I had the pleasure to be a presenter at Jim Knight’s TLC21 Conference. Jim joined my session and shared his insights as we explored four different mindsets. In part one we examine coaching focused around what we love rather than what we hate and on designing learning in an ecosystem rather than an assembly line.
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Steve [Intro]: 00:01 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. Instructional coaches and leaders create the environment that supports teachers to continually imagine, grow and achieve. They model an excitement for learning that teachers in turn model for students. This podcast is dedicated to promoting the important aspects of instructional leadership. Thanks for listening.
Steve: 00:28 Jim Knight ponders with me about reframing mindsets through coaching. I had the opportunity to be part of Jim Knight’s Virtual TLC21 conference. Always a highlight in my year. Jim joined me by sharing his reflections after each of four mind frames that I proposed and explored. In part one of this podcast, we examine focusing on love rather than hate and focusing on an ecosystem design rather than the assembly line. I always appreciate a chance to learn along with Jim and I know you will too.
Jim: 01:15 Well, Steve, it’s been a while since we’ve been together. You were at TLC last year and you’ve been at TLC as much or more than just about anybody. It’s a lot more fun when we get to go out to dinner afterwards and share ideas and spend a day together learning from each other, but I’m so grateful you’re here. I love the chance to learn with you. As you know, when I wrote instructional coaching back in 2007, one of the few books I had was your book on coaching and coaching culture. I’m glad our mutual learning continues. So I’m excited to have a conversation with you today about reframing mindsets through coaching, and I’m gonna turn it over to you.
Steve: 01:52 Thanks, Jim. And I have to say, as I was collecting my my thoughts to kick this off, I’m really looking forward to it because a conversation with you, much the way the coaching conversations are, if I’m talking to you about what it is I’m thinking, I’m doing a better job of my thinking. And then hearing your questions and insights back always extends, so I’m looking forward to keeping the learning going here.
Jim: 02:24 Great.
Steve: 02:26 So, coming out of the initial virtual school setting and looking at school starting back up, I did some reflecting and I identified what I labeled as as four different mindsets or reframing for people to consider. So the four are first, a refocus from fear to a focus on love.
Steve: 02:56 The second one is a a focus from the assembly line to a focus on an ecosystem for thinking about school. The third is a focus on longer term goals rather than short term and the fourth one is focusing on the proximity that we as educators have and should have with students. So I’d like to jump in, kind of take these one at a time, and I’d love your your thoughts and reflections, Jim, as I go. So the first one, a refocus from from fear to love, came to me from a friend. Adam Fishman is the founder of Onora, which is an organization focused on the climate crisis. And he sent an email out to to followers on his site about a shift that he was implementing that he called a shift from fear to a shift to focus on love.
Steve: 04:13 And his descriptor was that when they focused on people hating the greenhouse effect, it didn’t have the impact that getting people instead to focus on the things that they value. And when I read his email, it really clicked for me because I was one of the people that looked at his initial website design, and one of the things he had on there was do a test on your carbon footprint. And as a consultant, when I put in the number of flights I took in the year, my carbon footprint is so bad, there’s not a single thing in the world I could do. I mean, I was depressed when I looked at the piece. So when he reframed it back from shifting our thinking from trying to do less harm to to maximizing the good that we could do and leaving things better than we found them.
Steve: 05:17 So that thought really hit me when I was hearing the conversations that people were having about learning loss. And so teachers were headed into school worried about the learning loss that they were dealing with. And so that restructure in my mind said, let’s get off of of minimizing the harm from the pandemic and instead, maximizing the opportunities for the students that you’re dealing with. And I think a coach being able to engage a teacher in thinking about the fantastic things that a teacher wants to create for kids and how as a coach I can support a teacher in making those kinds of things happen is a place to start. Thought or response, Jim?
Jim: 06:23 Yeah, I’ve got a lot of thoughts about this. My head’s just spinning actually. The first thing is I applaud the general idea here. I think it’s similar to like solution focused coaching or appreciative inquiry. I love that appreciative inquiry question, describe when you’re at your best. John Campbell refers to it as a shining moment, and then you watch people talk about this time when they did this thing and it weren’t beautifully and how their whole face lights up and they have so much energy as opposed to, talk about the roadblocks you’re encountering. So my first reaction is, I really applaud that whole idea. And I think I think it’s something to keep thinking about how to do more of it. At the same time, I think you can’t hide from reality either. And so how do you balance out those two things? It’s kind of like in the “Good to Great” book, that idea of real clear picture of reality and this strong courage and real belief that we’re gonna succeed in the situation.
Steve: 07:35 It’s on the success that you’re gonna make happen.
Jim: 07:40 Right. And I agree with that whole solution focused model that having people talk about what’s not working isn’t nearly as powerful as saying, what would it look like if things are going well?
Steve: 07:50 Yeah. The last part that I pulled from here as I was rethinking, it really takes me back to, from the very beginning, I was reframing the language that everybody needed a coach to to everybody deserving a coach. Just today, I was in a conversation with a place that’s looking at introducing instructional coaching for the first time. And the question they were having was, could teachers handle one more thing? And I thought, you’ll get the wrong picture. We love you so much, you deserve a coach. This isn’t putting anything else on you, it’s getting you to tell us the picture you wanna make happen and we’ll go to work with you to help make it happen.
Jim: 08:43 Right. Yep.
Steve: 08:46 So second one. And I pulled this from Sam Chaltain, a note that he posted that he had, where he talked about the disruption that COVID had created, and that there’s so many times in schools that were, were boxed into that historical locked in framework of what it is that’s happening in schools. And so he talked about, what if school was a mindset rather than a place? And what if the work that we were looking at kids doing was meaningful, but this last one that really jumped to me then that said, what if we thought about learning design less mechanically and more emergently. And so I clicked that to getting out of that assembly line look at what was happening in school to an ecosystem look.
Steve: 09:53 Now, the assembly line look really clicks for me because I I funded my college education on the assembly line. Every summer in the cardboard factory, I had a job called “the catcher.” This giant machine three blocks long, at one end giant rolls of paper were fed into it and at the other end, it spit out piles of cardboard and my job was to catch a pile and and stack it. And when the stack got high as I could reach, I pushed it down and I started the next stack. And I did that until someone came and tapped me on the shoulder, which meant it was their turn to start and I stepped out. And as I began to ponder that, I thought the whole thing about about learning loss and I’m a fifth grade teacher, and where are kids going to be at when I start my fifth grade teaching?
Steve: 10:56 And in my head, I was saying, are we really thinking that the teachers are here on the assembly line and we need the right kids to come through on the assembly line before the teacher can can do their job of putting on their their piece? So this connects it to me for coaching in many ways. I’ve always been a big Margaret Wheatley fan, and all the way back when I read her book, “A Simpler Way,” I created this diagram as my understanding of the book. And Wheatley talks about the fact that the three critical elements in the organization are the flow of information. So she describes it similar to a to a plant where the nutrients flow through the plant, information needs to flow through an organization. And part of a major chunk of what makes that happen is the relationship.
Steve: 12:07 And she, again, defines it as a ecosystem. The greater the diversity and quality of the relationship, the easier you can deal with change thrust upon you from the outside. And then the piece that holds it all together is a common vision. And in an organization, when those circles come together and you think about pushing them together, the greater I can make that overlap, that’s where creativity emerges. And then as people experiment with their creativity, it now produces new information, takes us into a new relationship and might refine our vision, broaden it or tighten it. A great example of seeing this in action was when the quarantine first hit, you had school districts where overnight cafeteria workers and bus drivers and superintendents were with teachers were figuring out how to get lunches delivered out to the, to the kids’ homes.
Steve: 13:13 They really came together and they knew how to work, to make a common goal happen. And I did some writing at that time that we needed to hang onto that. So to me, in many ways, the quarantine has shown a bright light on problems that were already there. So the inequalities that shown the light on that existed, those problems are still there. And we need the same kind of a of an ecosystem approach to look at making that happen. If I carry that ecosystem piece further over to to Simon Sinek, love this quote I pulled from him that because we’re social, we rely on and respond to the environment that we’re in.
Steve: 14:09 And then this next line really hit me: Leaders are responsible for the environment. They’re not responsible for the results. They’re responsible for the people who are responsible for the results. So as I see coaches and members of a leadership team thinking how do we create the environment that’s going to generate the teacher success and teacher growth, just the way the teacher back in the classroom has to be generating that environment for student growth. And then that really connected when I found this quote by Ken Robinson and this all stays in this ecosystem piece. He said, “teachers create the conditions for success, just as gardeners do. You can’t make a flower grow, but you can design prove the condition for that flow naturally.” It’s the same for our students.
Steve: 15:18 As as teachers, we have the power and the duty to create the best conditions for students to flourish. So I took his quote and I took some license with it and I switched it around for coaches and leaders and I think it just applies exactly the same way. School leaders, instructional coaches create the conditions for success just as gardeners do. And while you can’t make the flower grow, it’s the same for our teachers. We can’t force that teacher growth, although people have frequently tried. We have the power and the duty to create the best conditions for teachers to flourish. And I think that’s the conversation that instructional coaches working with instructional leaders, working with teachers in the school have gotta be focused on, that environment in which the teachers are going to flourish. Thoughts there, Jim?
Jim: 16:21 It’s like 4th of July, I have all these explosions in my head of ideas. So the first thing I’d say kind of goes back to Taylorism, that idea of Frederick Taylor, scientific management, that we’re gonna figure out the most efficient way to do things. And I’m not an expert on Taylorism, but I think that process makes sense when what you’re doing is putting together picnic tables or something where the job is very simple and you can break it down and you can do piece by piece. And it’s always gonna be the same. End of the day, all the picnic tables today look like the picnic tables yesterday, and I have all the right parts and we can do it. So an assembly line kind of way of working makes sense when the task is simple, but but teaching is the not simple. It’s a complex task.
Jim: 17:16 It’s gonna be different every day. It requires an adaptive response. And so I like the idea of a garden or a living ecosystem, It’s gonna be different. And if you take an assembly line stance, and what you’re saying is, okay, today is October 1st and therefore we need to be this place in the curriculum and whether or not the kids are with us or not, it doesn’t matter, we have to do this. That’s the first thing. But we have these models of leadership and structuring organizations that are they’re left over from Taylorism and to some extent, they’re left over from Calvit and reform theology, that we’re gonna tell people what to do and they kind of need to do it. But it doesn’t work particularly well when the work they’re doing is really, really complex. In fact, it can do damage.
Steve: 18:21 Jim, one second. I really wanna reinforce that complexity. And to me, that’s the purpose of an ecosystem approach. So while it’s complex, the success is in the complexity. And I just wrote a blog that folks can find on my website if they just search under complexity. But celebrating the complexity, that’s what makes teaching a neat field to be in, is the excitement of that complexity. And that’s the reason I deserve a coach because I work in this unbelievable complexity, and that’s the excitement and the reward. What was the second one you had?
Jim: 19:13 Well, just building on that a little bit, I can’t remember his name right now, a researcher at Harvard, and he says that leaders face two kinds of challenges, technical challenges, and adaptive challenges. And a technical challenge is one like an assembly line soulution would work. We’ve gotta put the parts together, we’ve gotta do all this stuff. And then adaptive challenge is, I have a student who’s parents are going through a divorce and he’s really unhappy in class and he used to be a great student and I’m not sure how to help him. And in fact, just teaching in and of itself is an adaptive challenge. And what Highfoot says is the biggest mistake leaders can make is to confuse technical challenges with adaptive challenges and to try to come up with an assembly line for something that’s complex.
Jim: 20:04 The second thing I was thinking is, I just read this really book and I keep forgetting the authors names – two researchers at Stanford and it’s called Connect, and it’s about how to connect with other people. And I remember two things about the book. One is about idea about feedback. And another one is about how we can open ourselves up to each other by being a little bit more vulnerable and how it goes. There’s a whole bunch of other ideas in the book, but those two things are the things I remember. And I don’t understand brain research at all, but what I understand to be true is that those things that I remember changed my brain. And so learning about the way they described feedback, I’m not gonna forget that. It was really, really helpful. And also about how to connect.
Jim: 20:56 I’m applying that in my day to day life as I try to connect with other people. Those things changed my brain. And so the second thought I had is, the assembly line is not changing your brain more often than not. And if we’re gonna have this kind of more generative understanding and acknowledgement of the complexity, if we don’t have that, there’s gonna be fewer opportunities for people’s brains to be changed by the learning they have. If we’re just like, here’s the pacing guide, we’ve gotta follow it, the learning’s not gonna be the same as if we give kids a chance to go deep and master things before they move on to the next thing, and at least become proficient, it’s probably a better term than master. So those are a couple of my firework explosions of my head as you were talking about this
Jim: 21:43 Well, there’s one more, which is that I think coaching has a process. It’s as Christian van Nur says, it’s a managed conversation, but it’s an adaptive response. So in the moment, you’re helping the teacher figure it out. It’s not one size fits all. As I like to say, it’s one size fits one. And so, you’re not going through the motions and asking the same questions, and not listening to the person you’re adapting to the person you’re responding to the complexity of it. So those are some of the thoughts.
Steve: 22:20 I’m laughing because, my interest in questions and I’m forever getting people who watch me model a coaching session. And they’ll say, man, those are great questions, can we get a list of them? And my response back is, I didn’t know what the second question was gonna be until I heard what it is the teacher had to say. And actually, just before I got on this this call with you, I had gotten a note from someone today. I’m working with several several schools that are redesigning professional growth plans, and we’re designing them around teachers forming a hypothesis that the teacher wants to test out, and then talking about how coaching fits in. And so, she sent me a note saying, several of our teachers are asking, can you send us sample growth plans that other teachers have written up?
Steve: 23:18 And you could just guess in my style, I’m not out busy collecting those examples. And I wrote back to her and I said how about I make you an offer? You get two or three teachers, jump on Zoom, and I’ll work with them to come up with theirs and other people can listen to the conversation. And she immediately wrote back to me that that hit her. In effect, let’s take a an ecosystem approach to exploring this with teachers instead of going back to the assembly line, where there should be a box where we could pull these out and pass ’em out to folks. And I was delighted that it totally made sense to her once she read the read the response.
Jim: 24:03 That’s great.
Steve: 24:05 Again, I wanna share a big thank you back to Jim for joining me and I’m hopeful and pretty sure that you enjoyed the chance to to learn from Jim’s dialogue as well. I hope you’ll join us in part two. Thanks for listening.
Steve [Outro]: 24:32 Thank you 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.