Monday, April 23, 2018

Asking the right questions

Years ago, when I first started teaching, I used to get an end of year meeting with the head of school.  This was someone who was fairly remote, had never been into my classroom, and really didn't have a clue about my struggles and successes as a new teacher.  Thirty years on things have certainly changed - coaching is becoming more and more popular in the international schools where I've worked, and conversations are not just once or twice a year - and nor are they just the responsiblity of the head teacher.  In the schools where I've worked, peer coaching is proving to be an effective form of professional development.

I've just finished reading a Harvard Business Review article on coaching.  It's focused on business of course, but I was interested to read about the coaching profiles identified by Gartner researchers.  Some of these profiles are not even what I would call coaching as such, but since all might be models adopted in schools, it's worth taking a closer look.

The Teacher - this coach uses his/her own knowledge and experience to provide advice and feedback and to personally direct professional development.  Thinking about this from the perspective of education, I'd tend to think of this coach as more of a mentor or a consultant.  This is the least common type of coaching by a manager.

The Always-on - provides continual coaching and gives feedback across a range of skills as a daily part of the job.  (Think of these in the same way as you think of "helicopter parents")

The Connector - gives targeted feedback in their areas of expertise, and then connects the employee with others who have different expertise.  To do this, the Connector spends time assessing the skills, needs and interests of the employees in order to match them with the right "expert".

The Cheerleader - has a hands off approach, and instead delivers positive feedback and lets employees take charge of their own development.  These are the most common type of managers.

Now the question has to be asked, which of these types of coaches is most effective?  Interestingly, there is little correlation between the time spent on coaching and the performance of the employee.  Quality is much more important than quantity.  The least effective of the 4 models is the Always-on.  Gartner research shows that those coached by the Always-on perform worse than those coached by the other types and there is evidence that performance actually declines as a result of this type of coaching because a continual stream of feedback can be overwhelming and detrimental.  In addition the Always-on tend to coach on the areas they themselves feel good at, rather than on what is relevant to the employees' real needs.

The most effective coaching model is that of the Connectors, which is interesting as this type of coach tends to "outsource" the guidance.  The HBR article points out that becoming a Connector involves a mind-shift away from being directed and telling people what to do, and instead focuses on asking the right questions, providing tailored feedback and helping employees to make connections to others who can help them.

Thinking about these 4 types in the light of Cognitive Coaching, it's clear that the Connectors are the ones encouraging real self-direction.  Evaluative feedback often misfires, diminishing trust and rapport by setting the coach up in a superior position to the coachee.  One thing I do relate to is that the most effective coaches don't provide the answers - they ask the right questions and empower their coachees to think for themselves, and as a result of this thinking behaviours change.  As a Cognitive Coach we realise that the teachers are the experts in their curriculum and with their students, and that our job is to broaden thinking.  It may be that the teacher just needs a little more consciousness about what is going on for themselves and their students.  Possibly they need to develop their craftsmanship and become more efficacious.  Perhaps they need to be more flexible, considering the perspectives of others and perhaps reaching out to others as a resource.  While a business model can't be applied directly to education, there are certainly some similarities.

Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds Flickr via Compfight cc

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