Coaching Redefined

I’m so grateful to Sherry St. Clair for sending a copy of her new book, Coaching Redefined. She charts her journey towards a new paradigm of coaching in the first chapter, and mentions the story of LEGO and their quest to engage more girls (as so few in America were playing the bricks).

I love the LEGO story. I love it because it so aptly captures what coaching is when it’s at its fullest potential and its best: co-creation. It’s a true collaboration between coach and teacher and coach and school-wide educators built on listening, learning, adapting, changing, and growing together. (p. 13)

It was also Sherry’s journey into work as a consultant where she needed to engage more with the business skills she would need to go it alone, so to speak. She made an interesting realisation:

So often, we educators go to school to become educators. And then we become educators. And we stay educators. Through no fault of our own all we know is education! Yet, how many students are we preparing to become educators? A scant few… We know that our students today will be asked to do in their careers tomorrow is different. It’s complicated, nuanced, technological, global, and often interdisciplinary’.  (p. 14 – 15)

It is the bigger perspective of the world beyond school that helped Sherry realised what defines a great coach, not just a good coach.

A good coach will get straight to work coaching individual teachers in the classroom. A great coach will begin her coaching process first by listening to all stakeholders and working to comprehend the dynamics in and around the school.

Sherry highlights that great coaches offer more than instructional strategies and a keen awareness of what makes excellent teaching. They coach the whole teacher, coaching the ‘human’ (p. 17). Sherry sees the demands on instructional coaches beyond the realm of effective pedagogical tools and ‘it takes the learning and nurturing skills typically discussed in the business world’ and it ‘ultimately takes strong leadership and management skills to inspire people to join your vision, make them feel like vital parts of a team, and keep them motivated as they work toward meeting goals’ (p. 17).  Sherry implores the reader to ‘step out of our education lane and explore other ones’ (p. 18).

Sherry suggests spending an hour per week catching up with a leadership podcast, or similar series. I found a recent podcast on HBR ‘what great coaching looks like’. A great point is made by the speaker that resonates with Sherry’s ‘coaching redefined’ model:

Whether it’s mentoring, or coaching, I would say yes, every manager, every leader is responsible for knowing the dreams and what motivates the people that report to them and their peers.

It’s that bigger picture that defines the redefinition of instructional coaching for Sherry: it’s much more than instruction and classrooms. It’s being compassionate to the human who educates by seeing the complete person. It’s being open to the world beyond schools to enhance the tools at the disposal of the coach that can be used to promote (lasting) change for schools and educators.

Because in educational contexts the professional development of educators is seen as central to improving school effectiveness and driving up measurable outcomes, there is a danger that professional learning becomes dominated by improvement agendas (p. 7)

Deborah Netolicky’s new book Transformational Professional Learning (quoted above). She goes on to write that ‘data, accountabilities, and cultures of compliance become the accepted realities around which teachers and schools leaders define themselves, while the humanity, complexity, and voices of students, teachers and school leaders are stifled and disregared’ (p. 10). Deborah advocates for professional learning to focus ‘on trusting and growing teacher and the teaching profession’. The exact purpose of coaching. We trust the coaches is complete, whole, and contains the solutions to their problems. Deborah’s transformational professional learning seeks to achieve the same goals as coaching by ‘actively changing a person’s way of knowing, thinking and doing, leading to changes in practice’ (p. 10). Chapter 5 of Deborah’s book discusses the findings of her three-years project exploring the use of observation and coaching.

I think both of these books are going to be very engaging reads, and I’ll continue to blog about them as I read. Including my re-readings of Jim Knight’s books.

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