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Education

Courageous Conversations for Senior Leaders in Schools

By | Coaching and Mentoring, Education, Leadership Toolbox

Difficult conversations, challenging conversations, courageous conversations

We all have to have them at work (and sometimes at home!), and it must be one of the most common themes that raises its head in my leadership coaching sessions.

I’ve been back to school, (well working in schools) and goodness have I been learning a lot recently. As well as being a coaching topic of conversation, I run workshops on courageous conversations, and not only am I discovering the true meaning of coaching, (in another article you’ll find me talking about ‘how to coach through sharing’) but I am seeing more examples of tough conversations and more ways to handle them.

I will give you some tips on how to have your courageous conversations, but first it might be more help to highlight ways in which you can  discover how to plan them for yourselves.  After all, it is you who will be in the room, not me!

There are any number of resources on how to have difficult conversations and over the past 18 months I seem to have been doing a lot of reading (as well as listening!) around the subject, so I will be distilling some of the points which seem to shine through most often.

We worry about conflict

Not all conflict is bad.  It’s just that the word itself has negative connotations.  Consider ‘challenge’, or ‘competition’ or ‘different perspectives’.  Quite often what we see at first to be conflict can actually be questioning, challenging or re-framing.

Let’s face it, healthy challenge broadens the mind and promotes new understandings and perspectives.  It keeps us all awake to new or alternative views, different ideas or alternative beliefs and values.  In our communities, this social element is crucial and whilst we don’t have to agree with opposing views, if we avoid being judgmental then things can immediately start to ease up: once we start to understand someone else’s view we can start to walk in their shoes.

Think about sport perhaps?  Living in Wales we see the fierce competition and battles of words every Six Nations when the Welsh/English match comes up.  The strength of feeling is almost tangible, but it is sport and the effect of disagreements is limited.  Everyone (pretty much) moves on. (And then we have the same next time!) The competition is healthy and stimulating.

Oh, and just a thought; if you never need to have a ‘difficult’ conversation, if you never have any opposing views, then it is worth asking yourself if you are looking straight past it and giving it a wide berth.  (You won’t be the first person to do this!)

What sort of conversation is it?

So, having taken some of the sting out of the idea of conflict or disagreement, it’s worth stepping back and thinking about what kind of ‘difficult’ conversation it needs to be.  There is merit in picking your battles, nobody likes a nit-picker.  Look for the things which really matter.

Let’s start with the toughest:  these are issues which are around serious misconduct, behaviour  or ongoing performance issues.  They may have already escalated to include HR and could have implications for long term employment.  Someone has to have these conversations, but – apart from gross misconduct – they should have been picked up and managed over a period of time.

Next in line are the issues that affect the day to day: in schools it might be a failure to create an effective learning environment, marking books or drifting away from the curriculum.

The least tricky might be about dealing with lateness, forgetfulness or a change in someone’s way of working.

A small aside here; performance reviews and appraisals are not the place for dealing with these problems.  Remember a golden rule – no shocks or surprises in appraisals. They are there to develop good performance and although they need to allow for review of past work, having a ‘difficult conversation’ within that forum is going to damage chances of a positive meeting to look to the future.

Doorstepping and corridor conversations

Let’s be clear: if you need to deal with something that is going wrong it needs to be given the time, consideration and respect that it warrants.  Creating a formal meeting means that you and the other individual can focus on what needs to be discussed. Imagine a box and put the conversation into it, take it somewhere safe to open it where you can both explore the contents in a safe space.  As you take the issues out of the box in that space you can look at them carefully and without interruption.  They will show their importance much better than a quick, ‘..oh, by the way….’

Tips

The great thing is that these are not my tips, they are not taken from a book, they are not generic rules. They are taken from Senior Leaders in Education who worked closely together and attended our workshop.  I love this and it is what really got me to thinking about how effective coaching comes from sharing.  Certainly, there will not be any great surprises in these top tips if you are used to having difficult conversations, but the wonderful thing about these in particular is that they are drawn up by the very people who will be using them, so they can be taken back to the real world in a ready to use form.

  • Plan what you are going to say. (Practice aloud, talk to the dog, go through it with a colleague – like role play).
  • Be empathetic rather than sympathetic (Don’t ‘collude’, but do build rapport).
  • Listen between the lines (Interpret, listen actively).
  • Allow the other person time to talk (let them think, LISTEN to their solutions, allow yourself time to think, hold the silence!).
  • Have a detailed and objective understanding of the issue. HAVE CLEAR EXPECTATIONS (outcome, tone of conversation, what can be achieved in one conversation)
  • Be clear from the very start of the conversation.
  • Be precise, be clear, be specific, be concise, use careful questioning
  • Stick to the message.
  • Be open-minded and non-judgmental (Listen to their views but be clear on the required outcome).
  • Consider how you use ‘we’, ‘I’, ‘you’. (We are a team, I will help you, you need to do this, we all want the same outcome – for the children ultimately).
  • Gain commitment and check understanding (Set deadlines, review times).
  • Work with the whole team for a solution (Don’t take it all on yourself).
  • Bounce things back, keep the ball in their court. They need to think of solutions, take responsibility)
  • Remember, you can do this.  YOU’VE GOT THIS!!

Finally…

There is no quick way to learn how to have these courageous conversations – I could run an entire programme on the different elements that come into consideration.  I’m not sure that they get any easier with experience, but what I am pretty certain about is that – with practice and experience) we can get braver about having them.

Developing leaders in Education: Why Coaching?

By | Coaching and Mentoring, Education, Leadership Toolbox, Personal Development

Overview

This article introduces us to the reasons why coaching can be a very successful intervention in supporting leaders and aspiring leaders on their leadership journey.  This particular offering is based around resilience, (tested greatly 2020-21), but could equally well focus on other leadership and personal development themes.  It includes face to face coaching with the option of virtual sessions and can be monitored using a mental toughness questionnaire at the outset and close to demonstrate areas of change.

THE PROGRAMME

The aims for the programme and coaching practice

The programme is designed to deliver specialist educational leadership coaching based around organisational leadership with a focus on strategy; delivery and accountability; people management; workload consideration and accountability; long-term development and divergent thinking to meet the needs of the future educational landscape (sustainability) and financial and partnership working for more effective leadership.

The coaches involved are experienced professional coaches who have worked for many years in education and who bring an objective perspective to their coaching in this particular environment.

The coaching programme offers a supportive framework for the team as well as individuals and is based around real-world challenges which ensures that the conversations have a practical impact on leadership capability in the setting of each individual’s role.

The coaching meetings always have an agenda driven by the participant, with the coach offering a facilitated conversation which allows the coachee to explore their own ideas and derive their own solutions with guidance as necessary.

In the context of educational organisations the expectation of coaching is often centred around mentoring from an experienced school leader who provides support through specific guidance and help, but with an encouragement to the coachee to explore and extend knowledge themselves.  As such, this falls between ‘pure’ mentoring and ‘pure or facilitative’ coaching. Coaching in other contexts – such as this programme – is more wide ranging, allowing the coachee to drive the conversations. A facilitative coach helps the client to develop the ability to grow knowledge and confidence through reflection and understanding of themselves which encourages deeper learning and a longer-lasting benefit.

Why coaching rather than formal training?

NPQs, tailored support programmes and other leadership development within Education have long used coaching to support the development of leadership skills introduced through formal training courses.

Coaching is accepted as the best long-term driver of change. As far back as the turn of the 20th Century, John Dewey (in his ‘Pedagogical Creed’) recognised that learning by doing was a powerful method for education. Both problem-based learning and project-based learning have elements that are relevant to coaching today, highlighting how we can learn in a practical, real-world environment and develop skills which will be valuable for long-term self-development and efficacy. This approach to learning helps us to develop flexible knowledge, effective problem-solving skills, self-directed learning skills, effective collaboration and intrinsic motivation.

Coaching facilitates the link between what is happening and how we can develop our skills to achieve goals not only now, but in future.

Research from Leeds Beckett University in January 2020 describes how coaching helps to build leadership capacity.*  This is a key report and highlights some important features which coaching addresses, including the ability to build resilience whist maintaining well-being. The reciprocal nature of the coaching relationship helps individuals to feel supported, build confidence and to deal more easily with the pressures of their role. The space away from daily work and time for them to reflect effectively with an impartial sounding board (as opposed to advisor or peer) provides an opportunity to ‘stand on the balcony’ and take a good look at what is happening in their school.

*Report authors: Professor Rachel Lofthouse & Ruth Whiteside CollectivED at Leeds Beckett University. (Published by Leeds Beckett University, January 2020). https://www.integritycoaching.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/Sustaining-a-Vital-Profession-Final-Report.pdf

MENTAL TOUGHNESS AND MEASURING IMPACT

Benchmarking and measuring success

As a relatively new concept in leadership development contexts, there is a fairly small amount of information on monitoring success.  Coaching, by definition, is intangible and it can be difficult to demonstrate clear change which is attributable to coaching.  Businesses use ‘Return on Capital Employed’ (ROCE) which can show hard indicators like spend related to profit, but in recent years psychologists and leaders have brought in the idea of using cultural, social or human capital as measures for the more intangible interventions in organisations.  More recently we have become aware of the importance of emotional intelligence and the clear link here to emotional capital provides us with the means to look more objectively at the effect that coaching is having.

For this programme we benchmark Mental Toughness (resilience) by using a well- researched psychometric – MTQ Plus – and comparing results at the start of the programme with those seen at the close.

Emotional Capital and Mental Toughness

Daniel Goleman, a leading thinker on emotional intelligence, is a psychologist whose book ‘Emotional Intelligence: Why it can Matter More than IQ’, brings this theme to the mainstream.

He describes five attributes of emotional intelligence which include:

– self-awareness (recognising our own emotions and their effects)

– self-regulation (emotional control, adaptation)

– social skill (interpersonal relationships)

– empathy (understanding others and decision-making)

– self-motivation (drive and enthusiasm)

These attributes relate very closely to the work on mental toughness and resilience that we are using as a framework for this coaching programme. In particular, the links to life and emotional control and to self-confidence (esteem) are clear.

The MTQ Plus questionnaire focusses on these themes (see section on MTQ Plus) and therefore help us to develop a relevant benchmark and exit point to see how the team develops over the period of the coaching programme.

Whilst it would be rewarding to think that any change is down to coaching, we need to take a realistic view and weave this in with the external factors which are particularly potent this year, (2020/21).  In particular we need to consider:

  • The shock of the pandemic
  • The loss of school-year milestones
  • The requirement to change all practices quickly
  • The use of technology
  • Individual flexibility and role changes
  • Managing the unknown
  • Planning for the unknown
  • Loss of local control

The coaching conversations focus on day to day challenges, but each coachee creates specific actions or elements of learning from each session and identifies how that will move into real impact for their work and therefore for the children in the school.

Summary

Coaching as a development tool is focussed on individual needs (bespoke), facilitative (develops an ability to self-motivate and improve accountability), and it encourages reflection.  It also provides a ‘safe space’ in a busy and fast-changing environment, allowing individuals to stand back and take a more objective and strategic view of their working world.

Getting ‘STUFF’ done

By | Education, Leadership Toolbox

There are a few recurring themes when I’m coaching people.  One of those is about ‘Time Management’.  We could get into discussions on the practicalities (lists, urgent vs important).  We could argue that time is not something that can be actively managed – it has to be about what we do within the confines of that dimension. We could get into philosophical conversations about the meaning of life, work and ultimate purpose.  Lets leave all that for another day.

I have been reading a neat little book by Andy Buck about leadership in education and he made mention of this video.  It’s only about 5 minutes, (so it is a good investment in time, and allows us one last shot at procrastinating!)

Enjoy it…

SPACE – Definitely not the final frontier for learning

By | Coaching and Mentoring, Education, Leadership Toolbox, Personal Development

Space – (Definitely NOT the final frontier for learning!)

 

Yesterday I attended an interesting conference on Critical Leadership.  In just a short space of time we touched on many topics which challenge us as leaders.  One of the themes centred on how we keep formal learning going in our day-to-day jobs once we return from the buzz of workshops.  This is a topic very close to my heart.

Four points stick in my mind as crucial for continued learning:

–        We need to open spaces for conversation

–        We need to listen and empower

–        We need to foster constant curiosity

–        We need to enable conversations

If I could have created a word cloud from the speakers yesterday morning, I think that SPACE would have featured in the centre in huge letters.  It’s something that we just don’t really have in our busy lives, busy jobs and busy careers.  Yet how can we see what is happening if we don’t make a space to understand what is around us?  How can we start to get these four points into action if we don’t have ‘space’?

Another phrase which would have being pretty obvious in the word cloud would have been CRITICAL FRIEND. (And underneath that I would have posted ‘constructive challenge).

This is all great metaphorical chat, but what do I mean in practical terms?  OK, please stay with me on this…..

Creating a SPACE, means we can give valuable time to reflection.

Reflection is an increasingly well accepted and understood ‘tool’ for deep learning. Taking the time to really think about our experiences means that we can gain new and useful perspectives.  When we reflect, we can create some structure for our thought processes, use positive questioning to get deeper understanding and see the small but powerful changes that accumulate to lead to our success.

How often do you get to the end of a working day and feel that you have achieved nothing?  I think most of us have been there at some time, but even on those days, if you took just ten minutes out (sitting in the car before you drive home, walking the dog, cleaning the goldfish bowl – whatever…..) and identified the smallest thing, the tiniest positive achievement for the day, I am sure there would be something.  It might not be something that you would see as directly relevant to your role, but think again.  When you showed someone a quick move on the computer (that you do without even thinking about it) – that could have a lasting benefit.  When you made that difficult call, but still didn’t reach the right person – at least you have started climbing that fearsome rockface.  When you answered the door for someone, even if they should have done it, it gave you a moment to let the blood back into your legs after sitting for hours at the computer.  If you set up the template for a new spreadsheet, but didn’t enter any data – well, it’s one thing less for tomorrow.  In those mundane examples we’ve covered well-being, support and encouragement shared learning, and action just for a start!  Don’t dismiss the small stuff, it just might be valuable.

So, when I sit down with you as your coach (for want of a better label!), we create SPACE.

First we set some ground rules.  One of these is that we recognise that this time is your time to do with as you choose.  It will not be interrupted, cancelled, driven by me, scripted, or disrespected. It is golden time, a rare oasis away from hustle and bustle. I will guide our conversation and challenge your thinking when necessary. I will hold you to account for your planned actions but most important of all, I will be facilitating your reflection and helping you to embed esoteric learning into practical actions and tools.

Go on – find your SPACE.