell people I only survived teaching first grade because I teamed with a woman who was experienced. Well, when I went to first grade, I needed a mentor because I didn’t know enough to know what I needed. So I needed Diane who had this experience as a primary teacher to look what I’m doing and steer me in another direction. And then as I gained knowledge, I can now request coaching because I now knew enough.
Michael : 12:45 Yeah. So she helped kind of build up your sort of knowledge and kind of helped you develop awareness around what you need
and what didn’t need. That was the key point for a mentor. Then the coach could come in in a very targeted way and do the development.
Steve : 13:01 Yep. See, if I don’t – if you think about the technology piece that just happened with everybody having to start teaching online, if
I don’t know anything, I really – it’s not going to do me any good to request coaching becuase I don’t know what the request. So, I need to talk to somebody with some technology background and experience and they start giving me pieces. Now that I have those pieces, now I can take a video clip that I made for my kids, and I can share it with two colleagues and say, “hey, look at the degree to which I got the kids engaged that I caused the kids to think critically. And I’m really open to any thoughts you might have as to things I could do to increase that amount of thinking that was taking place.” But I’m not ready to do that when I don’t even know how to set up a breakout room.
Michael : 13:52 So, kind of reflecting on our conversation up to this point, this gift of coaching that this premise is really about, you need to be open to giving and receiving feedback. I mean, that seems paramount. Before we even start having a conversation about, you know, what kind of coaching program is going to be your mentoring program, what’s the purpose? Have we demonstrated the capability of being open to giving and receiving feedback?
Steve : 14:12 That’s the environment we need to create. And historically, teaching hasn’t. Historically, teaching was a, the word I use for it, they were franchises. So, everybody in the school owned their spot and sometimes they went to franchise meetings where they where they got tips or strategies shared with each other, but then they went back and ran their own biology class. But when you reach the part where the entire science department is responsible for kids’ success in biology, not just the person teaching biology, now that begins to create that environment where everybody needs to open to to each other’s feedback.
Michael : 14:54 Yeah. So now we’re open to feedback. Once we’re open to this feedback, it helps us to identify areas for development. And, you know, you had mentioned something earlier about the spectrum. I almost call that like, directive versus non-directive. The directive is really on that evaluative side. Non-Directive is really on the peer side. It’s really relationships based. The ideal world for any coach or mentor is working in that non-directive area where the person that you’re working with, your mentee or coachee, is really taking ownership and initiative and their development. You’re just helping them to process their experience.
Steve : 15:32 Maximum vulnerability.
Michael : 15:33 Yea.
Steve : 15:33 So when I’m training coaches or leaders in any way, you want to spend as much time as possible all the way on the end of that continuum, because that’s when the person is making him or herself most vulnerable and the greatest amount of learning is going to occur. Now, sometimes you got to slide back on the continuum in order to carry out the roles of your job, but your goal is always to get back there. And what I just find so interesting is that it’s so parallels the classroom. The more that a teacher in a classroom can be a coach, where the kid’s own interest is driving what they’re doing, and they’re looking to the teacher for support, the easier the whole teaching job is and the greater learning success is going to occur. From time to time as a teacher, I need to slide back to that continuum, but if I don’t move back there, I’m never going to get the never going to get the maximum growth that we can.
Michael : 16:30 So, without question, I call this the 70, 20, 10 rule, and it’s not that I called this – I didn’t coin 70, 20, 10. But when I bring in this whole, you know, this continuum that you’re mentioning, I actually have a visual for this, where that I overlay it with 70, 20, 10 saying, look, you know what, the 10% of learning could really be on that evaluation side and that’s where you’re getting formal instruction. The 20% of your learning and development is going to be more in that sort of middle, but towards the evaluation. But your real development is when we’re working, non-directively, towards something that you’re really interested, you’re taking ownership of it, and the more time we spent down there, the better off you’ll be. But from time to time, and this is interesting too, because when it comes to polarity mapping, you have to move out of these like sort of very, sort of fixed, sort of leadership models and giving an instruction to a more networks model. So where things are very hierarchical to more networks, if you can imagine the sort of infinity loop, every once in a while, sure, we’re in this networked sort of area where we can be very non-directive and people are taking account for their own development, but then we got to make sure they’re developing in line with what the school needs, because it’s also very easy for people to kind of go off on their own forgetting, hey, who’s paying for all this in terms like, you know, class time and everything.
Steve : 17:52 If a piece from my experience for the leader is the more that the leader can move that pressure point to actually be peer, rather than from the leader. I worked with a school administrator doing a turnaround school. So it was a school with low performance. I worked with a principal over a three-year period. We brought a dramatic improvement in student learning and lots of different leadership things were implemented. But at the end of the second year, two teachers came to her and said that they wanted to transfer to another building because her expectations were too high. And she said to me, do you think I could get them to put it in writing? I’d like to give that to the superintendent. You know, that my expectations are too high. And I said, you know, I want you to enjoy this, but you need to know they aren’t leaving because of your expectations.
Steve : 18:48 They’re leaving because of their colleagues expectations. There were 72 teachers in that building. There’s no way as a principal, she could spend enough time with any individual to bring that kind of pressure on them. But the school was built around professional learning communities and peer teaming. And when those teachers had to go once a week and put their student work and their instructional plans and strategies down in front of colleagues, that’s where the pressure came. And what the leader did was she created that environment where everybody had this commitment to move kids. And when you weren’t buying in, when you, weren’t making yourself open to your colleagues to grow as an individual, that that’s where the pressure came.
Michael : 19:37 So now building on this, and I have these two last driving questions, and one of which is very important to kind of get at when you think about that school, that particular type of school, and just to kind of premise it, I’ve always been very critical of adaptive schools because of something that [inaudible] wrote about, and this idea that a lot of educational leaders have about distributed leadership, where you have a leadershipless team, everybody’s responsible and accountable for themselves. I personally feel that you can’t have a leaderless team. Somebody ultimately has to be accountable for making sure that that team is operating in a leaderless fashion and making sure team members are getting the support they need. But also in the reality of international schools, people come and go. And people always need to be oriented, and people always need to be kept, you know, focused and on track.
Michael : 20:25 But at the same time, it doesn’t mean you can’t be a member of the team just because you’re wearing a leadership hat because we can’t be a team member. So I firmly believe that someone needs to be explicitly identified in that role. But something that I’ve come across with schools recently is that as we’ve developed these mentoring programs where people have- and are explicitly defined as a mentor, and it can be for three different reasons. Number one, orientating, new staff, which is the most common, even in corporate world. Number two, these are mentors to be distinguished from coaches in the sense that, they’re they’re recognized in some area and their door is open. And if anybody would like to benefit from working with that mentor, that mentor has given time out of the schedule to help other teachers, but they have to recognize it’s a relationship that we’re not just having one meeting where I’m going to distill some new knowledge to you.
Michael : 21:18 We’re going to go on a learning journey together, and that’s why I have this time off. And so they welcome others to seek out that person identified in that area, like project based learning to help them. But, you know, scope is limited. Scale is limited because you can only mentor so many people and teach. And then I have schools that want to develop that culture of mentoring once they’ve experienced it. Really the benefits of it just based on that limited scale, but now they want the culture. So this is my question to you. Can you have a culture of mentoring or instructional coaching without actually explicitly identifying people as the coach or the mentor?
Steve : 21:58 It comes back to, I use the term, the the, the coach of coaching. So who’s taking the responsibility to see that that that is happening? So, if I’m labeled as the instructional coach in the building, I describe that the instructional coach in a school is actually a gift to the school administrator, because the reality is the school administrator is responsible to see that the staff is engaged in that coaching process, much the way I see a system that that pays a stipend or creates time for people to mentor someone new, that’s actually a gift to the administration because the administrator is responsible to see that people new, are being successful. So for me, it’s really all about shared accountability and shared responsibility. So when you describe that when a leader joins the team, then the leader is taking responsibility for the results, just the way the team is.
Steve : 23:12 When you sign on to be my coach, you’ve now said that you are willing to have part of your evaluation be based upon my success. A lot of people take on the instructional coach’s job and they didn’t realize that’s what they signed up for. You know, I did it right when school started first started using the term instructional leader, okay? If the principal truly is an instructional leader, then one of the ways that you would evaluate the principal is you would be looking at the success of teachers in September coming back and looking at their effectiveness in may. And in effect, part of the school leaders evaluation is the degree to which people have improved. And so, I used to describe one of the toughest jobs you can get as a school administrator is to be hired by a good school, because two years from now, you got to show how much better that good school got because of your instructional leadership. That means you’ve got to get good teachers to stop good things they’re doing in order to implement new things that would get a higher result than the good results they were getting. That’s a whole lot easier. You know, I just described, give me a school that’s failing, and if I get three teachers to quit, the scores go up and things look better. That’s a much different job than taking on that good school and setting a thing in place that causes the whole thing to stay in a continuous growth model.
Michael : 24:59 So now, here we have this sort of idea of like, okay, people being open to feedback, we want to have this culture. But within this culture, we also have to be very explicit about the role that we’re playing at any particular time, because, hey, this is my time to work with you as a coach where I have a shared accountability for that development. We basically need to succeed together is the idea.
Steve : 25:25 Shared goals. It all gets easier when you get shared goals. So when I’m coaching, if I can get a teacher to tell me what she wants to make happen for her learners and I’m signing on, okay? You’ve got English language learners whose writing skills aren’t advancing the way you want them to advance, okay? If I’m going to sign on to be your coach, now I’m signing on, but hose students having increased learning success, that’s a shared goal between the two of us. That opens you up for coaching.
Michael : 25:57 So now, here we go, we’re open to coaching and you’re talking about a very explicit process that says, okay, I gotta be brought into this too because I know I need to be able to deliver on the goods and the goods are in that respect where that teacher wants to develop. It’s an area you feel confident. Now here’s the question to you, and it’s really a two-parter. First, I want you to kind of explain this problem where, hey, this is a physics teacher and I’m a humanities teacher and I need to deliver the goods on this. Can that work and then really the second part is how?
Steve : 26:32 Yeah. And they both go together. The key to being a successful coach is knowing when you know, and knowing when you don’t know. So if you and I uncover that part of you improving your physics instruction requires a background in physics that I don’t have, then my job as a coach is to help you find that, okay? It’s no different than I’m working with my GP doctor, who discovered something that says we really need to call in an expert here. And there’s a difference between sending me to the expert and dismissing me versus signing on with me, with my expert to be part of the learning process. So my hope is that my doctor who’s sending me that expert is planning to learn also. She’s going to be adding to her repertoire and her background based on what she and I are finding out from that expert together.
Michael : 27:36 And so your role as coach is really helping that physics teacher unpack it all, understand it, because you had mentioned this earlier in our conversation that, you know what, I might need to go to a mentor to help me understand where I need to develop you know? And that somebody could be just that outside perspective.
Steve : 27:51 It’s learning what questions to ask. The greatest skill of your coach is they help you figure out the questions to be asking much
more than your coach, knowing the answers to those questions.
Michael : 28:03 And again, that’s directly applicable to the classroom for a teacher. So you’re an instructional coach helping a teacher in some particular area, but if you can pass on those coaching skills to that teacher, you’re also going to be helping them in a way that’s going to
help them in the classroom. So that’s the reason why we’re coaching coaches.
Steve : 28:22 And it’s also, you know, it’s why I push peer coaching. Because when I come into your classroom and I’m watching the student learner and I’m watching connections between your behavior and the student learner, the coach is learning. Because when you’re in a classroom as a coach, you get to study teaching and learning in a way that you can’t study it while you’re delivering. So the more that we can get teachers coaching each other, the teachers are learning from stepping into those coaching roles.
Michael : 28:58 So I’m gonna wrap us up here. And one of the things I’m really excited to talk about is in my role as being ACAMIS’ contracted PD coordinator and working with their leadership as a facilitator, I’m bringing you into ACAMIS to teach instructional coaching to our network, which is something completely new. And I think it’s really important that they understand what they’re getting in relation to this, because it’s not about just coming in and teaching people how to tell other people what to do. It’s going to be about developing capacity. But in order to be successful in this program, we need to make sure that we have an environment where people are open to feedback. We need to make sure that we’re working with people that respect process, and as they walk into this program or process, that, they’re walking into it with people that are going to respect that process and also be able to say, hey, time out. I think we’ve muddied the water a little bit. How do we separate it back out as we develop this? You know, in terms of what you’re bringing to ACAMIS, what makes it unique?
Steve : 30:05 What’s unique is that it’s a course called personalized coaching. So I am personalizing this delivery to each of the participants. So one, there’s five different online modules that look at different elements of coaching coming out of a conversation with me, participants will decide which of those modules they want to work in that best align with the progress they want to make. While they’re working in that module, they’ll be getting facilitative feedback from a person on my staff. Throughout the module or throughout the course, rather, I will be connecting on personal calls with them and providing additional outside resources and will be establishing opportunities for people with common goals or common roles that they’re playing to to connect with each other in some in some guided conversations. So people should get the opportunity to experience coaching while they’re learning and developing their coaching skills.
Michael : 31:13 That’s great. And it’s great for this one reason. In my eight years with ACAMIS, going into nine of coordinating these programs, I have a very limited budget in many ways and scope because I feel the learning has to be very intimate. So you have to do small classes, but when you do small classes, it’s very difficult to be able to bring in big hitters like you and I say this, I’ve always been intimidated by reaching out to speakers like yourself and what you do because you’re coming in from a very far distance. We’re getting you for a very short time. We try to – we can’t really enlarge that time, so we’re limited to two days. But now, remotely, COVID has given us the opportunity to really connect and push this learning model in a way that it can be extended over a year. And we can provision it through our association, which I think is just phenomenal. It makes for better learning.
Steve : 32:06 It was actually a school in China that got me started because they wanted me to travel there and do two days of training on professional learning communities with their whole staff. And I said to them, honest to God, you don’t want to do that. I mean, number one, for me to come for two days, I got to charge you for five. okay? And secondly, you can’t drink professional learning communities out of a firehose for two days and then go implement it. We were able to take the same funds and we were able to create a year program where I had these short chunks of presenting to their staff from time to time. But then, and this was pre-Zoom, I was doing Skype. I was Skyping into their a PLC meeting. So they would send me the agenda for the meeting, I’m sitting in at the table with them having their meeting and then doing 10 minutes of coaching feedback to them on how the meeting went and different things they could do. So I think there is a whole new learning coming out of the quarantine time that I hope is going to increase learning for lots of people.
Michael : 33:18 I personally hope schools don’t prioritize having consultants like us come in face to face when they can have us in such more valuable way, in a way that actually does need and develop the change, as opposed to just trying to motivate and inspire people around the topic, because, you know, our time is valuable and at the same time to get access to yours is what I think is the real gift. Because now we get to bring in the coach, not only give this gift of coaching, but help them understand that what they’re doing is not getting that gift, the expectation is that they’re going to be giving that gift. Stephen, thank you so much.
Steve : 33:59 Looking forward to this opportunity.
Michael : 34:01 Yeah, me as well. And again, thank you for going on this journey with me because it’s an exciting ride.
Steve : 34:05 Great.
Steve : 34:08 Thanks for listening. If questions emerged during this podcast that you’d like to explore with me, please send them on to me at barkleypd.com. I look forward to continue learning with you.
Steve [Outro]: 34:26 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.