Coaching Conversations: Transforming your School One Conversation at a Time
Publication Year: 2010
Learn how coaching conversations—which are different from supervisory and mentoring conversations—shift responsibility for instructional improvement from the school leader to the entire school community!
- Front Matter
- Back Matter
- Subject Index
- Chapter 1: Coaching Conversations: The Link to Change
- What is a Coaching Conversation?
- Old Thinking Versus New Thinking
- Holding Difficult Conversations
- Moving Toward Coaching Conversations
- Chapter 2: The New Leadership Model
- Old Leadership Model
- New Leadership Model
- Leadership Practices Continuum
- How the Continuum Works in Practice
- Being a Coach-Like Mentor
- The Case for Being Coach-Like
- Chapter 3: Committed Listening
- Listening Assessment
- Moving to Action
- Components of Committed Listening
- Verbal and Nonverbal Communication
- Value Silence
- Unproductive Patterns of Listening
- Listen Without Obligation to Act
- Chapter 4: Powerful Speaking
- Create an Intention
- Choose Words at the Appropriate Level
- Positive Presuppositions: Expressing Positive Intent
- Avoid Advice
- Ask Powerful Questions
- Chapter 5: Reflective Feedback
- The Importance of Feedback
- Three Types of Feedback
- Options for Offering Meaningful Feedback
- Feedback Practice
- Framing an Important Conversation using Reflective Feedback
- Journal Reflection about an Important Upcoming Conversation
- Using the Reflective Feedback Frame to Support Excellence
- Chapter 6: Putting it all Together: A Way of Being
- Case Study 1: Linda's Coaching Conversation
- Case Study 2: Marceta's Series of Coaching Conversations
- Next Steps
To Arthur—my Muse
To Alyssa, Brittney, Riley, Orianna,
Jackie, and Ellie—our hope for the future
Copyright © 2010 by Corwin
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Coaching conversations : transforming your school one conversation at a time / authors, Linda Gross Cheliotes, Marceta Fleming Reilly; foreword by Dennis Sparks.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-4129-8183-5 (pbk.)
1. School improvement programs. 2. Communication in education. 3. Communication in management. I. Cheliotes, Linda Gross. II. Reilly, Marceta Fleming. III. Title.
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
10 11 12 13 14 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
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Cover Designer: Karine Hovsepian
The “coach-like” conversations recommended by Linda Gross Cheliotes and Marceta Fleming Reilly in Coaching Conversations: Transforming Your School One Conversation at a Time are an incredibly powerful and often underestimated means of promoting improvements in teaching, learning, and relationships in schools. Gross Cheliotes’ and Reilly's view represents a significant paradigm shift regarding the role of the leader in promoting professional learning and cultural change. Conversations like the ones you will learn about in this book can alter beliefs, deepen understanding, energize and guide the school community, and strengthen practice.
When I first learned about “life coaching” more than a decade ago, I realized that the attributes displayed by life coaches would be an important and useful addition to the skill set of school leaders as they navigated the web of relationships that comprise the core of their work. It simply made good sense, I concluded, to teach the most important of those skills to school leaders, a process that is the subject matter of this useful and practical book. Such teaching when done well and followed by persistent practice creates new habits that leaders can apply in chance hallway conversations with teachers, in professional meetings, and in various kinds of interactions with students and parents.
There is an important caveat, however, to the increased use of conversations as a leadership tool: Not all conversations are created equal in their ability to promote professional learning and to stimulate individual and group change. The [Page viii]kinds of conversations described in Coaching Conversations share several characteristics. First, they are intentional. They have as their goal deeper understanding, stronger relationships, and a commitment to action that is sustained over time. Second, skillful conversations are grounded in deep and mindful listening that honors the speaker's perspective and demonstrates a willingness to be influenced by what others have to say. And third, skillful conversations are candid, leading to higher levels of trust and interpersonal accountability.
Conversely, such conversations can be defined by what they are not. They are not disguised “command and control” methods of influence by which administrators issue directives and use fear and force to mandate compliance to those directives. Skillful conversations are not “serial speech making” in which one person after another delivers well-rehearsed monologues to a disengaged audience. Nor are they manipulative. Because they are intentional and candid, skillful conversations are straightforward with no hidden agendas.
My views about conversation-based learning and mutual influence are based on several assumptions. I encourage readers to examine their own beliefs in these areas as a first step in fully engaging with the ideas and practices recommended by the authors.
- Clear intentions are a precursor to improvement. It's hard to make things better if you don't know what you want to accomplish.
- Leaders’ clarity is a precursor to continuous improvement in teaching and learning. Good conversations help leaders develop clarity regarding intentions, values, ideas, and practices while promoting clarity throughout the school community.
- Clarity cannot be “delivered” to others. Clarity is achieved by grappling with the topic at hand until “brains are changed” and learning has occurred. Good conversations promote learning through a sustained focus and an ever-deepening consideration of important subjects. [Page ix]
- Just-in-time learning is particularly potent because it is connected to real-life challenges and is motivated by a “need to know.” Good conversations by their very nature focus on the here-and-now reality of participants and generate clarity about and energy for future actions.
- Leaders’ hopefulness and positive attitudes are contagious. Whether they intend it or not, leaders infect others with their emotions and attitudes. Good conversations create positivity—through conversation members of the school community develop a sense of possibility about the future and are energized to maintain the momentum of the change process.
Coaching Conversations: Transforming Your School One Conversation at a Time is worthy of careful study. I encourage you to examine its ideas and consider how its many examples may apply to your unique responsibilities. Most of all, I urge you to diligently practice the skills Gross Cheliotes and Reilly describe until they become new habits of mind and behavior. The result will almost certainly be significant changes in yourself and improvements in the quality of your day-to-day interactions with others and in your school's culture. Together those changes form the bedrock of significant and permanent improvements in teaching and learning in your school.
Dennis Sparks is president of Thinking Partners in Ann Arbor, Michigan. For 23 years he served as executive director of the National Staff Development Council. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Preface[Page x][Page xi]
Coaching Conversations: Transforming Your School One Conversation at a Time provides a simple guidebook for school leaders that will introduce you to effective coaching conversation skills, which are critical for making systemic change. These skills will significantly increase your ability to engage and motivate the members of your school communities as you work collaboratively toward total school transformation. By investing a minimal amount of time to learn and practice the valuable conversational skills outlined in this book, you will experience a significant return on your investment.
Michael Fullan's research (2006) demonstrates the importance of motivating people to change and grow through relationships based on treating others with dignity and respect. We advocate that coach-like conversations focus on building relationships through committed listening, asking powerful questions that result in deeper thinking, and utilizing reflective feedback that holds each person to high standards while at the same time preserves their personal dignity.
Charles Payne (2008) establishes the case for relational trust as the most important factor in moving the lowest tier schools to higher levels of achievement. Through ongoing, respectful coaching conversations, space is provided for personal and professional growth and change within a framework of relational trust.
The content we share in this book is based on the training materials we use in our Coaching For Results, Inc., workshops. Many people in CFR have contributed to the ideas, examples, [Page xii]figures, and text of its content. The examples and running dialogues we use throughout the book come from our work with school leaders. The names of the people and some of the details of the situations have been changed to protect their confidentiality.
Coaching Conversations: Transforming Your School One Conversation at a Time was written for school leaders at all organizational levels. School leaders include principals and their assistants, directors, superintendents, professional development personnel, and also teachers in leadership roles, such as instructional coaches, content specialists, and lead teachers. Anyone within the school community whose role focuses on collaboration with others will be able to learn and practice the skills described in this book to transform their schools, their departments, their grade levels, or their districts.
In the first chapter you will learn what distinguishes a coaching conversation from other interactions and how coaching conversations may transform your school community.
Chapter 2 distinguishes in greater detail how coaching conversations differ from supervisory and mentoring conversations. In addition, you will learn the importance of using coach-like conversational practices even when your goal for a particular conversation may be focused on serious supervisory concerns.
The goal of Chapter 3 is learning and developing committed listening skills, which are foundational to holding genuine coaching conversations and building relational trust. Until you truly understand by listening to both the words and essence of what another person is saying meaningful dialogue and change is unlikely to occur.
In Chapter 4 you will learn the importance of speaking powerfully, which includes forming a specific intention for speaking, choosing words that align with your inner thoughts, and entering the conversation with positive intentions about the other person. You will also learn to use open-ended questions that provoke deep thinking by other people, which helps them generate possibilities that lead to actions.[Page xiii]
Chapter 5 introduces the reader to a very specific form of speaking called reflective feedback. This useful framework offers several options for delivering meaningful feedback. It can also be used to Coach-on-the-Fly as well as to structure a conversation about a difficult topic.
Finally, in Chapter 6 you will read two authentic case studies that demonstrate the transformative power of coaching conversations. The first example describes a single coaching conversation that shows how significant insight and the beginnings of change are possible, even within the short time-frame of a single conversation. The second case study allows the reader to witness the progression toward growth and change of a school leader who has been engaged in a series of conversations with her coach over a period of several months.
Transforming your school through coaching conversations requires dedicated practice of the skills outlined in this book. At the same time, utilizing these skills must be done authentically and honestly or people may feel manipulated or that the conversation is superficial. In other words, when coaching conversations are sincere, there is a high probability that trust will grow between the participants and that pathways for growth and change will develop.
We have written this book because we have seen amazing transformations occur in school leaders as they think deeply about what they want, get clear about their purposes, and practice the effective communication skills we promote in this book. We believe that when put into practice, coach-like conversations have the power to transform school cultures and impact the quality of the school experience for all children.
Acknowledgments[Page xiv][Page xv]
Many people influenced and supported the writing of Coaching Conversations: Transforming Your School One Conversation at a Time. We are grateful to our coaching colleagues in Coaching For Results, Inc., for their inspiration, support, and wisdom. We are especially thankful to Kathy Kee, Karen Anderson, Frances Shuster, Diana Williams, and Edna Harris for much of the development of the training materials and seminars on which this book is based. Their insights and knowledge have been invaluable.
In addition, we want to acknowledge Dave Ellis for his creative work and his generosity through the Brande Foundation, which has supported the transformation of countless people through the training and work of numerous life coaches, including many founding members of Coaching For Results, Inc.
Dennis Sparks, Stephanie Hirsh, and Joellen Killion, from the National Staff Development Council, first envisioned bringing coaching to school leaders. Their encouragement and support continues to fuel our work.
We acknowledge and thank our coaching clients who have not only provided examples for this book but also contributed to our personal growth and knowledge by teaching us effective ways to support people to lead major change initiatives within their schools and their lives.
To our families who have supported and encouraged our efforts, we offer our sincere appreciation and love for their understanding and patience.[Page xvi]
Additionally, Corwin gratefully acknowledges the following peer reviewers for their editorial insight and guidance:
Andover High School
Retired Administrator and Independent Educational Consultant
Assistant Superintendent (Retired)
St. Johns Public Schools
St. Paul, MI
Adjunct Professor in Educational Administration
Cobleskill-Richmondville Central School
Lincoln Southwest High School
Dana Salles Trevethan
Turlock High School
President of SAANYS and Principal Instructional Planning and Support
Cobleskill-Richmondville Central Schools
West After School Center, Inc.
About the Authors
Appendices[Page 99]Appendix A: Powerful, Open-Ended Questions
Powerful, open-ended questions require more than a yes or no response. They stimulate thinking and reflection. Powerful questions lay the groundwork for moving forward with action and change.Samples of Powerful Open-Ended Questions
[Page 101]Appendix B: Reflective Feedback
- What new structures are you putting into place to achieve your instructional goal?
- Because the success of your students is your passion, what strategies are you considering …?
- When you faced a similar dilemma, what course of action did you find most helpful?
- What is the most important outcome for our conversation?
- What similarities are there between this situation and…?
- What are the benefits of …?
- How would you like to be in your interactions with parents?
- Since collaboration with colleagues is a core value in our school, what plans are you considering for developing lessons with teachers in your department?
- What resources will you need to …?
- What are you taking away from our conversation today? [Page 100]
- What is the most challenging part?
- On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is this to you?
- How do you feel about the amount of time you are putting into …?
- How can I best help you think this through?
- What do you need to do to …?
- What are the next steps?
- What have you learned from …?
Reflective feedback provides specific information to others while also maintaining trust within relationships. There are three types of reflective feedback:
Samples of Clarifying Questions or Statements
- Clarifying questions or statements
- Value potential statements
- Questions or possibility statements
Samples of Value Potential Statements
- What responses did you receive from …?
- Which resources were the most useful?
- When you checked the curriculum for alignment with state tests, what did you discover?
- I would like to discuss student engagement in the lesson.
- The goal for this meeting is …
- Let's review what you have decided so far.
Samples of Questions or Possibility Statements
- You have really thought deeply about …
- There is evidence of … [Page 102]
- • The strength of the idea is …
- Your idea is very exciting because …
- What other considerations are you thinking about?
- What learning gaps, if any, have you noticed in your Title 1 students’ understanding of …?
- I wonder what would happen if …?
- What goals have your teachers set for differentiating instruction?
References[Page 103]1989). The one minute manager meets the monkey. New York: Quill/William Morrow., , & (1999). Communication self-assessment evaluation. Retrieved on December 17, 2009, from http://www.dynamics-hb.com(Coaching For Results, Inc. (2007). Strategies for powerful leading. Retrieved on December 20, 2009, from http://www.coachingschoolresults.com2009). A second look at powerful questions. Retrieved on February 19, 2010, from http://www.coachingschoolresults.com/newsletters/0509.htm(Ellis, D. (Ed.). (2000). Falling awake. Rapid City, SD: Breakthrough Enterprises.2006). Turnaround leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.(2008). So much reform, so little change. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.(2003). King Arthur's round table: How collaborative conversations create smart organizations. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.(2006). Quiet leadership. New York: HarperCollins.(2004). Fierce conversations. New York: Berkley.(2009). Brain-friendly learning for teachers. Educational Leadership, 66 (9), Retrieved August 24, 2009, from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/summer09/v0166/num09/Brain-Friendly_Learning_for_Teachers.aspx(2007). Leading for results ((2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
The Corwin Logo[Page 110]
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