Monday, August 4, 2014

Beginning coaching - planning conversations

Over the summer I did a 3 day cognitive coaching course with Bill and Ochan Powell where we practiced what they called the planning conversation.  There are a number of similarities (and some differences) between this approach and the one taken by Elena Aguilar in her book The Art of Coaching.  Aguilar writes that the next stage after exploration is developing a work plan since coaching is an ongoing effort focused on developing a specific and agreed-on set of skills or practices - and that therefore the coach is "consciously working within a structure and toward an end.  The work plan is the structure that holds the conversations, questions and actions that make up coaching".

Cognitive coaching refers to a 5 step "planning conversation map".  This is made up of the following steps:
  1. Clarify goals "Where do you want to go?" This is a backward design process so it's important that teachers know what they want to see at the end of the coaching.
  2. Specify success indicators "How will you know?"  This also involves a plan for collecting evidence about what this will look like, for example what the students will be saying, doing or thinking.
  3. Anticipate approaches "How will it flow?"  What strategies will the teacher use, what decisions will be taken, how will this be monitored?
  4. Establish personal learning "How will you grow?"  It's important for teachers to also decide what they want to learn or take away as a result of coaching and what process will be in place for this self-assessment.
  5. Reflect on the coaching process "How has this conversation supported your thinking?"  This involves metacognition - reflection allows the lessons learned to be carried forward to new situations.
The coaching for transformation that Aguilar uses also includes a vision and a picture of what success looks like as well as an action plan.  During these first planning conversations Aguilar notes the following:  coaches need to manage change, they are responsible for making sure we can guide teachers to meet their goals so the goals have to be realistic and attainable, and finally it's important to consider inquiry so that a teacher identifies a goal that they truly own and that is meaningful and relevant to them.  It's also important to consider adult learning and to determine the zone of proximal development (ZPD) for each teacher.  As Aguilar writes, "If we don't identify where a client is in her learning, we can't plan for and design the kinds of learning experiences that will help her meet her goal."

Aguilar has 10 steps for developing a work plan.  These give the coach more of a role in directing the learning, whereas in contrast the point of cognitive coaching is that it is directed by the coachee and is more about self-directed learning than about reaching a fixed goal.  As mentioned in previous posts, the goal of cognitive coaching is mediating thinking, not providing a solution.

10 steps to developing a work plan
  1. Identify areas for coaching:  what's the big picture?  This could take into account school initiatives or expectations about what teachers need to work on.  Aguilar writes that it's important to ensure that these are "high leverage areas" to work in - those that have a great potential for improving the experience and outcomes of students.
  2. Identify standards and criteria - for example the ISTE Standards for Teachers or other rubrics and evaluation tools that can be used as measurement tools.
  3. Determine a SMARTE goal (Strategic and Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-based, Time-bound and Equitable) - the most effective goals, according to Aguilar, are those that are focused on a clear change in practice.  Questions to be asked at this stage include: If you were to meet that goal what would it look like, how would it affect students, how would it affect their learning?
  4. Identify high-leverage activities that will guide a teacher towards her/his goal, first by brainstorming and then by reflecting.  A good question to be asked at this stage would be: What needs to happen to help you do that?
  5. Break down the learning.  Aguilar writes that we can only coach within the ZPD and that it takes a while to get to know our teachers as learners.  We need to identify each teacher's ZPD by listening, observing and asking questions.  These first 5 steps roughly equate with step 1 of cognitive coaching.
  6. Determine indicators of progress - agree on the data and evidence to be gathered to demonstrate progress towards goals.  A question to be asked in this step could be: How might we know when that has happened?  This step equates to step 2 of cognitive coaching.
  7. Develop coaching theories of action - at this point the coach needs to think through what s/he needs to do in order for the teacher to meet her/his goals.  Coaching strategies are also considered at this point.  
  8. Determine coach's goals - ideally the coach has a set of standards which guide and assess her/his coaching (for example the ISTE Standards for Coaches).  At this stage the coach also needs to determine which coaching practices s/he needs to focus on.
  9. Compile resources - these are primarily for the coach to draw upon.
  10. Present and celebrate the plan - following this the teacher might decide to share parts of this plan with her/his principal.  Supportive principals can also be a resource for a teacher and can reinforce, encourage and help deepen the coaching work.
As far as I can tell steps 7 - 10 do not exist in cognitive coaching since it is about the self-directed learning of the coachee rather than the coach coming up with a particular plan.

One point of agreement between cognitive coaching and coaching for transformation is the understanding that as you coach a person's goal can shift.  Aguilar writes "work plans can and should be flexible.  They often change as coaching develops.  What originally felt like the goal may end up being less important than something else that emerges in coaching and sometimes goals are narrowed or trimmed down."  Both types of coaching also put great emphasis on listening and questioning.  I'll be writing about this in the next post.

Photo Credit: mrsdkrebs via Compfight cc

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