Coaching Letter #127

Hello, I hope you’re doing well. I know you’re busy, so I have held off sending out a Coaching Letter until I was sure I would be sending you something useful. This, I hope, is that letter. It’s about lots of things, actually—perceived self-efficacy, mental models, emotions, self-awareness—but let’s bundle those all together and generalize under the banner of emotional intelligence.

This letter was prompted by several conversations I’ve had recently with leaders who are a bit frustrated by what they perceive to be griping on the part of educators—they see them as picking fault with plans and the situation in general when they (the leaders) are a) acting in good faith and b) doing the best they can.
My response has been to try and reframe the conversation. Rather than thinking of the “griping” educators as difficult, resistant or ungrateful (all terms that I have heard), let’s think of their behavior as a response to feeling less competent than usual and also less in control. Just to be clear, I think we are all in that bucket right now, but the change relative to the old normal is greatest for those closest to the classroom.

People generally don’t respond well to feeling incompetent or lacking control. Motivation is closely tied to the belief that you have the skill to bring about a desired outcome—that’s a large part of Albert Bandura’s construct of perceived self-efficacy, or you could read Dan Pink’s book, Drive, in which he ties motivation to autonomy, mastery and purpose—which is a really helpful frame, I think. Being deprived of that belief is disconcerting at best and depressing at worst.

So the good news is: if you are hearing “griping”, then at least you are hearing it. People only let others hear them gripe when they believe that they will at bare minimum not be punished for griping, and may even be listened to. So that’s actually a big compliment. Second, people prefer to gripe to people who they believe have power—so that’s also a compliment. And the flip of all this is, of course, if you are not hearing griping, then it’s probably not because there isn’t any going on. Because, let’s face it, right now we all have a lot to gripe about. So if you aren’t hearing any, you have to ask yourself, why not?

How, then, to respond? Whether or not you have heard griping, and whether you are a leader, or coach or hold a completely different position, you have enormous power right now to support your colleagues who are in unknown and uncomfortable territory. Here are some suggestions—note that several of them are repeats from Coaching Letter #122.

  1. Don’t assume that you have to be the source of solutions, advice or reassurance. Just because people tell you what the problem is, don’t assume that they are asking you to solve it, and stepping in and solving someone else’s problem further robs them of control—some of you will remember this principle from Love and Logic.
  2. Change the goal. I think teachers in particular think that the goal is to be competent. Well, many teachers right now have no hope of being competent, because the situation they are in is frequently too challenging for anyone to master. Make the goal to become better—that is something we can all achieve now, because there is so much to get better at. In other words, you are helping someone turn a performance goal into a learning goal—some of you will recognize the two types of goals from these two Coaching Letters: #20 and #21, but mostly the latter.
  3. Keep the focus on the future. Don’t ask questions about what has happened (sometimes known as romancing the problem), ask questions about what the goal is, what the options are, how to choose the best option, how to get feedback.
  4. Help people draw on previous successes—ask questions about previous challenges they have overcome; what did they do then? We are generally very poor at recognizing and acting on analogies to our—or others’—previous experiences.

These are, not coincidentally, coaching techniques. So don’t be afraid to draw on your coaches’ expertise, and/or learn more about coaching. And I’m sure you’ve noticed that there’s a double re-frame going on here—I am trying to change the way that you think about what’s going on so that you can help others think differently about the situation they are in.

There is so much more to say about this topic—how emotions intersect with how we think, and we can change the way we feel by reframing the way we think about it. Another time… In the meantime, speaking of learning more about coaching, the Center just added a whole slew of new workshops to our website, but I just copied and pasted the whole list below, starting with the Introduction to Coaching workshop and Coaching Power Hour, which start up soon. Both have free previews, so please check them out! And please forward the flyers—or this entire Coaching Letter—to anyone you think might be interested and/or benefit. I really appreciate it. Please let me know if there is anything else I can do for you.

Best, Isobel

Introduction to Coaching
Our popular coaching institute, held online. This workshop is for anyone interested in learning about coaching or in becoming a coach. Topics include asking effective questions, providing research-based feedback, and supporting problem-solving and decision making. Seven monthly 2 hour sessions. $560 per person.
For more information, see the flyer.
Register here for the full workshop.
Register here for a free preview session.

Coaching Power Hour
A monthly virtual meeting for new and experienced coaches to connect with other coaches, practice coaching, and be coached on their own challenges.$100 membership fee to come to any or all sessions.
For more information, see the flyer.
Register here for the full workshop.
Register here for a free preview session.

Antiracist Workshop
A primer for educators who want to step up and promote racial equity in schools. This virtual workshop enables participants to identify and disrupt personal beliefs that contribute to systemic racism. $75 per person. Three 90 minute sessions in October.
See the flyer for dates and times.
Register here.

Early Career Principals
A workshop to support building leaders with topics pertinent to a year filled with technical and adaptive challenges. This virtual workshop comprises four 2 hour sessions in October, November, December and January. $320 per person.
See the flyer for dates and times.
Register here.
To combine with coaching from a Center coach, contact Laura Boutilier.

Acceleration Community of Practice
A monthly meeting to support schools and districts employing Acceleration as a strategy for improving student learning, building on the workshops the Center offered over the summer. For more information on Acceleration Strategy, see this video.
For more details about the CoP, see the flyer.
Register here for the full workshop.
Register here for a free preview session.

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