Tuesday, April 01, 2014

My Learning Journey of Connected Coaching

**Please forgive the length of this post.  What was intended to be a suitable blog reflection has turned into an anthology of my journey...

My ongoing journey of Connected Coaching began in January of 2014. At the time I was starting to feel a little more settled in my new role as Learning Services Coordinator; however, I was I missing the opportunity to connect with my colleagues as I had experienced in the previous year as a Learning Coach. Much to my good fortune, an e-mail appeared with the perfect opportunity to revisit a professional development scenario I am passionate about through a distance learning opportunity (which appeals to my "small rural" and "explore the world" sides).

Immediately the course compelled me to both reflect and contemplate, through the development of my Learning Pledge. I must admit, I had grand plans on how I was going to propel my learning forward and how I was going to connect with my peers in my cohort so that we could collectively build our understanding. I will admit that I am disappointed at my own inability to follow through on my commitment to responding to their posts regularly. My intentions were good, as I had a strong start to the course, but then I encountered that barrier we refer to as life: suddenly I was travelling at least once per week, networking late at night and early in the morning, taking care of sick children, re-applying on my position. These were not factors I had considered when I so carefully apportioned the time that I had to devote to being the ideal learner I had envisioned.

Still, I looked forward to our weekly webinars, even if I was connecting from a hotel room or some random friend's basement that I had arranged to borrow internet from as I passed through town. To have my course facilitator model the aspects of Connected Coaching which I can only aspire to replicate with such grace; to hear how a pair of my cohort peers were applying coaching in a context outside of education; to have the world get a little smaller as one cohort peer joined us from Guangzhou, China; to connect with a cohort peer as coaching was being considered as an element to elevating the success of pre-service teachers; to learn from the experience of a cohort peer who was engaging in coaching around flipped learning experience; to practice the skills of coaching which had become rusty since not being accessed as often in my new role: these were opportunities to not be missed, especially when we could hear each other's excitement and trepidation as we learned together.

And now I am again compelled to both reflect and contemplate.

When I look back at my Learning Pledge, did I accomplish that which I aimed to learn? Am I able to articulate how my new understanding impacts the questions that I had? Let's see.
  • Accountability: how can I operate from a coaching stance while ensuring the division's goals are being aligned to educator goals? 
    • How does this relate to design thinking? 
What I have learned about accountability is that it will take some creative navigation to balance the goals of the educator with the goals of the division.  I will be deliberate when changing from a coaching stance to a consulting stance to a collaborating stance in an effort to maintain transparency and facilitate ongoing trust.  When the approach to discovering a goal is sincere, the message around that goal can then be interpreted with empathy, whereby a mutually respectful plan can be created, facilitating a partnership built on investigating cause and effect, and promoting the evolution of a relationship that can seamlessly transition between coaching, consulting, and collaborating.  For the moment, that description of the working relationship is theoretical, but I believe that it is possible; therefore I will travel the path of unconcealed obviousness so as to ensure my position and motives are above reproach.
  • Technology: what new tools can I learn about that can be leveraged in enhancing professional practice and supporting student learning? 
    • How can capacity be built for utilizing these tools? 
Each week when we were introduced to new tools, it did not seem overwhelming.  However, to the impulsive eye that may come across Connected Coaching Tech Tools, the comprehensive list may be just that.  I know I am thankful for the many tools and applications that were learned throughout this process; I am also apprehensive about building capacity for these tools.  We were provided with a relevant experience through which to explore the tools.  In order for the same appreciation to be gained in a new situation, I believe the same experience (relevance) will be necessary.  As I consider the "when", the "how", and the "what if", the only certainty that I am confident of is that I will need to keep a watchful eye for the situations that present themselves unexpectedly as they lend themselves to encouraging the exploration of a tool.  It will be a fortuitous situation if the situation can be enhanced beyond exploration to purposeful and intentional integration of the tool in an effort to leverage a learning experience.
  • Ongoing Growth: how can I develop a connected coaching repertoire that invites educator participation in a meaningful and purposeful way while ensuring that protocol and expectations do not hinder the desire to access this professional development resource? 
    • How can authenticity be balanced with commitments at the school level? 
This is a process that I am still pondering as I develop a roll out plan to employ connected coaching in my school division.  Through the collaboration with my team, the watchful eye of our supervisor, and the feedback of administrators, I believe an amenable and harmonious professional development opportunity through connected coaching can be achieved.  Through this process I am hopeful that the connected coaching experience can be both authentic and committed to the needs of the schools in which it is present.
  • Presence: how can I capitalize on what I know about various models of coaching already to develop a deeper understanding of connected coaching and facilitate the desire among educators in our division to access coaching? 
    • What does a connected coaching presence look like, feel like, sound like when successful in a school division? 
My previous coaching experience was certainly an asset in building my confidence in this experience: I was able to extend my knowledge of coaching through the lens of appreciative inquiry and through the conscious focus on design thinking.  I recognize, however, that my capacity is only one element of successfully fuelling a desire for educators in my division to access coaching, particularly in a connected fashion.  I do not yet have an exemplar of this experience to share in an effort to generate enthusiasm, but when I do, I hope to be able to start to answer my final question while at the same time facilitating the want, the need, the urgency, and the enthusiasm for connected coaching.

Wow - I may have learned more than I anticipated...which compels me to continue with reflection and contemplation.  Am I able to respond with integrity when asked questions about connected coaches and the connected coaching experiences? I will try.
  • What dispositions best serve those in the role of connected coaches? 
I will refer to these dispositions individually through reflection later on, but a quick summary would describe connected coaches as committed, courageous, and collegial; present, professional, and persevering; and attentive, amiable, and appreciative.
  • What are expectations for connected coaches? 
Everyone has their stuff going on; perception is reality.  For example, Dan Pontefract has his beliefs of what is expected of coaching as a connected leader; Paul J. Gorrell and John Hoover have written a book about coaching in context; and Carey Klassen has reflected on whether the expectations that are set for coaches by themselves are realistic.

It has been my experience that there is one primary expectation for connected coaches: stay connected so you can coach.  Staying connected will enable the coach to consistently monitor the "temperature" of the experience; to have an ear to the ground to listen carefully and select the information to connect, to clarify, to conquer; to demonstrate trustworthiness and transparency; to maintain the relationship.  

Any other expectations will be contingent upon the coach and the coachee, therefore dependent on the experience.  Those expectations will require the coach to carefully assess the situation and implement appropriate techniques, activities, and protocols to suit.
  • How can coaches best support and assist educators in becoming self directed connected learners? 
Listen - truly listen.  Paraphrase.  Listen more.  Ask questions.  Listen more.  Pause.  Listen more. Through this carefully orchestrated exchange, the needs of the coachee can be brought to the level of consciousness and then addressed - through consulting on technology, collaborating on planning, or coaching to highlight the strengths, for example.  As with meeting expectations, each situation will have its own nuances which will require the attention of the coach to consider each step to maximize the growth.
  • What aspects of current technologies can be leveraged and how in an appreciative/strength based approach to coaching in online communities? 
I cannot tell a lie - I find amusement in this question.  Current is framed in perception: what might be considered current to one person may be considered outdated to another and defunct to still another.  If operating from a strengths based approach, a coach must express appreciation for the technology that the coachee is currently working with and build up a repository from there, through relevant and meaningful experiences, at a pace that comfortably moves the coachee along.
  • How can coaches best build trust and establish rapport in online communities? 
The more that is exposed, the more transparency can be attributed.  Transparency is trust.  

The more that is revealed, the more deeply the relationship can be forged.  Relationships are built on rapport.

Completed profiles, including images, and stories are powerful ways to begin building trust and establishing rapport.  Engaging in protocols and activities specific to trustbuilding provide parameters which coaches can leverage in order to encourage coachees to share their stories.
  • How can coaches help educators realize and act upon their strengths? 
Appreciative inquiry with a specific focus on the coachee: listening, paraphrasing, and questioning for the purpose of mediating the thinking so that the strengths of the educator surface from within.  It is through the careful orchestration that was mentioned earlier that will allow the educator to be empowered as they become cognizant of their strengths and feel encouraged to act upon them.
  • How can coaches facilitate design thinking? 
Again, coaches can engage in protocols and activities specific to facilitating design thinking.  However, it is important not to get so caught up in the direction designed within the parameters that an opportunity for an enlightening side trip might be missed.  
  • With what activities and protocols should a connected coach’s toolkit be filled? 
Wayfinding, trustbuilding, questioning, and facilitating design thinking: these protocols and activities have been repeatedly referenced, and for good reason: they would provide a solid foundation for a coach to be able to navigate the pathways of connected coaching, to which others useful in a face to face environment could be potentially translated for addition.

So now I feel confident that I know the theory behind connected coaching and I have access to the resources to support my coaching practice - however, I remain compelled to reflect and contemplate one final thought: Am I ready?  Do I measure up sufficiently with the criteria for connected coaching at this point in my journey to be able to engage in it successfully? I can hope. 
  • Do I engage educators by requesting stories about their strengths? 
Absolutely, but certainly with more finesse now than I did before.  I have always been a proponent of a strengths based approach, but I feel through the focus on appreciative inquiry I have found some skills in reframing my questions, even in difficult situations, so that the focus is not on the obstacles, but on the times when outcomes were positively correlated with feeling successful.
  • Do I use affirmations and powerful questions to assist educators in realizing previously unrecognized potential? 
This is an area in which I continue to to build my skills.  I am a coach because my passion is lifting others up - helping them to reach the heights they wish for themselves, scaffolding the journey so that it is filled with opportunities for multiple celebrations - because as my colleagues feel more confident in the job they are doing, so do their students, which enhances their successes.
  • Do I persevere in exploring ideas and concepts, rethinking, revising, and continual unpacking as I build upon my own strengths and assist in uncovering strengths of those I coach? 
Without a doubt: improvement is a neverending process, for both the coach and the coachee.  It is through the interaction with each other that both benefit.
  • Do I engage in discussions on difficult or messy topics from an appreciative inquiry perspective to increase confidence and self efficacy? 
Rising from the ashes, however they might be perceived, is far easier to do when someone believes in you.  As a coach, I am invested in the process alongside a coachee: dwelling in the negative is unhealthy for both of us.  In order to overcome the times we stumble, we must focus on what we have done well and expand upon those practices.
  • Have I explored new forms of collaboration? 
Undoubtedly, thanks to the purposeful and intentional orchestration of relevant experiences through connected coaching.
  • Do I have a well recognized online voice? 
Part of me thinks yes.  Part of me thinks no.  Those parts start to answer when my brain makes comparisons to others I know. And then the rational part of me says, "I'm working on it."  In certain circles, my voice might be recognized.  However, I know there is always room from improvement and I believe that I there are online spaces from which I could benefit and perhaps offer my insight.
  • Do I exploit the affordances of technology such as Blackboard Collaborate, Skype, Google Hangouts for synchronous communication? 
More and more, I am connecting with people across vast expanses so that we can brainstorm, collaborate, and share stories.  Where possible, I am encouraging the use of available tools in an effort to maximize connection time and minimize windshield time.
  • Can I remix recognized face to face protocols and activities to use for coaching in online spaces? 
As demonstrated in the course space with "First Word, Last Word", I think I can comfortably engage in remixing protocols and activities as they reveal themselves as suitable to the situation.
  • Do I recognize and embrace the building of relationships and trust through co-creation of content and avenues other than text (video, audio, images)? 
As a linear thinker who has operated mostly through leveraging text based communication in online environments, I have become far more open to the use of video, audio, and images as they have connected with my own thoughts on an emotional level as I have attempted to clarify my own thinking.
  • Can I use activities to create a connection to the content and context, to oneself, and to those who are part of the learning community at school and online? 
This is a skill that I know is not "natural" for me: it is something that I have to consciously enact so that my own personal biases do not overshadow the context of the reality of those I interact with.  That being said, I recognize my shortcoming, and therefore actively strive to overcome it.
  • Do I engage in, demonstrate, and advocate for self directed connected learning? 
In choosing to participate in the Connected Coaching E-Course, in maintaining an active Twitter presence, in re-engaging in the Inspired Learning Community, I believe that I demonstrate my own capacity for self-directed connected learning.  As someone who has benefitted from my connected experiences, I do advocate these opportunities for others wherever and whenever it may fit into their practice and lives.
  • Do I update my professional expertise in and support educators in developing expertise around problem based learning? 
This is an area of expertise that is growing through my current practice, and with the reality of the educational landscape in Alberta, I am charged in my position to ensure that this expertise is developed in educators in our division through the support of Learning Services.
  • Do I share expertise with and scaffold experiences for educators in developing action research? 
My current role as a Learning Services Coordinator engages me on a regular basis in supporting my colleagues in the process of action research.
  • Do I understand and assist educators in the development of TPACK? 
Do I understand?  Yes.  Do I assist educators in developing?  Yes.  Do I bring TPACK to their level of consciousness?  No - partly due to the readiness of my colleagues and partly due to the context in which I work, where SAMR is the model that is preferred.
  • Do I experiment with and reflect upon new strategies? 
I think this is the exciting part of being a reflective practioner: taking risks, collecting data, formulating next steps...  So it pleases me to smile and respond with a resounding YES!
  • Have I and will I continue to collectively review and analyze with an open mind and without judgement the many perspectives on coaching? 
Positively and genuinely: it is through the study of Instructional Coaching, Cognitive Coaching, and Connected Coaching that I have developed my coaching practice to this point.  Continue unpacking and repacking of these perspectives, as well as others I may encounter, can only service to enhance my practice.
  • Do I have a propensity for and understanding of strengths based, appreciative approaches? 
I believe my writings above would lend themselves to view my position in response to this question in a favourable light.
  • Do I have a tendency for mindfulness? 
My inner voice wishes that this question were rephrased to include "actively engage in".  Mindfulness is not so automatic for me; I wish it were more instinctual and reflexive.  However, like other shortcomings, awareness can be a powerful driver in striving for success.  My anticipation of falling short in this area actually enables me to focus on it with great determination.
  • Am I committed to understanding gained through listening and asking good questions related to practice? 
Certainly!  I am a learner throughout the coaching relationship (as well as other interactions and experiences).  Approaching coaching from this standpoint demonstrates my commitment to lifelong learning and I feel lends itself to building trust with coachees.  I am not involved in coaching so that I can feel like the "expert", and I believe this sentiment is inherent in my passion for learning from others.
  • Do I embrace perseverance toward deep thought by exploring ideas and concepts, rethinking, revising, and continual repacking and unpacking, resisting urges to finish prematurely? 
Is reflective practice ever finished?  And if it is a continual process, is it possible to finish prematurely?  I don't ask these questions to be facetious - I truly believe that the process of enhancing one's practice is an ongoing enterprise. 
  • Do I have the courage and initiative to engage in discussion on difficult or messy topics? 
This is an area where I struggle sometimes - I am not a person who likes confrontation.  When I engage in these discussions, there is careful research done into the context of the topics so that they can be approached from an appreciative standpoint and moved forward built on a foundation of strength.
  • Am I committed to deep reflection and growth over time? 
I would hope that this reflection would be an indicator of my commitment.
  • Am I inclined toward being open-minded, integritous, and professional? 
This is an area which I can proudly respond positively.  Professionalism and integrity are mechanisms which I default to with ease, as reputation can fortify trust.  Open-mindedness is what has enabled me to accept the consultation that has been provided to me, to learn from the collaboration I have been engaged in, and to grow from the coaching I have been fortunate to receive.
  • Am I dedicated to the ongoing development of expertise? 
Most assuredly - that is the commitment I made for myself as a lifelong learner and again when I was afforded the opportunity to pursue coaching in education to support my colleagues in their pursuit.
  • Do I share an ardour for a culture of collegiality - that "none of us is as good as all of us"? 
The whole is the sum of its parts: as individuals, we only have the power within ourselves to utilize as we strive for improvement.  Each person we meet knows something we do not: there is something to be learned from every encounter.  When our encounters can occur in a collegial manner, where a group comes together, the power of the collective is intensified as learning is parallel, diverse, and deep.
  • Do I believe that the contributions of all can lead to improved coaching practice? 
Coaching practice cannot be improved in solitude, in my opinion, which would translate into my belief that we all have something valuable to contribute in improving the practice of coaching.

After a deep and lengthy consideration of what I have learned, what I know, and what I believe, I am left feeling empowered to enact connected coaching in my division.  I have my divisional colleagues to lean on, but also my cohort from the Connected Coaching course as well as others in my online learning network.   I am appreciative of the activities and protocols that are now in my toolbox, joining the arsenal that I have been fortunate to have developed over time.  I recognize that the strength that will be found in my roll out plan will be in the coaching, collaboration, and feedback that will be part of the process.  I am excited to continue on this Connected Coaching journey within my context of education.

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Please take this opportunity to share your impressions, experiences, and learnings from my reflections. I would request that any criticism be constructive: the goal of this blog is growth.