Happy New Year! I know a Coaching Letter is way overdue, but I have so many projects on the go at the moment that I haven’t had much time, although what to write in the Coaching Letter is always on my mind. (I talked to someone recently who assumed that writing the Coaching Letter was my full-time job. If only! If you have any leads on a potential patron, feel free to send them my way.) So here’s an overview of what I’m working on at the moment.

First, Richard and I are working on the two-part webinar on strategic planning, to go along with the publication of the The Strategy Playbook last month. The webinar is intended for system leaders and their closest adjutants, so that we can move quickly and cover a lot of ground, but it certainly wouldn’t be good practice to talk at people for 3 or 4 hours, so we are trying to get the balance right, which is a design challenge. But—not my first rodeo, and certainly not Richard’s, so I think it’ll be great! SIGN UP HERE! (If you don’t have your copy of the book yet, the Routledge website is still cheaper than Amazon, although of course you need to go there if you want the Kindle version. And if you would be good enough to write a review on the Amazon website, I will send you a signed bookplate—seriously, that’s an offer you can’t refuse.)

Also to go along with the publication of the book, I am trying to find other places to publish. Richard and I submitted an article to the Kappan on routines—we are trying to promote the idea that if we want to close the “knowing-doing gap”, we have to have ways to put educators in a position to systematically pressure test a district’s agreed-upon approach to improvement, and the only way to do that is to create routines that are part of the way the district does business, rather than a separate event. We use Naugatuck’s implementation of Instructional Rounds as our case study. Jennie and I are working on an article for ASCD Express on how strategic planning applies to life after Covid-19—that one’s easier to tie to the book. And what I would love to do is write an article that ties the ideas in the book to the work that we (the Center) have done on acceleration as a strategy, based on the acceleration framework that we developed last summer for the Acceleration Workshop, and continued this year with participants in the Acceleration CoP. That work has legs, I’m positive, so we need to run that workshop again.

Last week we (the country) added another crisis (government) to the already fairly long list we’ve been dealing with (pandemic, racial justice, education, economy). Given that we rely on the government to handle those other crises, this puts us in a challenging and untenable position. So what do we do when the people who are supposed to take care of things for us fail to do so? We take care of other people, and each other. Much of my work with clients lately has been about supporting them (because some of them feel very alone at the moment, not to mention a range of other emotions), and helping them think through how to support others. I have found the following articles useful: Jim Knight on self-care; Michael Fullan on getting a C in compliance; this HBR article on productive alternatives to venting (people think that venting makes them feel better, but actually it doesn’t, it wastes time, and it doesn’t solve anything); and my ASCD Express article on stress as a leadership challenge.

My husband has held leadership positions in higher ed for a couple of decades now, and he leads workshops for newly appointed department chairs in his discipline. He wants to put together a book based on that work, made up in large part of case studies on a range of topics written by deans and department chairs with whom he has worked. But he has never taken classes or done much reading on the topic, so he asked me if I would co-author. (Actually, first he asked for guidance on a conceptual framework, and after I pulled a dozen books off the shelf for him to look at, then he asked me if I would co-author.) So I’ve been paying attention to that, re-reading some books on leading and reading the books that I’ve been meaning to read for a while…

…It’s about a dozen books (!); I’ll send you the list if you like but I’m sure I’ll write about them all eventually. The only one I’ll mention here is Ray Dalio, Principles, which is a really remarkable book. The writing style is super clear, which is indicative of someone who’s been thinking about these ideas for decades. His metaphors are striking, and you can see how big ideas from other fields (like evolution and brain science) have influenced his thinking and decision-making. He is also clear and cogent and humble about the role of failure in his journey, and about the role of failure in personal and organizational learning. Even if you don’t think you’ll read the book (which I certainly understand—it’s a hefty tome), I recommend you check out the Principles website. From there, you can order a hard copy of the book, but you can also download an app that includes the full text of the book plus all sorts of other cool features, including case studies and videos that elaborate the ideas in the book. It’s a little bit of magic, and it’s free. There’s other cool stuff on the website, also.

In addition, I really recommend watching Ray Dalio’s TED Talk, which gives you a very good taste of what the book is like. And he was also interviewed by Shane Parrish for The Knowledge Project (Episode 23: Life Lessons from a Self-Made Billionaire with Ray Dalio), and that’s worth listening to also—although given that it’s much longer than the TED Talk, I’m not sure that you will learn a lot more. For more information about the radical transparency and feedback at Bridgewater, see An Everyone Culture by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey—here’s a summary/review of the book.

Speaking of The Knowledge Project, here are some other episodes I can highly recommend. And by the way, you can sign up for The Knowledge Project Premium, which gives you access to transcripts of the podcasts—which is to say, if you want to sign up for a month and download the transcripts you want, there’s nothing to stop you from doing that.
Episode 33: Irrationality, Bad Decisions, and the Truth About Lies with Dan Ariely
Episode 37: Getting Better by Being Wrong with Poker Pro Annie Duke
Episode 39: Thinking About Thinking with Tyler Cowen
Episode 42: The Path to Perpetual Progress with Atul Gawande
Episode 51: The Dying Art of Conversation with Celeste Headlee
Episode 55: Becoming a Model Thinker with Scott Page
Episode 64: The Big Impact of Small Interventions with Stanford University’s Greg Walton
Episode 68: Putting Your Intuition on Ice with Daniel Kahneman
Episode 89: Maria Konnikova: Less Certainty, More Inquiry 
Episode 90: Apolo Ohno: Process Versus Prize 
Episode 92: Lisa Feldman Barrett: Balancing the Brain Budget 
Episode 96: Randall Stutman: The Essence of Leadership 

OK, that was a longer list than I was intending.

Oh, and I’ve also been doing a lot of work with coaching, but I can’t get into that now. Plus strategic planning work with districts, and other great projects like Waterbury Voices—next meeting of that tomorrow night.

I used to think that the best Coaching Letters are really well-constructed—you know, beginning, middle, end. But those aren’t necessarily the ones that people tell me are the most useful—I’m actually very bad at predicting which CLs will generate the most feedback or questions. So I won’t apologize for the somewhat unstructured nature of this Coaching Letter, just repeat my frequent request that you let me know what has been helpful to you and tell me if anything would be more helpful. Oh, and don’t forget to write your review of The Strategy Playbook on Amazon, and tell your friends all about it.

Please let me know if there is anything else I can do for you. And very best wishes for 2021! Isobel

Isobel Stevenson, PhD PCC
Connecticut Center for School Change
151 New Park Ave
Hartford, CT 06106
Author of The Coaching Letter
Author with Jennie Weiner of The Strategy Playbook for Educational Leaders: Principles and Practices Routledge

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