Sunday, 26 May 2019

Developing Coaching Pedagogies

ACCoS Coaching Session with Bernard Fitzgibbon

Last week, I was lucky enough to take part in a two day coaching session led by former Principal and coaching expert, Bernard Fitzgibbon. Designed to introduce us to Leadership Coaching, the course was aimed at developing the coaching skills of the In School Leaders, Across School Leaders and teachers within the Auckland Central Community of Schools (ACCoS). At my school, Newmarket Primary School, I’ve been coaching for the last year and a half, without being 100% clear on what coaching actually involves. So, Bernard’s course was certainly timely!

Reflecting on my experiences over the two days, I wanted to share my understanding of coaching, along with my key learnings from the course.

Coaching Explained
Coaching is an empowering process built on an important relationship between (at least) two people who work together to set and achieve professional goals defined by their own needs and interests. The coaching partnership is equal and collaborative involving one-to-one conversations that focus purely on learning and development.

Helping the coachee create a plan for realising and achieving their professional goals, the coach plays a major role in fostering this environment. What’s key here, is forming a positive relationship between the two. Most of us have a natural instinct of wanting to ‘fix’ the issue at hand by offering (sometimes unsolicited) advice. However, in a coaching partnership, one individual does not make decisions for another. It’s important that the coach respects the autonomy of the coachee, who must make their own choices (even if they aren’t what the coach would agree with).

As they explore and develop solutions to their teaching challenges, personal voice and helping coachees find the words to express themselves, is also key.

Where to Next
Through the use of the GROWTH model, it’s the coach’s job to support the coachee in moving from where they are now to where they want to be.

Essentially, the GROWTH model is a conversation map that’s designed to shape coaching conversations. For me, this GROWTH model is a vital roadmap - and without it, I’m not sure I would even know where to begin! Over my next few coaching sessions and beyond, this model (along with the scripted questions) will be critical to how I approach these discussions. Although, as these conversations become natural and the questions are embedded into my ongoing coaching practice, my reliance on the model should be reduced over time.

My Key Learnings
Reflecting on Bernard’s course, what is most critical is mastering the art of powerful questioning and attentive listening.

Initially, I thought that asking questions would be the easy part. After all, talking is something I am quite good at. But asking the right questions and knowing how to ask a question, is a completely different approach and something that I am quickly beginning to realise is not as easy as initially thought. It’s not about quantity, though. It’s all about quality. Nancy Willard said it best when she stated, “Answers are closed rooms and questions are open doors that invite us in.” And she is right. Coaching is all about bursting through the doors (politely of course) and not just listening to what the other person has to say, but showing that you want to hear it too. Ask open questions using What? Why? How? Invite longer, more thoughtful answers by avoiding simple yes/no or right/wrong questions. However, even the best question can become undone by the way it is asked. For me, the most important habit to get into is asking the powerful question of A.W.E (and what else?). Seems simple, right? But someone’s first answer is rarely their only (or best) answer. By asking this effortless and AWE-some question, it forces the coachee to think on a much deeper level.

Listening is not always easy, in fact it’s hard work. We don’t think of it that way, but it is. Listening is a habit. Like many good habits, listening does not happen naturally. I always thought I was a good listener, nodding away like a bobble-headed doll and offering the occasional grunt of encouragement when really I was thinking about what I wanted to say next or thinking of something else entirely different. During Bernard’s course, I made a conscious effort to not only be an active listener, but to be a deep listener. As someone who tends to jump in and share my thoughts or respond to keep a conversation going, being at peace with silence was an entirely new concept. But it works! Allowing for silence gives the coachee time to think and reflect on their own internal thought processes, which then creates opportunities for further, deeper discussion. Giving someone your complete attention is rare but extremely powerful because it provides a moment of trust, safety and engagement between coach and coachee.

Final thoughts
Overall, I found the two days learning extremely worthwhile, not only to develop my coaching skills, but also as a way to connect with other ISLs and teachers within ACCoS. Thank you to Bernard Fitzgibbon, whose passion for coaching and education left us feeling empowered, motivated and ready to tackle the coaching challenges that we so often face in school and in our leadership roles within ACCoS.

By Nikki Wylie ISL Newmarket School

Danni Cook from Auckland Normal Intermediate School took notes on the GROWTH conversation. This template can be used to help structure a coaching conversation.

You can also check out Virginia Kung's blog post on 'Coaching, a way of being.'

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