Good evening.  Thanks for all the responses to the book group suggestion—no way that I can’t do it now, which I guess I should have thought about J.  So, more details coming soon!  Thanks for all the enthusiasm!

Next week I, and the Coaching Letter, will be on spring break.  We’re going to spend the week with my Seattle BFF, where every moment will be spent in deep conversation about weighty topics.

Thinking about the trip reminded me that it was while I was in Seattle last April that I got a call from Learning Forward.  They had already accepted for publication an article I wrote on coaching principals, and were calling to find out if it would be possible to photograph the principal featured at the beginning of the article for the cover of the journal.  The principal in question, Hartford principal Kenneasha Sloley, was delighted to oblige.  I’m pretty sure neither she nor I ever expected to be the cover story for an issue of Learning Professional.  It was really cool and a bit surreal.

The Center sent out a press release when the article was published in June, so you may have already read it.  (If you want to be on the Center’s mailing list, email the wonderful Bridget.)   If you haven’t, here is the link.

This does actually connect to the last Coaching Letter, which was about the perils of giving advice.  I am not suggesting that you should never give advice, just that that should not be your default, whether or not you are a coach.  Your job, as a coach or a leader, is to develop people, and to do that you have to be aware of what they need—do that first, before even thinking about giving advice.

The theme of my article is how to use questions to prompt thinking and to figure out what the other person needs.  In fact, here’s the best part of the article:

An experienced coach employs a diagnostic process in any given coaching situation including, but not limited to, the following steps:

  • Does the principal know enough?  It is important not to give into the assumption that she does not, perhaps by asking her.
  • Is she making assumptions about what she can and cannot do?  Ask her.
  • Is her proposed course of action likely to get her the result she’s looking for?  Ask her to explain her thinking.
  • Is it possible that she’s thinking of doing something unwise?  The coach has to be humble enough to know that just because he knows what he would do, that does not mean that the principal is automatically wrong when she wants to do something different.

And if the coach, in all humility, still has doubts, he can be direct without being directive; there is a difference between stating a concern and telling someone what to do.  Is the principal stuck?  The coach can provide ways of thinking about a problem.  Is she worried that she doesn’t have the skills to do what she needs to do?  Offer to help her prepare.  The coach may very well give the principal advice and suggestions, but asking questions is a very good place to start.

The article is about coaching principals, but I think these points hold true for all coaching.  And as always, we stand ready to help you with any of your coaching needs—in fact, we have been talking a lot recently about hosting a workshop for district teams, not about how to be a coach (we do that too!), but about how to employ coaches most effectively as part of your strategy for improving outcomes for students.  Let me know if that sounds interesting.

I hate being disconnected from my electronic devices, so even though I’m out of town, don’t hesitate to email, call or text if you need anything from me.  It makes me feel important.  Yours, Isobel

Isobel Stevenson PhD PCC
Program Coordinator
Connecticut Center for School Change
151 New Park Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106
Office: 860.586.2340

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