Podcast: Using Co-Construction to Build Empowerment - Steve Barkley

Podcast: Using Co-Construction to Build Empowerment

steve barkley ponders out loud, using co-construction to build empowerment

In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, Steve is joined by Andrea Rorrer, Cori Groth and Janice Bradley from the Utah Education Policy Center to discuss using co-construction to build empowerment.

Visit the Utah Education Policy Center website.

Get in touch with Andrea: Andrea.Rorrer@utah.edu

Get in touch with Cori: Cori.Groth@utah.edu

Get in touch with Janice: janice.bradley@utah.edu

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


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Steve [Intro]: 00:23 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 Using co-construction to build empowerment. Today I am joined on the podcast by three members of the Utah Education Policy Center at the University of Utah. Andrea Rorrer, Cori Groth and Janice Bradley. Andrea, I’m going to ask if you wouldn’t mind jumping in and giving the listeners a little introduction to the policy center and then lead that into a – get acquainted with each of the three of you in the roles that you play there.

Andrea: 01:31 So the Utah Education Policy Center’s main stay was actually the Bureau of Education Research here at College of Education University of Utah. In 1990 a colleague of ours, Tony Morgan, petitioned the university to call the center the Utah Education Policy Center. And at that time, our original mission was to serve needs and education research within the K-12 and higher education environment. In 2006, Cori and I reinvigorated the center and sort of rebooted the center around the mission of addressing issues of equity access – opportunity for children and adults in the K-12 and higher education environment. We are a University of Utah research based center that is housed here in the college of education and partner [inaudible] with our college of education colleagues here across the state. Importantly, our role is to work with educators, education professionals as well as allies of education to improve the opportunities that students and teachers, educators and researchers have in our state to impact what’s happening through education.

Steve: 02:50 Thank you. Can we get a quick introduction to each of the three of you?

Andrea: 02:54 Certainly. I’m Andrea Rorrer. I’m the director of the Utah Education Policy Center and I’m also a professor in educational leadership and policy and Associate Dean for Research here at the College of Education. And I’ve had the opportunity to work with our colleagues here since 2006.

Cori: 03:13 I’m Cori Groth, the Associate Director here in the Policy Center and had been working with Andrea since 2006 [inaudible] policy center and I’m also an adjunct with National Department and I have known Janice since 2001 – we worked together in Austin, Texas.

Janice: 03:31 I know! A long time ago. I’m Janice Bradley. I joined this amazing crew at the Policy Center in 2015 and I’m an Assistant Director here and work and the school improvement section. So thank you Steve.

Steve: 03:48 Thank you. Thanks for joining us. I had the opportunity to read a chapter that the three of you had worked together on called “Reclaiming Turnaround for Equity and Excellence: Leadership Moves to Build Capacity for Teaching and Learning.” And so it’s when I read that phrase, “leadership moves to build capacity”, you rose my attention. And in there, you talked about four different moves and one of them is the use of co-construction for empowerment. And that’s where we’re gonna focus our attention today. But before we jump in, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about each of the four moves that you identified and maybe the linkage of them.

Andrea: 04:39 We’re going to talk a little bit about the four moves and first, thought it might be important to situate how those moves for our perspective came to be. In part, all of our work, particularly around school improvement, but also in our research and evaluation work here at the center is based on a systems approach. So thinking about how parts work together to create something new and different. And so embedded in our systems approach is the belief that in order to create opportunities for change and meaningful change that has an impact that can be measured not just in terms of student outcomes, but also in terms of personal and collective advocacy, changes in school culture and resource alignment, things – resource uses, requires us to ground it in a systems perspective, particularly in dynamical systems theory. And we worked pretty good on this chapter and others with our colleague Vicki Park, who’s at San Diego State, who is one of our partners and collaborators in this work to ask the question, if you’re working in schools to improve and that improvement is to increase equity and access, how do we do it in a way that doesn’t leave the organization fractured and that creates opportunities for scalable and sustainable reform. And to do that, what we’ve learned not only through our own research but the research of colleagues and our practice, is that we have to look at the system [inaudible] and how parts of the system are working together. And that’s where this first leadership move of co-construction for empowerment comes and it’s really a riff off of our mission and vision which is to work with individuals rather than on individuals or on organizations. Janice, you want to talk a little bit about the moves?

Janice : 06:39 Well to build on what Andrea said, we see people as agents of change. We do not see people as objects of change. And because of that point of view, within the system, what do we actually do that is creating the intended results. So the four moves are to empower through co-construction, which we will talk more in depth about in just a minute. We look at still rotating assets based learning approaches. The keyword there is facilitating. We don’t present to people. We intentionally use moves that allow people to learn and bring their strengths forward in our work of collaboration. The third move is to create shared meaning and visioning. So as Andrea says, herein as written on our glass door before, we move as one. And so when you think about shared meaning and visioning, we intentionally flatline hierarchy. We work in a hierarchal system and we flatline hierarchy in order to have – get coaches, teachers, principals for example, to move with the same shared goals and vision. And the fourth move is to cultivate continuous improvement and reflection. We are constantly in a space of changing conditions, constantly changing. And so how do we use inquiry and reflection in order to ensure improvement? Not necessarily going for the magic answer, you know, the new shiny penny that’s coming along, but really to create a sustainable culture of inquiry and reflection.

Steve: 08:30 So as I looked at the four and I think of my 30+ years working in coaching, I just saw a really strong parallel to my understanding of coaching and the four moves that you had identified. Struck me – interesting, my book, “Instructional Coaching With The End in Mind” was published in Turkish and they changed the title from “Instructional Coaching” to Instructional Companion.” In their culture, there’s this concept of companions are these people who kind of go through life with you. And so as I read your chapter and as I listened to you again today, that that strikes me. It’s the same approach in my mind that people need to be carrying into coaching. If I’m an instructional coach working in a building with a either with a PLC or or working with them with an individual teacher.

Andrea: 09:33 I think that’s consistent with feeling that leadership is really about leading as practice and that is not the role and responsibility of any one individual but it is instead a way for us all to engage in the work we’re doing and that there are fundamentals that we can attend to to create opportunities for change, which in fact is what led to the title of this particular piece was the “reclaiming turnaround”, was the chance we had to work with leaders across the state and leadership teams across the state who had been identify as “turnaround students.” They were feeling downtrodden, they felt as if they had been targeted. These are many of the individuals were folks who had records of success but were in schools that now were deemed not successful for long – short and long periods of time. And one of the – back to Janice’s point, one of the opportunities that – to redefine how we were looking at “turnaround status” and said – and back to the agency, having agency to do something about it. And in the same vein that you know that they translated this instructional companion, someone that goes with you, that being in turnaround is actually an incredible opportunity if we’re able to embrace it from the perspective of I can do something about this, particularly if I’m working with others. And that reclaiming turnaround meant that you regained control. Not control over others, but control in the sense of you could do something that would have a different impact.

Steve: 11:35 As I read about co-constructing, one of the terms that you used was called “creating the learning space.” And I’m wondering if you might talk a little bit about that.

Janice: 11:48 So creating the learning space has many purposes and functions. First of all, it’s a pause between the reality people have been in, which could be going at 150 miles an hour, busy practitioners, and they come into this space and we’re going to slow the pace down to study research and literature and delve deeply into ideas, which isn’t always consistent with their place of practice. So it’s a pause in the big train of doing, we get grounded in how we can create an optimal learning environment for each other. We look at norms for collaboration. We’re looking at what people’s intentions are. We’re looking at positioning ourselves so everyone has equitable voice opportunity and we slow the pace down. We get the norms, we get our agreements. And then we began to open up the learning space and begin our learning together.

Steve: 12:57 It’s striking me as I listened there that frequently, an instructional coach finds herself in that struggle of having this desire to run in and fix something. The teacher quickly looking for a fix. But the real learning is the ability to as you said, slow down. I did a podcast about going slow to go fast. It’s taking those questions and be willing to dig in deep at the beginning in order to reach to a change that’s meaningful.

Cori: 13:35 Another thing that we have found that the creating the learning spaces is really nice for is that we often will be in a room, for example, with multiple levels of the system represented. And so you have maybe some teachers, principals, instructional coaches and maybe some district –

Cori: 13:57 Superintendents, or our sale folks. And so being able to tap into everyone’s contributions and expertise in this opening the learning space time is also – really contributes to the co-designing, co-constructioning and empowering piece so that everyone does have an opportunity to see they have a voice, they have important contributions and we’re recognizing different levels of the system that everyone can be at the same —

Steve: 14:30 I want to check a piece there. As you use the word opportunity, I’m wondering, are you comfortable that I’d add responsibility along with opportunity? That when you create – it’s what I find PLCs, you know, there’s people that are willing to quietly in their PLC and somehow feel they’ve met their professional standing without, you know, without arguing with anybody or consensus going along. But the fact that – and I think I sensed, I read that in a piece that you had written that you have an obligation to speak up and not just an opportunity to speak up.

Andrea: 15:19 [inaudible] responsibility and accountability – one of our guiding principles is the [inaudible] called work around reciprocal accountability. And so part of our work with schools, districts, leaders, individuals, school teams, district leadership teams in general, even with their own team here, is the principle of reciprocal accountability, which means that if we’re going to ask someone to do something, then we have to be able to provide processes and chances to teach them to do that. Otherwise we can’t hold them accountable for it. And so creating a learning space, part of what we do in our work is also offer examples of how that work can be translated at home, right? Back in the school, in their own environment. And how, back to the leadership and practice, how this work, this professional learning and our leadership learning partnerships are models that are transportable enough to go into another [inaudible].

Steve: 16:22 So what are some of the other elements of co-constructing that are the pieces that caused it to build empowerment?
Janice: 16:35 So one is – and in our work with schools in turn around status, we position ourselves as people who are alongside them. We call it learning partners as you use the word companion. And so one example is when the state is asking them to complete a school improvement plan, we intentionally create an agenda and structure, a conversation where everybody has voice in that. So we’re not positioning ourselves as the experts that articulate you need to do and here’s what you must do. So structured agendas are important for us for equitable participation. We won’t just go sit down and begin a plan. You know, we have the intended outcomes and we facilitate in a way where everyone has voice in that need.

Steve: 17:32 So the agenda, the agenda actually builds everyone’s voice into it from the get go.

Janice: 17:39 Mhm. Just as a teacher would plan a highly engaging lesson with instructional methods that produce active engagement, we also spend time planning the facilitation moves. Even if it’s an hour meeting, there will be a structured agenda with intentional moves to open up voice and ensure that everyone has an opportunity.

Cori: 18:04 And I think a couple of things contribute to that. As we work with these teams, an early focuses making sure we all agree to and commit to some specific norms for collaboration and the – so for example, we use the model of that [inaudible] suggests in their adaptive schools work. That supports a shared understanding about how we collaborate together to be more effective. And then I think the other piece about empowering is that as we are – we’re very transparent in the structured agenda of protocol as well as the facilitation rules. So that contributes to growing capacity of the team members to see this modeled and then also to be able to practice modeling the collaboration and the moves that contribute to that [inaudible] voice.

Steve: 19:04 So would you say that part of the capacity building is that people are learning the facilitation skills that you’re using – the extent to move that on? It’s just ringing for me because one of the issues that several of us working in coaching – Jim Knight and Joellen Killion and I had this conversation that we moved instructional coaches into PLCs to teach facilitation five to seven years ago and many of them never got out. So they’re still there. They’re still there running the meetings which is actually preventing them from becoming true PLCs because the time didn’t get invested in the people learning the facilitation skills. And I would see for you to be able to have a capacity building role, people need to be able to use that skillset when you aren’t there providing the facilitation.

Janice: 20:07 It’s a meta level of work that we do to support capacity building. And as Cori said, just to reiterate, it is that transparency level. So part of our role then in building capacity with that transparency is to also – that’s another reason for the documents. We have the documents, we include the moves. Thinking that here is a document now that you could take this protocol and replicate.

Andrea: 20:32 I think it’s also something that we model together. So just having us here today, this is a typical even planning conversation – it’s that we see our spaces generative and connected to our philosophy that everyone brings expertise and has assets and our job is to work with those and find ways to connect those to one another to be stronger together.

Janice: 21:04 We have found three critical skillsets that must be in place for any high functioning PLC or any co-construction. So if it works, we build three tool kits. The first one is a communication tool kit. The second one is a collaboration tool kit and the third one is facilitation. And when those tool kits are built, I worked closely with a school last year that invested the first six weeks in their PLC setting of building those three toolkits. The results are phenomenal. Now they have complete coherence of structures – of PLC structures, administrative feedback and coaching as a result of their investment in those toolkits.

Steve: 21:51 Neat. Neat. As the piece I read on co-construction came to an end, you described a tension that exists between times when you need to be more challenging than co-constructing. As I read that piece, it rang to me that there’s times where instructional coaches find themselves in that role. So I was wondering if you’d speak to that one a little bit.

Cori: 22:16 So I think underlying the co-construction, there’s this tension with the urgency in these settings to really make big improvements in instruction teaching and learning students. And with an urgency, that’s where I think the tension arises as you read in the chapter that sometimes that co-construction process can take a while. When you’re getting shared voice and you’re learning these protocols and sometimes we just don’t have that time. And so we will sometimes say, okay, here’s what we going to do right now and this is why. And to get things moving at a pace that will support what’s needed from students.

Steve: 23:08 Then that can build your credibility with the client.

Janice: 23:11 Yeah, there it is.

Steve: 23:14 So that that now they can be more trusting to wait a little longer for other pieces to to come along.

Andrea: 23:21 I think that also helps us address one of the other tensions in this, which is the power differentials that exist in most of the settings that we work in. Whether it be between coaches and teachers, teachers and principals, coaches and principals, et cetera or school level leaders and leadership teams with district level leadership teams is providing the intentionality and the agendas. Having the outcome in mind is similar to your work. It allows us to then be transparent and acknowledged that there are power differentials and in order to continue progress forward, we all have to be attentive to that number using space. That’s where the norms of collaboration come in, is that you can actually called to the forefront, a norm that you’re going to practice. So given the dynamics of the group, you may – we often choose a norm to focus on for a particular meeting and provide opportunities for everyone to be attentive to that norm. Like paying attention to self and others in that space.

Steve: 24:33 So pulling this to a close, since a lot of my listeners are instructional coaches, I’m wondering if there’s some guiding thoughts that you might offer off to instructional coaches based on what you’ve learned about co-constructing.

Janice: 24:53 Well one is to intentionally begin the coaching relationship. I think it’s pretty well known in the coaching world that building the relationship with teachers is important. And to branch out from just the individual teacher, but focusing on what each coach and teacher [inaudible] teams brings to the table. Edgar Schein talks about in his book, “Helping” that when you have an unequal hierarchal dynamic and sometimes there’s a one-upmanship – one up personship, right? Between a coach and a teacher, even though it’s perceptual, it’s the coach that can level that dynamic by creating the relationship and creating shared goals together. What they’re working on together and being clear about that and how it fits in the bigger system as Andrea was talking about earlier and the vision and mission of that system.

Cori: 25:56 Yeah. So I think in addition to being very clear about the purpose of the relationship, I think the other – the imagery that we often will use is that we’re arm in arm. And so sometimes that imagery of we’re arm and arm doing this together so we don’t have the one up personship. I think that has been helpful for people to visualize how we work together with people.

Steve: 26:29 That’s a neat picture. Neat picture for a coach.

Janice: 26:32 Jim Knight talks about – probably many people in the audience know about Jim Knight’s partnership principles. And so if those partnership principles are working, there isn’t an invisible wall between the coach and the teachers. It’s seamless. And so one of the partnership principles we actually enact not only praxis but reciprocity. So there’s a bi-directional feedback exchange and each person is allowed to grow in the relationship. So it’s knowledge construction together. It’s not knowledge production and part of that dynamic as well.

Andrea: 27:14 And I think the opportunity to go back to even how our team works here, being coachable yourself. So seeking opportunities for others to coach any one of us is a way to continue learning and growing in ways that helps and supports others.

Steve: 27:36 I’m smiling because you hit on the magic word I was going to use to kind of pull us to a close. As I read your material and as I listen to the three of you, a big phrase that I circled several times was that your intent is to learn with the people you’re working with. And I’ve always shared that if a coach goes into a relationship in a teacher’s classroom with the expectation that the coach has just an awesome learning opportunity available to him or herself as the teacher does at the end, that hit me in your work. I guess that’s probably – the big payoff of co-constructing is co-learning. Both people are walking out of there maybe learning totally different things but learning. Folks, thank you so much for joining me. We’ll post your names and the link to the center in the lead in to the podcast, so that will allow people with questions to contact you directly.

Group: 28:50 Thank you so much. Thank you, Steve. It’s a pleasure. Thank you so much.

Steve: 28:54 Okay. Have a good day. Bye Bye.

Group: 28:57 Bye, you too. Thank you so much.

Steve [Outro]: 28:59 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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