Sustaining the Thinking Collaborative Journey

Context-Specific Coaching

The position of instructional coach is relatively new in public education, first appearing in the early 1990s. Much is misunderstood about the work of an instructional coach due to conflicting messages in the literature, unique interpretations of the work among districts, and conflicting philosophies in the coaching literature.

While much has been written about the roles and functions of instructional coaches, there is little or no published work on the inner thought processes of coaches, the daily work of making meaning of the position, and the relationship with the principal. Jennifer Wheat Townsend’s doctoral dissertation has been shared with Thinking Collaborative. It is an excellent source of insight into many of the questions which have not been addressed regarding coaching. We thank her for her permission to use excerpts from her dissertation.

The qualitative case study of three coaches uses metaphors to capture their lived identities. She deeply explores the relationships with a principal who was a partner to the coach (engaged and collaborative with the coach), one who is interfering (engaged with the coach and not the staff), and one who is neglectful (disengaged with the coach). She analyzes the thinking and actions of the coach in each scenario and provides great insight to assist coaches who may be working in similar contexts. The overall conclusion of her research is, “The environment shapes what each coach does and the coach influences the environment.” Wheat Townsend explicates the complexity of the coaching position and assists those studying the position in ways to think and act in order to do authentic context-specific coaching. In the following weeks, we will briefly explore Wheat Townsend’s findings for each of the three case studies.

Wheat Townsend, J.D. (2016). Context-Specific Coaching: Discovering the Complexities of Using Coaching with Teachers and Principals (Doctoral dissertation).

Posing Mediative Questions—Open-Ended

“The marvelous thing about a good question is that it shapes our identity as much by the asking as it does by the answering.” – David Whyte

In your Adaptive Schools Foundation Seminar and/or your Cognitive Coaching Foundation Seminar®, you learned that questions can transform thinking. The skillfulness with which you pose questions can be the key to inviting more complex thinking.

The fifth element of an invitational question is that it is open-ended. By beginning the question with an interrogative, rather than a verb, the question indicates that a response will go beyond a “yes/no” answer.

How you might respond to the following questions?
Have you thought about regrouping the students?
Did you include standards in your lesson?
Will you bring this up at the next meeting?

The dilemma with these questions is two-fold. One, they offer a suggestion, e.g., regroup the students, include standards, bring this idea to the meeting. Once heard, it is difficult to think above and beyond the implied suggestion. And two, the thinker can only offer a yes or no in response. Over time, these types of questions can cause a dependency.

Instead, begin a question with “what” or “how” and you will likely invite more complex thinking.

Consider these revisions:
What might provide the best learning environment for the students?
What criteria did you use to as you planned your lesson?
How might the group benefit from your experience?

This week, jot down the questions you use and analyze your success at asking open-ended questions. Plan questions in advance of your next meeting or coaching conversation so that you might feel fully prepared to invite thinking.

Posing Mediative Questions—Positive Presuppositions

“It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.” —Eugene Ionesco

In your Adaptive Schools Foundation Seminar and/or your Cognitive Coaching Foundation Seminar®, you learned that questions can transform thinking. The skillfulness with which you pose questions can be the key to inviting more complex thinking.

The fourth element of an invitational question is positive presuppositions. Positive presuppositions are very subtle, yet have an uncanny effect on the brain. When a person hears that they are capable, they move toward that expectation with intention. When hearing the question, “What evidence might you seek that will let you know you are successful?” the thinker perceives that they will be successful and that they will be able to confirm their success with evidence.

This week make a commitment to yourself to consciously add positive presuppositions to your questions. Pause occasionally and ponder your success. In what ways are you consciously growing your skills? (Did you see what I just did there? ).

Posing Mediative Questions—Tentative Language

“The key to wisdom is this – constant and frequent questioning, for by doubting we are led to question, by questioning we arrive at the truth.” —Peter Abelard

In your Adaptive Schools Foundation Seminar and/or your Cognitive Coaching Foundation Seminar®, you learned that questions can transform thinking. The skillfulness with which you pose questions can be the key to inviting more complex thinking.

The third element that invites thinking is tentative language. Tentative language offers the green light to explore. Words like possibility, consider, hunch, might, and option encourage the thinker to venture beyond their current reasoning. In meetings offer, “What are your hunches about…?” “What else might we consider…?” “What are other options?”

Make a deliberate effort this week to use tentative language. Notice how it effects both individuals and groups. How might you consciously refine your skill of posing questions that include tentative language?

Posing Mediative Questions—Plural Forms

“The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.” —Thomas Berger

In your Adaptive Schools Foundation Seminar and/or your Cognitive Coaching Foundation Seminar®, you learned that questions can transform thinking. The skillfulness with which you pose questions can be the key to inviting more complex thinking.

The second element of an invitational question is plural forms. When a plural form is embedded in a question, the person is invited to broaden their thinking beyond a single response. A coach/facilitator exchanges the word “idea” for “ideas,” “strength” for “strengths,” “choice” for “choices” and offers, “What ideas come to mind?” “What strengths do you hold?” “What choices might be available?”

How might plural forms transform a coachee/group’s thinking? How might you practice plural forms this week?

Posing Mediative Questions—Approachability

“One of the most exciting and energetic forms of thought is the question. I always think that the question is like a lantern. It illuminates new landscapes and new areas as it moves. Therefore, the question always assumes that there are many different dimensions to a thought that you are either blind to or that are not available to you. So a question is really one of the forms in which wonder expresses itself. One of the reasons that we wonder is because we are limited, and that limitation is one of the great gateways to wonder.” —John O’Donohue

A question is, in essence, a “quest” to seek, to explore, to illuminate.

In your Adaptive Schools Foundation Seminar and/or your Cognitive Coaching Foundation Seminar®, you learned that questions can transform thinking. The skillfulness with which you pose questions can be the key to inviting more complex thinking.

When posing a question, the coach/facilitator signals approachability, both verbally and nonverbally. The intention is to provide a sense of cognitive safety so that the coachee/group will feel inclined to volunteer new, sometimes vulnerable thinking.

Verbal approachability is signaled with a voice that holds a gentle cadence and offers a tone that rises and falls and typically ends on an upswing. Nonverbal approachability is communicated with a tilted head, uplifted palms, gentle gestures, quiet vocalizations, and a soft body posture.

This week, listen to how you pose questions. Notice how people respond to your questions when you offer the question with approachability.

June 25, 2018

In Chapter Ten of Cognitive Coaching: Developing Self-Directed Leaders and Learners (3rd,2016), Garmston and Costa delve into “seven of the human variables that influence the quest for meaning.” One of the seven variables that they explore in regards to coaching is based on Harvard Professor, Robert Kegan’s work around Adult Development. The authors point out that these stages are not “ways of doing” but are “ways of being.” The authors explain that knowing about the adult stages of development may provide the coach with insight into the coachee’s “container for all the other ways of making meaning.” Many of us think that being an adult simply means expanding our containers of the mind and getting better at what we do (i.e. acquiring more skills and knowledge). Kegan would disagree. He believes it’s about transformation — changing the way we know and understand the world (changing the actual form of our ‘container’).

Here are Kegan’s Stages of Adult Development

Stage 1: Impulsive Mind (early childhood)
Stage 2: Instrumental or Imperial (adolescence, 6% of adult population)
Stage 3: Socialized Mind (58% of the adult population)
Stage 4: Self-Authoring Mind (35% of the adult population)
Stage 5: Self-Transforming or Interindividual Mind (1% of the adult population)

Self-Transforming or Interindividual Knowers: These individuals can “see beyond themselves” and see how people and systems interact. Costa and Garmston write, “An additional way of making meaning, occupied by only a few adults, might be summarized as ‘There are relationships and I am part of them.’” These individuals are highly interdependent and conflict is regarded as a valuable asset for growth, change, and optimal solutions. These individuals are highly reflective and can think in the abstract. They are self-monitoring, self-managing, and self-modifying. Garmston and Costa suggest that “systems thinking may be part of their way of understanding challenges and working toward goals” (194).

How might you support colleagues whose world view is in the Interindividual Stage?
Which States of Mind might you draw on to further their thinking?
Which structures and protocols might you utilize in meetings to engage them in dialogue?

June 18, 2018

In Chapter Ten of Cognitive Coaching: Developing Self-Directed Leaders and Learners (3rd,2016), Garmston and Costa delve into “seven of the human variables that influence the quest for meaning.” One of the seven variables that they explore in regards to coaching is based on Harvard Professor, Robert Kegan’s work around Adult Development. The authors point out that these stages are not “ways of doing” but are “ways of being.” The authors explain that knowing about the adult stages of development may provide the coach with insight into the coachee’s “container for all the other ways of making meaning.” Many of us think that being an adult simply means expanding our containers of the mind and getting better at what we do (i.e. acquiring more skills and knowledge). Kegan would disagree. He believes it’s about transformation — changing the way we know and understand the world (changing the actual form of our ‘container’).

Here are Kegan’s Stages of Adult Development

Stage 1: Impulsive Mind (early childhood)
Stage 2: Instrumental or Imperial (adolescence, 6% of adult population)
Stage 3: Socialized Mind (58% of the adult population)
Stage 4: Self-Authoring Mind (35% of the adult population)
Stage 5: Self-Transforming or Interindividual Mind (1% of the adult population)

Self-Authoring Knowers: These individuals are about self-authorship (they construct their own narrative). They are aware of identity and strive for refinement, and they know what they can do well. They construct their own meanings and ideologies. They can distinguish the opinions of others from their own. They can say, “This is who I am and what I stand for.” They can make decisions, set their own course, and articulate their own philosophies. They are reflective and can abstract ideas. “They can be a special asset to collaborative work as they have the ability to synthesize diverse points of view and critique ideas” (194). That said, they may also prefer their ideas to the ideas of others and may be resistant to multiple perspectives.

How might you support colleagues whose world view is in the Self-Authoring Stage?
Which States of Mind might you draw on to further their thinking?
Which structures and protocols might you utilize in meetings to engage them in dialogue?

June 11, 2018

In Chapter Ten of Cognitive Coaching: Developing Self-Directed Leaders and Learners (3rd,2016), Garmston and Costa delve into “seven of the human variables that influence the quest for meaning.” One of the seven variables that they explore in regards to coaching is based on Harvard Professor, Robert Kegan’s work around Adult Development. The authors point out that these stages are not “ways of doing” but are “ways of being.” The authors explain that knowing about the adult stages of development may provide the coach with insight into the coachee’s “container for all the other ways of making meaning.” Many of us think that being an adult simply means expanding our containers of the mind and getting better at what we do (i.e. acquiring more skills and knowledge). Kegan would disagree. He believes it’s about transformation — changing the way we know and understand the world (changing the actual form of our ‘container’).

Here are Kegan’s Stages of Adult Development

Stage 1: Impulsive Mind (early childhood)
Stage 2: Instrumental or Imperial (adolescence, 6% of adult population)
Stage 3: Socialized Mind (58% of the adult population)
Stage 4: Self-Authoring Mind (35% of the adult population)
Stage 5: Self-Transforming or Interindividual Mind (1% of the adult population)

Socializing Knowers: These individuals are steeped in interpersonal relationships; they are influenced by others’ opinions. They are influenced by others’ perspectives and they seek approval from others. They can think more in abstract terms and are capable of reflection. They are concerned with the ideas, agreements, norms, and beliefs of the people or the system around them. They look for external validation and desire acceptance from their colleagues. These knowers are sensitive to conflict and do not see it as a possible agent of change. Conflict to them may be all “affective conflict” and they may feel responsible for hurting others. They are often their emotions instead of realizing that they have emotions. For example, they might say, “The district office made me mad.” Instead of realizing that when the district office does x, y, or z, it makes them angry.

How might you support colleagues whose world view is in the Socializing Stage?
Which States of Mind might you draw on to further their thinking?
Which structures and protocols might you utilize in meetings to engage them in dialogue?

June 4, 2018

In Chapter Ten of Cognitive Coaching: Developing Self-Directed Leaders and Learners (3rd,2016), Garmston and Costa delve into “seven of the human variables that influence the quest for meaning.” One of the seven variables that they explore in regards to coaching is based on Harvard Professor, Robert Kegan’s work around Adult Development. The authors point out that these stages are not “ways of doing” but are “ways of being.” The authors explain that knowing about the adult stages of development may provide the coach with insight into the coachee’s “container for all the other ways of making meaning.” Many of us think that being an adult simply means expanding our containers of the mind and getting better at what we do (i.e. acquiring more skills and knowledge). Kegan would disagree. He believes it’s about transformation — changing the way we know and understand the world (changing the actual form of our ‘container’).

Here are Kegan’s Stages of Adult Development

Stage 1: Impulsive Mind (early childhood)
Stage 2: Instrumental or Imperial (adolescence, 6% of adult population)
Stage 3: Socialized Mind (58% of the adult population)
Stage 4: Self-Authoring Mind (35% of the adult population)
Stage 5: Self-Transforming or Interindividual Mind (1% of the adult population)

Instrumental Knowers: These individuals follow along with rules, philosophies, movements or ideologies because of external rewards and punishments, not because they really believe in them. The know their worlds in concrete terms and may not engage in theory or abstract thinking. They may struggle with self-reflection. These individuals look to others for advice and solutions. They may struggle with seeing points of view that are beyond the ego centric. They would struggle with flexibility and consciousness questions that require them to flex their thinking. They are comfortable with people offering them judgments, personal observations, and inferences. They are often dependent in a relationship and they seek approval and validation before they can move forward. They are concerned with their own needs, interests, and desires.

How might you support colleagues whose world view is in the Instrumental Stage?
Which States of Mind might you draw on to further their thinking?
Which structures and protocols might you utilize in meetings to engage them in dialogue?

The Question Burst Strategy, Part 3, Identify a Quest and Commit to It

The final stage of the Question Burst strategy is a move toward action. Gregersen suggests picking one question that seems to reframe the problem originally presented. Pick something that seems different than how you have thinking and maybe makes you slightly uncomfortable.

Using the “five whys” strategy, developed by Sakichi Toyoda, ask yourself why the question you chose is so important or meaningful. Continue asking the why question as you answer. As you gain insights, commit to new pathways that have been illuminated for you. Also consider consulting with others about your insights.

How might you use these three steps in your organization to develop more divergent thinking?
What refinements might you make as you use the process. What keeps your organization from asking good questions to explore issues?

Source: “Better Brainstorming,” by Hal Gregersen (Harvard Business Review, March-April, 2018)

The Question Burst Strategy, Part 2, Brainstorm the Questions

After framing a problem for generating questions (see May 14 entry) invite the group to begin brainstorming. Provide a recorder to capture the questions, preferably in a place that is visible to all. Allow only four minutes for question generation. Fatigue will set in at about this point and the energy will wane. Work to generate at least fifteen questions.

At the end of the four minutes, do another emotional check. Write or speak to your feelings about the challenge now and ask the group members to do the same. If you are not feeling more positive, run the process again with some other groups. The author states that the power of the question burst is dislodging the feeling of being stuck.

What do you notice as you experiment with this process? How did it affect the leader and the contributors?

Source: “Better Brainstorming,” by Hal Gregersen (Harvard Business Review, March-April, 2018)

The Question Burst Strategy, Part 1, Set the Stage

Hal Gregersen invites leaders to consider brainstorming questions instead of answers. He proposes this process opens us to novel insights and transformative thinking, moving us past our cognitive biases. He offers a three-step process. This week we explore Step 1: Set the Stage.

An individual should frame a problem in a manner that can be explained to a group in two minutes or less. Include how things would change for the better if the problem was solved.

Select a group to do the brainstorming, including two or three people who are unfamiliar with the problem. That assists the group in discovering perspectives that might have been left out through its biases. Then frame two guidelines for the brainstorming: 1) only questions can be contributed and 2) no explanations of the questions can be given.

Invite the group to focus on questions that are open-ended, cognitively complex, and move from descriptive (what’s working?) to speculative (what if? what might be?). Avoid accusatory or aggressive questions. Keep the questions short and simple.

Before starting, the leader should reflect on his/her emotional state, writing for 10 seconds about feeling positive, negative or neutral. This allows the leader to attend to how emotions may be affecting creative energy.

Take some time this week to consider how you might prepare to frame a problem for a group to use the question burst strategy. Who might you include in the group for maximum effectiveness?

Source: “Better Brainstorming,” by Hal Gregersen (Harvard Business Review, March-April, 2018)

Gender and Voice

In two studies of work groups of cadets at West Point, the author found status and group leadership was affected differentially by gender and types of expression. When both genders used “prohibitive voice,” that is, speaking to problems or offering criticism, no change in status or leadership occurred. However, men gained status and were more likely to become leaders when they spoke with a “promotive voice,” that is, providing ideas for improvement. Women received no gains in speaking with the “promotive voice.”

How might this research inform your attention to gender patterns in your own work groups? How might engaged participants and facilitators attend to gender patterns and invite reflection by the group?

Source: “The Social Consequences of Voice: An Examination of Voice Type and Gender on Status and Subsequent Leader Emergence,” by Elizabeth J. McClean et al. (Academy of Management Journal, 2017)

What the Best Teams Do to Be the Best Teams! Concluding Thoughts

Daniel Coyle in his bestselling book, The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, shares three key elements he has found that makes teams highly effective. This past month, we’ve studied how the best teams build safety, share vulnerability, and establish purpose.
As a reminder, a safe environment is an environment where it feels okay to say, “I missed that one” or “I didn’t get it today” or “I’m not sure.” It’s where you receive signals that you belong and are valued. It’s where relationships come first and we know our team story.

So what are the take-aways from Coyle’s research? Coyle (2018) says, “When you create safety, allow vulnerability, and have a purpose, guess what? You have a culture.” This culture is one that you have collectively created. To be on a team where you feel safe, where you can be vulnerable to share your growth points, and can work toward a meaningful purpose, it becomes a mission, my friend, and it’s no longer “work.”

How might you begin to live into Coyle’s work? Knowing Coyle’s research, what is your vision for shaping your culture?
To read more, buy the book The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle or see bestselling author of Barking Up the Wrong Tree, Eric Barker’s blog: “This Is What The Best Teams And Families All Do: 3 Rituals From Research” at https://www.bakadesuyo.com/2018/03/best-teams/