Taking a leave, taking a chance

Here are the words that have been ringing in my ears for the past several weeks:

“So what you waiting on?
Who you waiting for?
If you don’t take a chance you’ll never know what’s in store…”

(India.Arie, “ Just Do You”)   More here: http://rapgenius.com/Indiaarie-just-do-you-lyrics 

Coach Spelic

The waiting is over. I have arrived. My one year leave from teaching begins NOW.  I look forward to blogging more, exercising because I feel like it, and entertaining friends and family more regularly. It’s hard to know all the things I will miss and to what degree and right now that is not my concern.

The chance I am taking is

to be the leadership coach I have always wanted to be,

to develop my very personal brand of professionalism,

to create my own schedule,

to write my own curriculum specific to me and my learning,

to appreciate so many dormant parts of me that are ready to wake up,

to get familiar with not knowing and on friendly terms with failing.

India.Arie reminds me so well:

“If you create the game, then you create the rules.

And if you just be you, there’s no way you can lose.”

Thank you, India.

It is time for me to go out, go in, go around and create my game.

Join me for the ride. I’ll keep you posted.

Being seen as the coach

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I did it!  I delivered my workshop on “Co-Active Coaching Techniques for Better Communication” at an international educators’ conference and loved every minute of it.  The primary focus was on introducing and practicing active listening, paraphrasing, the use of open questions and demonstrating how these skills converge during a coaching dialogue.

What did my participants take away from the session?

An appreciation for:

“Open questions. They show you are interested in what people want to say.”

“[The] combination of different techniques to form a whole (duplicating, open questions…)”

“Open questions and giving time to listen.”

Some realizations:

“I realized that I don’t “ask myself” the deeper questions I often ask others.”

“I want to paraphrase and duplicate more.”

“I will particularly use the “you say,…” in active listening.”

What did I learn in the process?

I learned that when I take on the role of the coach, I bring my best authentic self to the task and some things begin to happen:

I feel myself flexing my integrity muscles.
I authorize myself to soar and in doing so, encourage others to take wing, make the leap, run the risk; to find their own music and share it.
I resist that persistent urge to keep my coaching a secret.
I make my practice public (by offering workshops).
I accept the vulnerability that comes with putting my work out in the world.
I get to live my passion and deliver on a promise to myself.
I open myself to new contacts and unexpected conversations.

Educators talk a lot about goals, outcomes and processes.  These were all part of my positive workshop experience.  And yet the piece that truly makes me hardly able to wait until the next opportunity: the sheer joy of coaching others!  That’s how I know I’m in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing.

What a blessing!

Recalibrating “enough”

My sense of “enough” is being recalibrated moment by moment.  What it means is that circumstances are helping me to recognize that what I may have considered lacking before, now strikes me as more than adequate.  Where it would certainly be possible to perceive a problem on the horizon, it has become equally as easy to see that things are as they are and in my response I can choose to make a problem of it or not.

Byron Katie instructs us in Loving What Is to “stop arguing with reality.” This straightforward maxim has helped me to do just that. As a result my “enough” becomes an instrument of ongoing learning. It can shrink and grow as the situation demands. Where would it help for me to listen more and more carefully? When what I thought what I wanted doesn’t pan out the way I was sure it would, how flexible is my sense of “enough”? When might I have achieved more by doing less? These are the times when I become more intimately acquainted with the real levers of change: reflecting, rethinking, unlearning: all precious opportunities to recalibrate my personal understanding of “enough”.

As a new year approaches, I wonder how my sense of “enough” will be stretched and challenged. Drawing on the wisdom of Peter Block, I may find comfort in the suggestion that The Answer to How is Yes.

Testing, testing: This is your coach speaking…

This year, this month, very recently, I learned to speak the following words out loud: I am starting my life coaching business.  It is a true statement and no longer that bottled dream on a shelf waiting patiently to be released.  My secret is out: I am here to coach and I know so because when I engage in the process and your agenda is at the center of attention, that is when I am most fully myself: present, curious, observant, connected.

My card

During our time together, we open up space in which to work.  We survey the landscape, explore the territory, become discoverers in your own backyard.  We can investigate exteriors and inner workings, we can wonder about oddities and ideosyncracies, tinker with habits and patterns.  Our process recognizes and honors the “quest” embedded in the questions and by design sets us on a course of movement towards your desired destination(s).

Our journey is rich in discovery.  Your research takes unexpected trajectories. New findings emerge. The topic of investigation shifts.  Your learning expands and you are energized by the forward momentum you have created. We walk, we skip, we amble. We catch our breath and move on.   We celebrate progress and do a victory dance right there in the space of our deliberate making. We mix our metaphors like exotic cocktails and have fun doing it.

I can hardly wait to work with you.  To listen intently, share in your humor; to welcome your wildest dreams and ambitions into the light of day; to life.

No longer a test: This is your coach speaking.  I’m here.

See you soon,

Sherri

It’s you

When was the last time you entered a conversation with the deliberate intent to focus your attention on the interests, needs and desires of your partner?  Usually we are motivated to speech in order to meet our own immediate needs:  to gain someone’s attention or to get something done.  I tell my spouse about my work day because I need to vent.  My son reminds me that he’s due for a play date with his friend this week. My students ask me where we will be having class. 

What happens, however, when we take the opportunity to turn the norm on it’s head.  What if, we entered the conversation wanting to find out not just how our conversation partner is doing and we also took the time to listen fully to his response?  What would happen if, when my son reminds me about wanting to see his friend, that I took the time to acknowledge how important this is to him and perhaps asked him to tell me more about this friend? What if, instead of bowling over my husband with my incredible “news of the day” as soon as he has a chance to sit down, I instead, offer him something to drink and ask him about whatever is on his mind (or maybe just let him choose not to share…)?

I raise these questions because I recently ran across a text I wrote several years ago in which I describe this outlook: “It’s you” or “It’s about you.” The text surprised me with both its clarity and passion.  I offer it here as food for thought from which we can all benefit:

When we have a conversation and my attitude says, “it’s about you,” then my focus, my presence, my eyes even are centered on you and your feelings, thoughts, expressions.  “It’s you” involves putting our own judgments, sentiments and opinions on hold while we address our full attention to the other.  We not only listen, we take in, duplicate, and create space for our partner to express what is most important to him or her.  We not only make eye contact with our partner but show through our eyes, facial expression and body language that we are with him or her, present for whatever he or she needs to communicate. 

When we are sincere in our perspective of “it’s about you,” miracles can happen.  We open the floodgates of possibility by shifting the spotlight from ourselves to our partners.  We can create space for the other to feel valued, appreciated, understood.  We can open ourselves to the love, generosity, and warmth that reside in each of us and in turn offer it to those with whom we come in contact.  We can create a state of inner abundance by recognizing that our capacity to give increases as we assist, support and accompany others on their journeys.

A short fairy tale illustrates this beautifully:

A young prince sought to meet his beloved maiden and knocked on the door of her chamber.  “Who’s there?” asked a female voice from inside.  “It’s me,” the young prince replied.

“In this room there is not enough space for you and me,” came the response and the door remained quite closed.

The young prince went away and traveled for many months.  He contemplated the maiden’s answer and when he believed to have found the better response he returned to her door.  He knocked.

“Who’s there?” came the query from inside.  The prince responded: “It’s you,” and the door was opened and he entered.

Try working with this perspective.  Consider it an avenue on the way to full presence for others, a means to seek the best possible in people and situations.  Be prepared to find out how much more you can be when you focus your precious attention on others.  There is hardly a greater gift we have to offer the people we know and care about.

 

 

What’s in a Coach?

This summer I found the book I believe I’ve been waiting for all my career: The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation by Elena Aguilar.
(San Francisco: Jossey-Bass 2013). Let me try to explain why.image

The title of my masters thesis in Sport Psychology back in 1997 raised the question: What’s in a Coach?
I was writing specifically about the dynamics of the relationship between teacher-coaches and their student-athletes and in a nutshell, I was trying to unravel the tremendous power, impact and reach of those very unique connections I experienced both as an athlete and as a coach. My fascination of and commitment to coaching only expanded and deepened in the years following.

As a PE specialist, a general coaching stance has become integral to my style and method of teaching. I encourage my students to seek their own solutions to various obstacles, I raise questions which help them reflect on how to make the most of their own resources and as much as possible, I listen, observe and listen some more. Further studies in communication, leadership and facilitation continue to confirm for me both the need and efficacy of coaching in a host of educational contexts. And this is where The Art of Coaching soars above all the other resources I have encountered related to coaching in the educational sphere: Elena Aguilar says “transformation” and means it: transformation of teachers, administrators, schools, ultimately of whole systems.

Below is a brief review I submitted to an online publication:

It’s possible to read The Art of Coaching as a how-to manual for instructional and leadership coaches in schools. Aguilar succeeds famously at taking the mystery out of the coaching process and guiding new and experienced coaches to learn, practice and apply the critical elements of the craft. Yet this book offers more. Aguilar’s fundamental commitment to the larger goal of equity in education for all students defines the context of her work at all levels. This broadening perspective lends heft to the individual actions and processes she describes. The coaching itself is not just about helping the individual teacher or administrator to improve, Aguilar sees it as vehicle for transforming schools on the systemic level. Further, as she offers coaches multiple means to connect and succeed with clients, she also champions the use of profound strategies for leaders to view and approach their challenges.
Specifically she introduces 6 lenses for examining a situation from highly unique perspectives. The lenses are those of inquiry, change management, systems thinking, adult learning, systemic (or structural) oppression, and emotional intelligence. She employs rich and nuanced storytelling to demonstrate how these lenses and their respective questions can be used to take problem-solving deeper to address possible root causes. Although the book’s focus is on building coaching capacity, I would argue that in fact, Aguilar has given educators an excellent leadership book written from the coaching perspective.

I am in the process of recommending the book to anyone in education and/or coaching who will listen. Through The Art of Coaching, Elena Aguilar has inspired, instructed and above all empowered me to share the unraveled mystery of what’s in a coach and what tremendous potential resides in coaching for transforming education.