Explore how five different psychological theories or frameworks appear in a coach’s practice: person centered, solution focused, self-efficacy, self-determination, and positive psychology. Steve shares how he sees elements of each in his coaching work.
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Steve [Intro]: 00:00 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. I’m thrilled you’re here.
Steve: 00:32 Psychological theories and principles connected to coaching. I was reading a post titled, creating Coaching Cultures in Schools by Chris Monroe, Margaret Barr, and Christian van Nieuwerburgh. It introduced me to the work of Mark Adams, who had identified five psychological theories and frameworks that have an application to coaching. In this podcast, I’ll share the five from his work and my reactions to them. The link to the authors that includes references for Adam’s writing are in the podcast lead-in. The first theory is titled the person-centered approach. In this approach, the coach is nonjudgmental and sees that the coachee is the best expert of him or herself. Thus, the coach facilitates the coachee’s intrinsic motivation and their sense of responsibility. When a coach respects and values the knowledge and expertise that the coachee brings, they
are more likely to empower the coachee to take a sustained action. The key word for me in the person-centered approach is “knowing.” K-N-O-W-I-N-G.
Steve: 02:00 My initial focus with the new coachee is to work on knowing who they are, providing opportunities for them to tell me things that are important to them. I might start with a question like this: “Tell me about Louise the teacher.” When I ask a question like that, I sometimes get back, “what do you mean?” And my response back is, “what should I know?” Imagine that Louise responds back to me with a statement like this: “I taught biology for four years, and then I left to raise my kids. I just returned after 10 years of parenting.” I might continue that conversation with a question like this: “How do you imagine that parenting impacts your teaching?” Or a coachee might say that they had worked in sales for several years before entering teaching. And similarly then I’d ask, “how do you think the sales work affects your approach to teaching?”
Steve: 03:07 I sometimes ask the person to describe their instructional approach or their desired classroom environment. Whatever the question is, it’s broad and I follow their response to explore further to know some of the things behind their thinking. The second framework that Adam shared was the solution-focused approach. And that’s drawn from solution focused therapy with families. And in that framework, they have clients talk about their preferred future without needing to analyze the problem that they’re dealing with. A coach using solution-focused approach helps the coachee gain clarity about possible solutions and how to use their strengths and their skills to achieve a desired future. I like to describe this as focusing on where you want to be. I’m often asking a coachee to create a continuum of desired outcomes, starting with here we are now, and then at the other end of the continuum, where would we want to be and what do spots in between those two ends of the continuum look like?
Steve: 04:34 This kind of a continuum allows us to identify progress along the way. If I’m looking at academics, it might be, where are we now? What’s our goal for the end of the year? And what do spots in between look like? Then the teacher can initially place students in the class as to where they fall now on that continuum. So that progress looks like different things for different students as they move along that continuum. Another similar strategy I use when teachers are talking about a classroom management issue. I get them to picture a thermometer and if you think of any negative student behaviors in classroom management, if you think of those negative behaviors as being below zero and positive behaviors as being above zero, I then describe to the teacher that rather than focusing on getting rid of the negative behaviors, that they instead consider a focus on replacing the negative behaviors with some of the positive behaviors.
Steve: 05:57 You see, taking away all the negative behaviors simply brings you back up to zero on that thermometer. So the energy is spent looking instead at replacement behaviors and moving students into those positive learning production behaviors. The third principle is self-efficacy theory. This focuses on a person’s belief in their own ability. Some people have expressed self-efficacy as the strongest predictor of one’s ability to set and achieve goals, and especially persist when we meet setbacks. A coach can focus on building a teacher’s efficacy by looking at past success and identifying future possibilities. In this mindset, I often look for what is working. Where is the teacher getting the desired student engagement in the learning production behaviors that generate the learning outcomes that a teacher wants? This is one of the reasons that I often work with the celebration of perseverance when I’m coaching.
Steve: 07:18 Years back, I was training teachers to implement the celebration of perseverance in their classroom for students, and it was based upon any time that students persevered, students increased the effort and they became successful, that the teacher should look at throwing a 30 to 90 second party for the kids – a party to celebrate perseverance so that the kids could make that recognition that the success was based upon their effort and perseverance. And I remember the day in the midst of teaching it when a teacher said to me, who’s planning the celebration of perseverance for the teacher? And that focused me in on a critical element for coaches. Because teachers work so much in isolation, opportunities to celebrate magical teaching experiences are often far and few between. We’ve all had that experience of a magical moment of learning happening and we’re looking around the room saying, there’s gotta be somebody I can share this with.
Steve: 08:26 And by the time hours later we try to describe it in the staff lounge or have to head home to a spouse or significant other who doesn’t work in education, it’s kind of lost its luster. I love in my coaching experiences when I’ve had a pre-conference with a teacher and the teacher has described a plan. Maybe it’s that the teachers going to have these materials out and as the students are working with the materials, the students will start generating questions and a teacher’s gonna get a question from a student that walks the teacher right into the lesson that she wants to present. And I just love being in the classroom at the moment that it happens. Just the way the teacher predicted and I give a big thumbs up and you can see the smile and the energy that the teacher gets with that moment of celebration. Those histories of success support and build the efficacy of teachers and keep them persevering. The fourth theory is self-determination theory and that connects with Ryan and DC’s research, identifying that in order to function and grow optimally, all of us have to have an innate psychological need to perceive that we have competence, autonomy, and relatedness with others. Coaching can help us to be more competent, to feel more autonomous, and to sense more relatedness, and that improves motivation and increases empowerment. Listen to Daniel Pink’s short explanation of this.
Daniel: 10:17 We need a whole new approach. The good news about all this is that the scientists who’ve been studying motivation have given us this new approach. It’s an approach built much more around intrinsic motivation, around the desire to do things becuase they matter, because we like it because they’re interesting because they’re part of something important. And to my mind, that new operating system for our businesses revolves around three elements: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Autonomy, the urge to direct our own lives. Mastery, the desire to get better and better at something that matters. And purpose, the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. These are the building blocks of an entirely new operating system for our businesses.
Steve: 11:01 That was from Pink’s Ted Talk on motivation. You’ll find the link to his whole speech in the podcast lead-in. As a coach, getting the teacher to describe goals, goals that are important to the teacher, I find that that allows me to direct my attention to the teacher’s autonomy, mastery, and purpose. And the last framework that Adam shared was positive psychology. Positive psychology is based on the study of optimal human functioning that aims to discover and promote those factors that allow us to thrive. A coach can support the coachee to identify and use their strengths and positive emotions. This allows the coachee to take actions to build the wellbeing of themselves and others. At the heart of the positive psychology-based approach, is the creation of a school community where mental health and wellbeing of everyone is a priority. My coaching approach is big on the power of optimism.
Steve: 12:22 Years back, a book titled, “The Power of Optimism” by Alan Lloyd McGinness triggered new understanding for me. I had always approached optimism as a trait. In other words, people were optimistic or they weren’t. McGinness instead identified 12 behaviors that we can consciously practice to increase our optimism. His work was reinforced for me by a book titled, “Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman, who’s a major force in the field of positive psychology. And it made sense to me – if there was such a thing as learned helplessness that a person could develop a set of helpless behaviors, then it seemed that I could learn to be optimistic. Learned optimism. Among McGinness’ list of 12 behaviors are three that I felt really fit strongly into coaching. He stated, one, optimist are never surprised by trouble. Two, they value parcel solutions. And three, they believe they have control over the future.
Steve: 13:42 Optimists are never surprised by trouble was probably the most surprising item that I found on McGinness’ list. I’d imagined that optimists kind of walked around with their heads in the clouds and didn’t see or ignored the problems below. But instead, I found that optimist are actually highly skilled at using a strategy called “worst case scenario.” You see, they explore what the worst thing is that could happen and then because they have a plan either for tackling that worst thing or for changing their plan because they know what the worst case scenario is, it improves their risk taking. If I know I have a plan for what I’ll do, if the worst thing happens, then I can put all of my energy into causing the desired outcome that I want. Pessimists never think through what the worst case scenario is and therefore they’re always worried and concerned about what the worst thing is that might happen.
Steve: 14:53 And that concern, that worry disrupts them from putting their energy into reaching the positive outcome that they desire. When I’m coaching and the teacher’s considering trying out an action, but the teacher has concern, what’s the worst thing that could happen is one of my go-to questions. The fact that optimist value partial solutions and they sense a control of the future are why I often focus on the continuum that I mentioned earlier. That continuum allows people to see signs of progress, which encourages the investment of their positive energy in the plan that they’re implementing. Take a look at your coaching and your coaching decisions and practices over the past few weeks. Where do you see these principles or frameworks showing up in your work? Person-centered, solution-centered, self-efficacy, self-determination, positive psychology. I think it’s a great way for building reflection into your coaching practices. Let me know your thoughts. You can always reach me at barkleypd.com. Thanks for listening.
Steve [Outro]: 16:24 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 blog at barkleypd.com.