Sustaining the Thinking Collaborative Journey

April 22, 2019 – Efficacy

Thirty-five years ago, Costa and Garmston developed Cognitive Coaching as a theoretical framework for supporting self-directedness and developing cognitive capacity. At the center of the work are the Five States of Mind. Wellman and Garmston applied the States of Mind concept to groups and referred to them as Energy Sources.  As students of this work, these five concepts serve as a framework for analyzing the internal resources of both individuals and groups.


This month, we offer a review and strategies for intervening with each of the States of Mind/Energy Sources.



Efficacy is an internal belief that one is capable of producing the results one desires. In the individual it is a person with agency, a person who sees him/herself as possessing the skills, ability, and drive to move in a positive direction in one’s life and with one’s goals.  When a teacher holds personal efficacy, It is highly correlated with student achievement.  Recent research has shown that when collective efficacy lives in a group or school, students are more successful.   It is a fundamental resource in equity work.  Efficacy also sustains effort, provides a foundation for collaboration, and helps individuals and groups to persist when the going gets challenging.  Teachers with high efficacy have lower stress and tend to remain in the profession longer.


Ways to Intervene

An internal locus of control is essential to ongoing efficacy. Inviting an individual to consider, “Over what do you have control in this situation,” can assist in a focus on actionable behaviors.  Also drawing on past successes in challenging situations can be effective.  The Outcome Structure taught on Day 8 of Cognitive CoachingSM is a useful tool when there is a third party that is part of the challenge facing the individual.  In groups, efficacy is built through ongoing successful collaboration which produces results.  Groups who reflect on their work are more likely to develop efficacy as they understand cause and effect from their actions.



What are areas of your life where you feel most efficacious? What actions have you consciously taken to ensure impact in those areas?  How might that understanding transfer to other facets of your life?


What are the characteristics of the most efficacious group you work with? How might you develop those in less efficacious groups?

April 15, 2019 – Flexibility

Thirty-five years ago, Costa and Garmston developed Cognitive Coaching as a theoretical framework for supporting self-directedness and developing cognitive capacity. At the center of the work are the Five States of Mind. Wellman and Garmston applied the States of Mind concept to groups and referred to them as Energy Sources.  As students of this work, these five concepts serve as a framework for analyzing the internal resources of both individuals and groups.


This month, we offer a review and strategies for intervening with each of the States of Mind/Energy Sources.



When we think of flexibility, we often think of stretching ourselves in new ways. That is true for this State of Mind/Energy Source which requires us to stretch both our options and our perspectives.  A truly flexible person is able to generate and consider multiple approaches to decisions and choices.  Flexible teams do not run with their first ideas, but push themselves out of the box by examining implications and assumptions of a variety of alternatives.  Equally important to considering multiple options is the capacity to look beyond one’s own egocentric view, taking alternate perspectives.  A truly flexible person can examine something through others’ filters such as race, culture, status, position, age, religion, etc.  The same is true for groups.  What first appears to be true, from our group’s experiences and point of view, may be a complete distortion from another point of view.  White privilege is an example of how white people are unable to see the implications of their actions from their limited perspective.  A strong and flexible group reaches beyond its boundaries to see the world through other lenses.


Ways to Intervene

When we collaborate instead of working autonomously, we naturally expose ourselves to other perspectives. Individuals seek flexibility by asking others what they might be missing.  They seek out diverse perspectives through research and conversation with those not like them.


Groups who are flexible are constantly asking themselves questions like:

What other possibilities might we consider before deciding?

What other perspectives might we need to research?

Who have we not considered?

What limits might we putting on ourselves?



Under what conditions are you most flexible? How might you slow down and increase your flexibility?  Considering a group you are a member of, what conscious strategies might you use to increase your capacity in this State of Mind?

April 8, 2019 – Craftsmanship

Thirty-five years ago, Costa and Garmston developed Cognitive Coaching as a theoretical framework for supporting self-directedness and developing cognitive capacity. At the center of the work are the Five States of Mind. Wellman and Garmston applied the States of Mind concept to groups and referred to them as Energy Sources.  As students of this work, these five concepts serve as a framework for analyzing the internal resources of both individuals and groups.


This month, we offer a review and strategies for intervening with each of the States of Mind/Energy Sources.



In the original work of Costa and Garmston, Craftsmanship was labeled, “Precision.” In expanding that title to Craftsmanship, they broadened the meaning to include a disposition for persistence and excellence.  This State of Mind/Energy Source assumes a constant striving toward continuous improvement.  Teams value data and manage it along with their time and resources. Craftsmanship is personified in great artists and athletes.  Craftsmanship without flexibility can become perfectionism.


Ways to Intervene

Both individuals and groups who have high craftsmanship pay close attention to the criteria they use for making decisions. Often bringing criteria to consciousness leads to greater craftsmanship.

What are the criteria you are consciously using in making this decision?

What data might you need to consider in moving forward?

How are time and resources impacting your work?

What might be some indicators it is time to refine the work you have done?



As you consider your own work, what factors contribute to your own craftsmanship? How do you support greater craftsmanship in students and colleagues?

April 1,2019 – Consciousness

Thirty-five years ago, Costa and Garmston developed Cognitive Coaching as a theoretical framework for supporting self-directedness and developing cognitive capacity. At the center of the work are the Five States of Mind. Wellman and Garmston applied the States of Mind concept to groups and referred to them as Energy Sources.  As students of this work, these five concepts serve as a framework for analyzing the internal resources of both individuals and groups.


This month, we offer a review and strategies for intervening with each of the States of Mind/Energy Sources.



Consciousness is an entry point into all of the other States of Mind/Energy Sources. In an individual, it is awareness of one’s own metacognition, both thoughts and feelings.  It is an ability to articulate to one’s thinking, in addition to doing the thinking.  A conscious person is also aware of the environment, noting patterns, data, nonverbals, changes, and feedback.


In a group, consciousness means members are constantly monitoring their interactions and impact on individuals and the group. The conscious group operates from a clear set of norms and values.  They monitor their own efforts and are constantly reflecting on their own development as a group.


Ways to Intervene

Data is the most effective strategy for increasing consciousness for both individuals and groups. Providing reflective questions relevant to the data move the person/group from having information to constructing personal/shared meaning regarding the data.


Sample questions might include:

What data lead to that conclusion?

What values and beliefs seem to be driving your dialogue/discussion?

What assumptions might be getting in the way of progress?



How are you intentionally capacitating consciousness in your work? What might you need to be more conscious of in doing so?

Writing by the Coach

Our trainers are often asked about a coach writing during a conversation. We offer some thoughts on this issue for this week’s reflections. Rapport is primarily nonverbal and it signals human connection by mirroring another person, that is, aligning with them physically in postures and gestures and in breathing. When the coach writes, the alignment ceases and attention moves from the person to the writing tools. In addition, the very act of writing separates one’s thought process from the person’s communication to the coach and focuses the coach on his/her own thoughts. The connection is broken.

An additional impact on the relationship is created by the coachee’s thoughts in relation to the writing being done. S/he might think, “What is the person writing? Why are they writing? Am I being clear in my words, thoughts? The effect is to distract the coachee from his/her own content and create thoughts about the writing. This can trigger a stressed reaction and move the brain to a loss of cognitive capacity.

So generally, writing by the coach during a conversation is counterproductive. If the coach has some strong need to write, it should be made clear before the conversation what is the purpose of the writing and permission should be requested before deciding to record.

How do these thoughts align with your experiences and your thinking about the coach writing during the conversation?

Journey of Becoming Trauma Informed: How a Norm of Collaboration is Changing Things One Situation at a Time

When given the task of leading five buildings in our district to become Trauma Informed, it excited me to have the opportunity to influence the system in such meaningful work. We are a district that serves approximately 6,400 students, and I knew we needed to begin by working with the adults in the school community. Our District had the benefit of creating a partnership with the University of Missouri for our work through a grant, and that partnership helped to get the ball rolling. I went directly to my Adaptive Schools Sourcebook to get my thinking around leading a team around trauma, and was invigorated by the words of Garmston and Wellman, “Self-organization develops through meaningful adult interactions about students, student work, and the purposes and processes of schooling. To be productive, such interactions must be infused with and guided by shared values and norms of collaboration….At times the work is messy and non-rational. Habitual, linear ways of thinking will work for some issues but not for the increasingly complex and ill-structured problems that beset many schools today.”

Our team of 23 people, comprised of counselors, teachers, and administrators, has leaned heavily on the work from trauma experts: Dr. Susan Craig, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, and Paul Tough. We have relied equally as heavily on Adaptive Schools strategies to do the learning and many of the strategies can be utilized in the classroom setting to work with students who are not self-regulating. Our journey, really, has been a double track agenda!

We are working with teachers to be more cognizant of the Norm of Collaboration skill of pausing. The more we collectively discover situations where the pause can be so powerful, the more people are seeing its value to de-escalate behaviors and diffuse potential blow-ups in classrooms. Teachers are seeing the importance of the pause when working with students struggling to self-regulate. The team is working with other adults in the system so they can show students the power of a pause to help in self-regulation as they layer that with breathing techniques. A place in the building or in a classroom where students can have a moment before going back into the hustle and bustle, the commotion of everyday life—is a tangible place for the pause. We need to reflect on how we do business and use this norm to better connect with our students to help them be more successful in our system.

Although the pause is taught as a norm of collaboration, I like to think of it also as a skill that can be used for situations that are heavy laden with anxiety and fear for our students of trauma. Explicitly teaching pausing to both the adults in the system and students in the system can truly be life altering.

Garmston, Robert, and Bruce Wellman. The Adaptive School: A Sourcebook for Developing Collaborative Groups. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2013.
Books on Trauma that have been helpful in our work on becoming trauma informed:
Craig, Susan. Trauma-Sensitive Schools for the Adolescent Years. Teachers College Press, 2017.
Harris, Nadine Burke. The Deepest Well. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.
Tough, Paul. Helping Children Succeed. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.

Purposefully Creating Cognitive Diversity and Psychological Safety

Author: James Roussin, Training Associate and member of the Thinking Collaborative Futures Team

According to the research findings of Alison Reynolds and David Lewis, cognitive diversity and psychological safety correlates highly to adaptability…the ability to anticipate and respond to challenges and opportunities. When there is a psychologically safe environment it allows for greater flexibility in divergent thinking. Here is a simple way to increase psychological safety with your team. It comes from the work of Patrick Lencioni called the personal history exercise.

This low-risk exercise requires nothing more than going around the table during a meeting and having team members answer a short list of questions about themselves. This exercise encourages greater empathy, understanding, and discourages unfair and inaccurate behavioral attributions. Here are a few possible questions:
• A nick-name someone gave you as a child
• Where you grew up and the number in your family
• Your first job or worst job
• Most difficult or important challenge faced before 18
• An item on your bucket list

After sharing, end with this debrief question: What did you learn about someone that you didn’t already know?

A Healing-Centered Framework

Author: Carrie Usui Johnson and member of the Thinking Collaborative Futures Team

In a recent Medium article, Dr. Shawn Ginwright of San Francisco State University shares his thinking around creating healing-centered engagement to support communities where trauma is prevalent. In defining what it means to create healing-centered engagement, Dr. Ginwright states, “A healing centered approach to addressing trauma requires a different question that moves beyond “what happened to you” to “what’s right with you” and views those exposed to trauma as agents in the creation of their own well-being rather than victims of traumatic events.”

As I considered this question, I felt a natural connection to what we do as Cognitive Coaches. As Cognitive Coaches we support people to be self-directed and resourceful through an asset-based framework. By focusing on healing there is an acknowledgment and inquiry into the root causes (deep structure) of the trauma rather than just the symptoms (behaviors on the surface). Furthermore, Dr. Ginwright states, “Perhaps one of the greatest tools available to us is the ability to see beyond the condition, event, or situation that caused the trauma in the first place. Research shows that the ability to dream and imagine is an important factor to foster hopefulness and optimism, both of which contribute to overall well-being (Snyder et al. 2003).” Applied to a Cognitive Coaching framework, this healing-centered approach allows coaches to support individuals in moving from their existing state to their desired state goal.
This idea becomes even more powerful as we consider the secondary trauma that many educators experience in supporting young people who have experienced trauma. As caring educators, the empathy and compassion needed to support youth around trauma can be difficult, exhausting, and without self-care and well-being, unsustainable. As Cognitive Coaches, we have the ability to provide a space for reflection that support educators in sustaining their own well-being and healing.

Lastly, as I consider the mission of Cognitive Coaching, “…to produce self-directly persons with the cognitive capacity for excellence both independently and as members of a community,” the idea of both the individual and the community stands out as a connection to healing-centered engagement. Individually, just as in Cognitive Coaching we consider the work of Robert Dilts and the importance of identity in making long-lasting and sustainable changes, Dr. Ginwright also highlights the importance of identity in healing-centered engagement. “The pathway to restoring well-being among young people who experience trauma can be found in culture and identity. Healing-centered engagement uses culture as a way to ground young people in a solid sense of meaning, self-perception, and purpose. This process highlights the intersectional nature of identity and highlights the ways in which culture offers a shared experience, community, and sense of belonging.” Meeting people where they are and acknowledging their experiences, culture, and identity to support their thinking is a capability that we, as Cognitive Coaches, have to support people on a pathway to their well-being and desired state.

Further, in supporting an individual’s ability to be self-directed with the cognitive capacity for excellence as a member of the community also requires Cognitive Coaches to consider what’s going on in the community that might require healing. Dr. Ginwright states, “Healing and well-being are fundamentally political, not clinical. This means that we have to consider the ways in which the policies and practice and political decisions harm young people. Healing in this context also means that young people develop an analysis of these practices and policies that facilitated the trauma in the first place. Without an analysis of these issues, young people often internalize, and blame themselves for lack of confidence.” When we take into account the external forces that are causing systems of trauma to exist, we are able to advocate for conditions that can possibly disrupt, break, and transform those systems. Here is where Cognitive Coaching and Adaptive Schools intersect, as we also serve as community group members with the ability and capabilities to balance inquiry and advocacy for conditions that are more equitable and just for all people. And as we participate in supporting the healing-centered engagement of others, we also experience healing and well-being as members of a community consistently engaged in healing and building the cognitive capacity, self-directedness, and resourcefulness of others to heal.

In thinking about your role as a Cognitive Coach, what might be some of the ways a healing-centered framework might support the work you do?
What are some things that support you in keeping your own well-being during difficult times?

Ginwright, S. (2018, May 31). The Future of Healing: Shifting From Trauma Informed Care to Healing Centered Engagement. Retrieved from

Transformative Talk: Cognitive Coaches Share Their Stories

Authors: Carrie Usui Johnson and John Matich, Training Associates and members of the Thinking Collaborative Futures Team

In our chapter titled We Don’t Fix Teachers: Managing Outside Expectations and the Integrity of Cognitive Coaching, from the book Transformative Talk: Cognitive Coaches Share Their Stories, edited by Gavin Grift, we explore three common misconceptions about coaching.
Developing the identity of a mediator of thinking in order to be a Cognitive Coach is a complex and deep process. And yet, as Garmston and Costa highlight, this identity is critical in having a coach use the skills, tools, and strategies they have learned through a Cognitive Coaching seminar. In order to understand and manage the complexity of this work, misconceptions, assumptions, and tensions must be explored. Based on our experience, we propose exploring the following three misconceptions we have found as challenges to creating a sustainable Cognitive Coaching community.

Misconception #1 – Expertise in the classroom is the main indicator of expertise as a Cognitive Coach.
While content and classroom expertise are important characteristics for a Cognitive Coach, how a Cognitive Coach uses or doesn’t use that expertise to support the thinking of their coachee is even more important.

Misconception #2 – Coaches trained in Cognitive Coaching need professional learning focused mainly on the content they support or a “training for trainers” model rather than continued development of their Cognitive Coaching identity through focused rehearsal with coaching skills, strategies, and tools.
The assumption that one’s learning around coaching ends at the conclusion of the eight-day Seminar presumes that it is a set of behaviors that can be adopted in a rote or mechanic way. In order to develop one’s Cognitive Coaching identity, it takes intention rehearsal, reflection, and feedback.

Misconception #3 – Directors, Managers and/or Supervisors of Cognitive Coaching communities do not need to be Cognitive Coaches or learn alongside their coaches
If we want to see our coaching communities use Cognitive Coaching with their teachers and students in meaningful ways, our coaches need their leaders to support their thinking and identity development in similar ways.

In this Sustaining the Thinking Collaborative Journey, we would like to hear from other Cognitive Coaches. What are some ways in which we might manage and clarify these misconceptions?

Adaptive Schools and Trauma Informed Practices

Author: John Matich, Training Associate and member of the Thinking Collaborative Futures Team

The Center for Disease control defines Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) as preventable and traumatic early experiences; they can range from exposure to violence, poverty and neglect, to physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

Nationally, more than 46 percent of U.S. youth—34 million children under age 18—have had at least one ACE, and more than 20 percent have had at least two.

In a trauma-informed school, the adults in the school community are prepared to recognize and respond to those who have been impacted by traumatic stress (ACEs). In addition, students are provided with clear expectations and communication strategies to guide them through stressful situations. The goal is to not only provide tools to cope with extreme situations but to create an underlying culture of respect and support.

Garmston and Wellman say that “the quality of adult interactions mediate outcomes for students.” As adaptive educators, we also know that this is true for interactions with and among students and it must exist on an ongoing basis if we are to create a respectful and supportive school culture. As collaborators, inquirers, and leaders, this is part of our DNA.

Adaptive teachers strategically use Adaptive Schools strategies and explicitly model and teach the Seven Norms of Collaboration to students because they are the foundation for creating an underlying culture of respect and support. When teachers implement Adaptive Schools strategies with fidelity and model them, they are creating the conditions for civil discourse, equity of voice, safe learning environments, and they are showing that they value students.

Over the past three years, I have had the opportunity to co-design and co-present professional development for k12 teachers in Los Angeles with trauma-informed school experts. As I designed the professional development and learned more about ACEs and trauma-informed practices, it became strikingly clear that the Adaptive Schools strategies along with the Seven Norms of Collaboration perfectly aligned with the goals of trauma-informed schools because they create the conditions for mutually respectful discourse in a nurturing environment.

Garmston and Wellman point out that “clear intentions, the ability to read groups, and flexibility are the keys to selecting processes to facilitate groups” (Garmston and Wellman, p. 171). This applies to adults and students.

Trauma-sensitive practices are not just “another thing,” they are the thing. When we employ Adaptive Schools strategies with the intention of creating safe and robust learning environments, we are living a philosophy of care and respect.

I’m imagining students using the Seven Norms of Collaboration along with Adaptive Schools strategies to not only uplift themselves, but to uplift their classmates. These strategies can empower the passive, build confidence in the passive aggressive, and provide space for the aggressive to effectively express themselves. It’s imperative that we teach students ways to be respectfully assertive as they collaborate, inquire, and lead–just as we teach adults.

What added value might Adaptive Schools strategies have to educators who are already practicing trauma-informed practices?

What might be some ways in which Adaptive Schools strategies support schools and educators in becoming a trauma-informed school?

Which of the Seven Norms of Collaboration might be most influential in creating an underlying culture of respect?

How might we become more explicit with teachers about how to create a culture of respect and support by using the strategies and Seven Norms daily in their classrooms?

The Next Steps of Choreographing an Opening

Author: Seth Brown, Agency Trainer and member of the Thinking Collaborative Futures Team

Stepping in front of a new audience and presenting content that stands out from some of the sit and get training educators are sometime subjected to can be a nerve racking endeavor. Those first few minutes are critical in establishing your credibility in front of the audience and can either set them at ease or make the rest of the presentation a huge ordeal.

Zoller and Landry (2010) coined a term I used today while coaching a teammate: Choreographing an Opening. Choreographing an Opening refers to the planned verbal and nonverbal moves a presenter makes to proactively acknowledge resistance. Choreographing is especially important when you anticipate resistance from the audience and recognize the need to establish your credibility as a presenter and a rapport with the audience to open their brains to what you are sharing.

Donald Miller’s (2017) Building a StoryBrand offers readers another way to frame that Choreography. Miller suggests that in effective presentations the presenter should not be the hero of the message. Rather, make the audience member the hero, facing a perplexing problem, either an internal, external, or philosophical problem. The presenter, then, can take on the mantle of a guide, like Yoda or Obi-Wan in Star Wars, who has a plan to both address the problem and then offer a call to action leading to success rather than defeat.

Even though the book was written for business people trying to sell a service or product, the concept explains how to impactfully craft an opening that places the focus on the audience member rather than on the presenter, and, as a result, is more likely to engage them during your presentation.


Miller, D. (2017). Building a storybrand: Clarify your message so customers will listen.

DMiller's Book

Collective Teacher Efficacy

Author: Walter Basnight, Secondary Learning Coach for the American International School Chennai, India
and member of the Thinking Collaborative Futures Team

“Perceived collective efficacy is defined as a group’s shared belief in its conjoint capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given levels of attainments” – Albert Bandura in Self-efficacy: The exercise of control.

In Collective Efficacy: How Educators’ Beliefs Impact Student Learning (2017), Jenni Donohoo explores the power of collective teacher efficacy to improve student learning and achievement. She begins with John Hattie’s research which ranks Teachers’ Collective Efficacy as the greatest factor impacting student achievement.

Through their collective action, teachers can positively influence student outcomes. This includes students who may be disengaged, unmotivated, and/or disadvantaged. Educators’ beliefs affect thought patterns and behaviors in ways that are either in service of quality implementation or in opposition to it. Efficacy is required for innovation and change. When efficacy is firmly established, the shared sense of efficacy supports behaviors that fosters change. (Donohoo, 2017)

There are three ways in which beliefs can affect behavior to support or hinder implementation of change initiatives in schools:
1. Efficacy impacts how teams perceive constraints and opportunities afforded in their unique school environments.
2. Collective efficacy impacts motivational investments.
3. Collective beliefs about efficacy shape experiences.

Donohoo shares that efficacious teams figure out ways to own their own work, even in the face of setbacks. Teams lacking efficacy are quick to settle for lower quality work, having lower motivation and set fewer goals. In sum, Donohoo argues that efficacy leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In her book, Donohoo suggests ways for leadership to foster collective efficacy that range from increasing teacher voice in decision making to encouraging teachers to learn about each other’s work. She also suggests that leaders should encourage collaboration that focuses on instructional improvement. This leads to greater collective efficacy, which, in turn, leads to greater student achievement.

How might your coaching and facilitating support the development of collective teacher efficacy?
What are some ways in which teacher participation in school decision making can be increased?
How might fostering greater Collective Teacher Efficacy in your school support student achievement?

Donohoo, Jenni. Collective Efficacy: How Educators Beliefs Impact Student Learning. Corwin, 2017.

The Discipline of Will

Author: Walter Basnight, Secondary Learning Coach for the American International School Chennai, India
and member of the Thinking Collaborative Futures Team

Efficacy has been an important part of my success as a new coach and one that I continuously cultivate. In support of my increased efficacy, I have leaned on the work of Ryan Holiday, specifically his thoughts in The Obstacle Is The Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage. In previous posts I have considered the Stoic Disciplines of Perception and Action. This final post considers the Discipline of the Will.

The Discipline of the Will is the third critical discipline and the most difficult to cultivate. Holiday suggest that we can think, act, and, finally, adjust to a world that is inherently unpredictable. The Will is what prepares us to do so. It protects us against it and allows us to thrive in spite of it. He states, “If Perception and Action were the disciplines of the mind and the body, then Will is the discipline of the heart and the soul. Will is fortitude and wisdom – not just about specific obstacles but about life itself and where the obstacles we are facing fit within it.” (Holiday, 130)

In the development of this discipline, Holiday offers that misfortune, challenges, and uncertainty are a natural part of life. Taking the path of least resistance teaches you nothing. Instead, Holiday shares a list of practices that build one’s capacity to face obstacles. They include: Anticipation, Art of Acquiescence, Love, Fate, Perseverance, Selflessness, and Meditate on your Mortality.

As a coach, I have cultivated my ability to “anticipate” as defined by Holiday. This includes pre-thinking through the multiple ways an interaction may fail. While counterintuitive, anticipating failure, or attempting hindsight in advance, pays dividends. It is a technique coined by psychologist Gary Klein known as a ‘premortem’. Instead of reflecting on failures after the fact, you actively look for things that may go wrong before even beginning. Holiday suggests to always prepare for disruption because, more often than not, it will happen. Most meetings don’t go the way you intended, some are better than you thought and others miss the mark entirely.

It is my belief that this practice supported me in a failed meeting a few months back. The group I was facilitating quickly hit an impasse in the work and it was clear that we weren’t going to complete our objectives. This was okay as I was able to remain cool headed because I had anticipated something could go wrong. I had already pondered, “What if … No problem, we can always…” I paused the meeting, acknowledged that our stated objectives were challenging and identified a new goal for the group. From thinking in advance about how the meeting could wrong, I was able to make concessions in the moment and still persist with getting most of the work done.

To close I return to Holiday’s final thoughts,
See things for what they are.
Do what we can.
Endure and bear what we must.
What blocks the path now is a path.
What once impeded action advances action.
The Obstacle is the Way.

None of this is simple and it takes practice. I know that I am a better coach and facilitator from practicing the Stoic maxims discussed in the Holiday’s work.

What internal dialogue might you offer yourself in order to build your capacity when you encounter obstacles?
How might you be a model to others in the Discipline of the Will?

The Discipline of Action

Author: Walter Basnight, Secondary Learning Coach for the American International School Chennai, India
and member of the Thinking Collaborative Futures Team

Efficacy has been an important part of my success as a new coach. In support of my increased efficacy, I have leaned on the work of Ryan Holiday, specifically his thoughts in The Obstacle Is The Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage. The book espouses Stoic Philosophy, encouraging us to view obstacles as opportunities. I face obstacles all the time, from teachers feeling they don’t have enough time to a lack of understanding of my role. As Holiday points out, overcoming such obstacles requires us to consider Perception, Action and Will in ourselves and in others.

The Discipline of Action is about moving forward step-by-step, action-by-action with persistence and flexibility in the interest of our goals. Applying ourselves with gusto and creativity to embrace the obstacle before us is what will make us stronger when facing next obstacle with:
● energy
● persistence
● a coherent and deliberate process
● iteration and resilience
● pragmatism
● strategic vision
● craftiness and savvy
● and an eye for opportunity and pivotal moments

As a new coach, I thought that it was enough to introduce myself at the beginning of the year to the staff and explain my role. This would prompt teachers to knock at my door. Yet, this was not the case. I grossly underestimated the level of action it would require of me to develop a desire for coaching and to support the development of a culture of coaching. I had the know how to coach; I had to call upon the courage to act – to knock on doors. There were rejections, but my persistence led to an opening of doors and minds. From there momentum built and I began to move beyond episodic coaching sessions to more meaningful coaching cycles. The Discipline of Action is about building a tolerance for difficulties, looking for possibilities and settling in for the long haul.

As Holiday reminds us, “anyone in pursuit of a goal comes face-to-face with failure time and time again. Sometimes, no amount of planning, no about of thinking – no matter how hard we try or patiently we persist – will change the fact that some things just aren’t going to work.” (Holiday, 124) This is where the Discipline of the Will must be cultivated.

Next week I will explore the Discipline of the Will.

What new actions might you try this week to further a goal?
Where might you have the opportunity to practice the Discipline of Action?

The Discipline of Perception

Author: Walter Basnight, Secondary Learning Coach for the American International School Chennai, India
and member of the Thinking Collaborative Futures Team

As a new instructional coach, I regularly turn to The Obstacle Is The Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage by Ryan Holiday to support my development and efficacy. As Holiday shares, the Philosophy of Stoicism encourages us to view the obstacles before us as opportunities. In my work I face “obstacles” with the teachers I serve in many forms: lack of interest, lack of understanding, and lack of time, to name a few. Holiday, like other Stoics of the past, instructs that overcoming obstacles is a discipline of three critical steps: Perception, Action, and the Will. These steps are interdependent, interconnected, and fluidly contingent disciplines.

Holiday invites the reader to first develop the Discipline of Perception as it allows us to better “see” the inevitable obstacles we face and, in turn, grow from. Perception is how we see and understand what occurs around us and how we assign meaning to our experiences. Our perceptions can be a source of strength or of great weakness. “Nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” as Shakespeare put it.

Earlier this year a teacher asked me to film students in her Public Speaking course. This was not exactly the type of coaching work I had anticipated and I initially viewed it as a waste of my skills. And, yet, filming those students quickly became an open door for more meaningful coaching conversations. Without being open to serving teachers in a different way than anticipated, I might have missed the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue about student learning. It was a great reminder of the power of perception. Outward appearances are deceptive.

A further obstacle has been to attract teachers to commit to a coaching cycle. At the beginning of the year, my calendar was too empty for my liking. As the year continued, my interactions with teachers were episodic and/or quick hits of support. While this was of service, it was not building the culture of coaching I desired. I began to worry. This was a choice on my part. The Stoics teach us that reactions are a function of our perspectives. Holiday would argue that this simply serves to turn bad things into really bad things.

Though the emotion of worry was my choice, it was not serving anyone. Unhelpful perceptions can invade our minds “that sacred place of reason, action and will–and throw off our compass. Discipline in perception lets you clearly see the advantage and the proper course of action in every situation without the pestilence of panic or fear” (Holiday, 17-18). He further suggests that perception precedes action and the “right” action follows the “right” perspective.

It was up to me to think differently and find opportunities in everything. Then, in turn, it was up to me to act.

This week, how will you see the obstacles in front of you?
How might your perception impact your efficacy?