Thursday, May 21, 2015

12 Solution Focused Coaching Takeaways

At the end of last week I attended a Solutions Focus Master Coaching class.  It was two days of jam packed coaching goodness, where we were taken through the process of how to incorporate the  Solutions Focus approach into our coaching.

It was enlightening and it gave me additional skills that I can use as a Coach.  Most importantly, it taught me that the more I learn, the less I know.  I am fairly new to the coaching revolution (in the big scheme of things) and despite being an accredited coach who has led the whole school development of educational coaching at our place (with the fantastic support of my Deputy Principal) I still feel like I have plenty to learn.  

At the moment I am grappling (which is perhaps not the best descriptor when in reality its more of a swirling of wonderings) with how the GROWTH model, Solutions Focus and Instructional Coaching flow together.  The more I reflect on that, the more inclined I am to go with the notion that it is going to be dependent on the Coachee, and their needs, the actual situation and what the coaching focus is.  

During the two days, we were introduced to a number of new tools and a new spin on some known coaching tools.  What was great was that I came away with a number of 'takeaways', not the fish and chip or hamburger variety, but rather the kind of takeaway that will improve my own capabilities.   

Todays post is about sharing with you the top 12.   

12 Solution Focus Coaching Takeaways: 

1. Focus on the Wanted

Strengths Focus Coaching uses questions to assist the Coachee to focus on the things that they want, rather than rehash all the things that may have gone wrong or that they don't want.

2. The Language of the Coachee 

Use the language of the person you are coaching and refrain from using big and verbose words.  Think of it like $5 words rather than using $50,000.  The less complicated it is, the better it is for the person you are coaching.  In short, keep it simple. 

3. Resource not deficit based

When you are coaching look for the resources someone has, try and find the evidence of what someone has used previously to make progress.  Finding someones strengths' is more helpful than focussing on a person deficits.  

4. Butterfly Approach 

Sometimes it is the small, gentle changes that incrementally add up over time that have the potential to have the biggest impact on ensuring success.  What small steps can you make towards your desired future reality?  What small steps will help you achieve your goal?  

5.  Amplify useful change 

Useful change is when someone is prepared to do something differently and to start or stop doing something.  Nothing will shift if the person is not prepared to act on it or do anything about it themselves.  For the Coach, it is about discovering what, if anything, the Coachee is prepared to do, then amplifying that. 

 6.  Whats working?

One of the tools the Coach can use is to examine what is already working.  These include the Coachee's skills, resources and examples from the past where the solution has happened already.   It is not about examining what went wrong, but in what went right!

7. DSA

Sometimes a very useful tool is to sit quietly and say nothing.  One of the exercises we did involved working with a partner - one person talked for 7 minutes and the other simply affirmed with eye contact, quiet murmurings and body language.   It was hard - very hard - but there were insights to be had by allowing the Coachee to just talk.  By allowing them to talk they were able to find the head space to articulate solutions, and I found that as they continued, the questions I had were answered.  It was interesting because I realised that too often we butt in with our question or comment before giving the Coachee enough time to reflect and think for themselves.  It will be a work in progress for me! 

8.  Be a 'Noticer' 

Be on the look out for signs of strengths from what your Coachee says.  Notice what they say with their words and more importantly notice what they don't say with their body language.  Affirm them and notice what effect this have.  Ask 'what would you notice if X was happening for you?", or 'what would others notice about you if X was in place?".  Notice, notice and notice! 


9.  Build and unpack what you have

Look for what is going well, look for times in their past, and present, where they have been successful.  Take that just that little bit further by unpacking how they got there, what was going on and what they (and others) would notice if it was happening again.  Build upon what they have. 

10.  Take people to a place of resourcefulness 

It is very easy to take people into a place of 'woe is me', by using problem-focused words,  but this is not useful to finding solutions for the here and now.  To remain in a solutions focused place, look at the resources someone has and use 'resourceful talk'.   Using words like "wise", "focused" etc will help people find a place of resourcefulness to build strengths upon. 

11.  Find the resources from the past, present and the future

To find the strengths and resources that are within your Coachee, use questions that help them investigate the past,  the present and the possibilities of the future.  These may be examples of success from the past or elements of things that are already working well.  It may be something they have done or someone they can think of that is an example of something working well. 

12. What else?

One can not finish a list of takeaways without adding the 'What else'.  This tool is one of the most useful in a coaching situation - it is the tool that probes the Coachee for more detail.  As a tool it can feel like you are constantly badgering your Coachee, but interestingly, you can use the 'and what else' statement quite a few times before the Coachee runs out of other ideas and tells you that there is nothing more to add.  Even then, you can use 'can you think of someone else who does X', which often gives the Coachee some more thinking space - and at that point you can use - 'what else' all over again! 

If you are a coach and you get an opportunity to attend a workshop on Solutions Focus, I would highly recommend it, and more importantly, I suspect it will totally change the way you interact with your Coachee. 

Finally, is there any particular takeaway that resonates with you?  

NB: Each of the takeaways have been written onto pictures that I took over the two days we were on the course.  The photos of the city, bridge and sunrise were all taken outside the venue.   I decided to use these pictures because they embody the potential that solutions focused coaching has when you unlock the strengths and potential within your Coachee! 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Self Review and Change

This morning I was participating in a Twitter chat on Change at #asiaED.  The question that inspired this blog post was "How do you stay focussed and take care of you when working on change projects?".  My answer to that was that I have found self review is a good driver of change because it embraces all voices which helps your sanity as a leader remain 'intact-ish'.

I was then asked to elaborate a bit more about self review as it pertains to the change process.  I confess I found it a bit of a challenge to try and explain how self review works here in New Zealand within 140 characters!  In fact, as much as I am attempting to get better at being succinct, in this case, for me that was mission impossible.  

I am quite fascinated with self review, and I am deeply curious about how schools and leaders use self review to monitor practice and programmes, and determine need.  

For the purposes of this post Self Review is about self evaluation.  It is a deliberate and planned approach to collect and analyse data (of all kinds including stakeholder voice) to find out how well practices/systems and processes in our schools are operating.  What might be working well, what might need changing and what is ineffective.  From this process a school can then decide what actions need to happen next, determine sustainability of an initiative and as a result, see improved outcomes for students and teachers.  

In New Zealand there are three kinds of Self Reviews:

Strategic (these are long term and linked into your schools vision and the goals that come out of that) 
Regular (these are best described as 'business as usual', and are focussed and ongoing - these reviews tend to feed data into the strategic reviews) 
Emergent (these are in response to something that was unexpected and unplanned and are often one off spontaneous reviews - again, they often fit into the vision). 

Successful Self Review is about:
  • giving all students the most successful educational opportunities and experiences possible
  • Being collaborative and involving constructive critique 
  • Being mostly planned and deliberate but it can be spontaneous in response to something (an example of this might be a noticing of behaviour management systems not working as expected - applying a self review process would result in finding out what is misfiring and allow for an action plan to address this)
  • Goal setting that is strategic, short and long term, ISMART and evidence based.
  • Celebrating and sustaining what is working well and improving what is not
  • Embracing and being wiling to challenge and change - perhaps the most important outcome 

Self Review is an internal process (where you do it in-house) but it can be external (where you can get someone in to complete the review).  I have always found that a robust internal process helps your school grow and strengthen, and that getting outside professional experts that have been working with you to come and complete an independent review has the power to add a depth and independent critique that can help you develop deeper.  However, this process should be one that is supportive and if your own processes are robust, will simply complement what you are doing.  It should be used to help you celebrate your achievements and suggest 'where to next', and never used as a 'stick'.  I feel that this topic alone could be a separate blog post!

In addition, in New Zealand we have an external review 'body' that comes in to our schools and completes a review on the education and care of the students.  The Education Review Office (ERO) reviews all ECE, Primary/Intermediate (Elementary) and Secondary (Middle/Senior school) schools in New Zealand - they operate in a similar manner to OFSTED in the UK.  ERO is a Government department tasked with checking the quality of education in NZ.  Reports are written and published on the quality of education you  provide in your school and on topics of National Interest.  In theory, the self review you complete in your own school should complement what ERO does.  

Self Review is a process, and for it to be successful it needs to be tailor made for your own schools situation.  I have attached a copy of the process we use for investigating an area we are reviewing.  It follows 5 phases, with a check up on progress to date at the end.  For me, the sustainability check up is the most important because it can be easy to complete a review of an area, for example a digital innovation, with follow up actions and then not come back to it again. If you schedule in a follow up for 4 - 6 months down the track, you add a depth to what you are doing that would otherwise be lost.  It helps to keep teams focussed and lends a collaborative accountability to your practices.     

Essentially Self Review is about having a process to determine the effectiveness of what you are doing in your school, and if the changes you are making are making the difference to student outcomes and learning in the way that you expected. 

Self Review, as a change agent is powerful, especially when used to determine if change is needed, how effective it has been and what can be adapted/removed or improved as a result.  

Friday, May 1, 2015

School Principal's Day - I know

This is my first #edsketch2015 for May - seemed fitting at the time
no awards for drawing heading my way anytime soon!
Today, May 1st, is School Principal's day.

I have been doing this job for over a decade, and if it wasn't for the presenter on the news this morning rattling off a list of what day it was today (apparently it is Batman Day and No Pants Day as well), I would not have known there was a day set aside just for us.  It may seem silly, but for a brief moment I felt the initial twinges of appreciation.  Someone (or a group of someone's), somewhere, at some stage, felt the desire to recognise and appreciate the work we do.

It got me to wondering.

I thought of all my colleagues and how hard they work.  Of how much of their time and their lives they give to education and to their communities and I thought about School Principals day.  Then I thought about what I want to say to all the hard working, committed and dedicated school leader's out there.

It is really quite simple.

I want to say thank you.  I want to say thank you because I know.

I know you don't often get to hear it from people.  I know that somedays you want to shut the door to your office and hide, and I know that somedays you wake up in the morning and it takes an extraordinary effort to get out of bed and face the firing line.

I know that you have high expectations for the children in your school and that you want the very best for them, because you know that their success is our worlds' success.

I know that in your heart you want your staff to come to school and enjoy their job, to grow as professionals and to be exceptional at what they do.  I know you worry for them and that you know them as if they were your 'class'.

I know that you carry the secrets of your community on your wide shoulders, and I know that some of these secrets are heartbreaking, some of them are disturbing and some of them leave your own soul hurting.  I know that sometimes you feel the weight of the world sitting on your shoulders.  I know that despite this weight, you are resilient enough to carry the load and that hard as it is, you carry that load because you care and you want to make a difference.

I know that you are human, and that sometimes you drive home wondering, second guessing and that you are your own worst critic.   I know that sometimes the tears that prick your eyes are genuine - sometimes they are from frustration, and sometimes they are the byproduct of caring.  I know that somedays you look at the people from your community who are using you as their personal battering ram and that you take it because you know there is something bigger than just you that is behind their tirade.  I know there is a side of you that no one else sees, because you are human.

I know that when a child gives you a hug you are reminded of why you are there.  I know that after you have seen the children in your school do something amazing, that you are as proud of them as if they were your own children.  For the record, I know that the 'something amazing' ranges from a student growing in confidence to winning a sports game.   Sometimes it is a small as a simple smile.

I know that being a principal is variable and unpredictable.  I know that when it is a a '2 out of 10' kind of day that it is dark, depressing and very difficult, but that when you have a day that is higher than an '8 out of 10' then nothing compares to how amazing it is and it makes it all worthwhile.

I know that on any one day you can be anyone from a counsellor, listener, problem solver, coach, mediator, business person, visionary, knee scraper cleaner upper, co constructor, collaborator, persuader, and general all purpose person.  You name it, you can do it.

I know that you have courage, passion, dedication and great commitment.  I know you are amazing.  I know you are not always understood or appreciated and I know that you do much that no one ever sees.

I know you are a leader and I know.

It is because I know that I say thank you.  I also know that you know I have left much unsaid.  But we know, and that is ok.

So it is fitting that today, on School Principal's day - on behalf of the communities you work in, I say thank you.

If you want to read more on the background of School Principal's day you can find out more about it here.