Yesterday as I scrolled through my twitter feed one tweet led me to a blog post by Gino Bondi, “What Questions are You Asking?” In this post he writes,”The real work, the elbows deep in learning stuff, is in leading the potentially difficult conversations around what learning should look like.” This struck me as a truism I wanted to hold onto. “Difficult conversations” is the piece that really resonated. Changing education ultimately is about each of us changing ourselves – our beliefs, our assumptions, our practices. That is what makes the process so daunting, so slow, so dang hard. And yet, there’s hope. There’s action. There’s movement.
With Pernille’s original post about getting rid of behavior charts she ignited a hefty debate and received some very emotionally charged responses to her suggestion. She included some of the negative responses in the more recent post. There are some strong feelings out there for sure which also demonstrate that the concrete stuff (i.e., behavior charts) often carries more weight in people’s minds than the abstractions of re-envisioning school (i.e., innovation). In the comment section, Angela Watson provides some excellent insights as to why some teachers may be reacting so fiercely. She encourages those who can relate to some of the reasons she offers to read Pernille’s new book which explains the process behind the behavior chart suggestion and others.
The conversation is happening. Thank you, Pernille Ripp, for taking a stand and taking the heat after the fact. I greatly admire your willingness to start and continue the conversation. For those educators who felt offended and misunderstood, I appreciate the fact that 1) you are connected and reading views which do not mirror your own. And 2) that you are brave and engaged enough to let your dissenting opinion be known to a wider public. Dissent is vitally important to doing this work of changing education and ourselves in the process. Conflict is uncomfortable and difficult and often our feelings are at risk of getting hurt. And yet, when we are willing to listen, take others’ perspectives and look for the opportunity to learn – THAT is when the real change, the real transformation can begin. It is when we bring our whole selves to the table – our beliefs, our assumptions, our practices – that we can make the changes within to bring about the needed changes in our classrooms, schools and systems.
Let’s have those conversations. We’ll all be better for it.
If you’ve been following this blog for a little while, you may already be aware that Elena Aguilar is one of my personal education heroes. One of reasons I have such tremendous respect for her as a person and for the amazing work that she does is her capacity to help us all see what is needed, where it is missing and how we can go about acting on those insights. In a recent post on Edutopia she makes a strong case for insuring social emotional learning (SEL) for all members of a school community in order for the whole enterprise to have a shot at meaningful success.
Elena Aguilar’s mission is school transformation, not just school improvement or reform. All schools are awash in change initiatives on various levels of scale and areas of emphasis. The capacity of all community stakeholders to meet these challenges is dramatically enhanced when we pay close attention to the emotional experiences of those involved and address the fears, hopes, ambitions and concerns head on. In advocating for this approach, Elena Aguilar understands that transformation works first with what is, in order to reach the best parts of what’s possible. Activist and Fund-raiser, Lynne Twist quotes Werner Erhard in her book, The Soul of Money</em>: “Transformation does not negate what has gone before; rather, it fulfills it.” (p. 252) Our emotions are always a part of what is. Let us claim them and put them to work towards our collective progress and benefit.
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.
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.