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Last day in Kansas!
(And yes, I made a “we’re not in Kansas anymore” joke when we made it to the airport in Missouri.)

Thursday was only a half day (due to flight constraints on our part), and if my lack of notes from Day 2 was an indication of my lack of engagement, my notes from the day represent a high degree of authentic engagement.  I have more notes from three hours of day three than all seven hours of day two.  I attribute this to two major factors: Knight was back on his A game as a presenter and he was delivering content that was very new to me on a philosophical and theoretical level.  All the issues from day two: resolved.

Knight’s focus for the day was quality communication and he busted right out of the gate with theory and research.  Well… not quite right out of the gate.  There was a forty minute question and review time, but compared to the extremely lengthy review from day two I hardly noticed and it felt like he was busting right out of the gate.

Knight began with a potentially controversial claim: we have a communication crisis.  To me this immediately smacked of a generational bias: Knight’s boomer stodginess against my millennial early adoption of new technology.  I wanted him to defend himself.  I wanted justification for such an audacious claim.  I got what I wanted.  Knight (slightly) backed off his initially provocative ledge into a more nuanced position, recognizing that he’d played a part to get people to pay attention.  He does not discount the usefulness of Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of communication that do not require people to be face to face, however he did maintain that the ultimate form of communication is face to face, one on one, in person.

It is important that we interact personally in order to catch all of the nuance of nonverbal communication.  Technology has to be seen as an additional tool, not a replacement for quality discussion.  In my work as a coach the vast majority of my interactions are face to face, and so developing my skill in reading non-verbal queues, effective listening, and building trust are extremely helpful.  Communication is also, of course, not limited to my work and as such I was able to build authentic connections and meaning throughout the day as Knight worked through his “9 Strategies for Communication” which are as follows:

  • Take the Partnership Approach (See Day 1)
  • Listen.  Seriously… listen.
  • Create connection between yourself and others.
  • Build Trust (This was the last one we were able to see due to leaving early.)
  • Find Common Ground
  • Control Destructive Emotions
  • Witness the Good
  • Ask Good Questions
  • Empathy

Take the Partnership Approach really boils down to drinking the Kool-Aid from day one, and I’m willing to accept that.  This is primarily because the Partnership Approach was presented as a fundamental set of beliefs governing interactions between people that extends beyond my work as a coach.  (For more on my thoughts on this read my summary of Day 1.)

The segment on listening was unexpectedly powerful for me.  I’m not the best listener ever.  I’m really good at thinking about a response while other people are talking, I’m very good at interrupting, and I’m a highly skilled self-focuser.  None of this helps listening as it turns out.  Knight outlined some very simple steps to quality listening which essentially boil down to “shut up, externally and internally, and pay attention to the other person.”  Then he made us practice, and that was where he got me on board.  Quality listening takes conscious expenditure of energy and Knight had us deliberately listen to a partner for three minutes.  I was immediately aware of how often I interrupt and talk over other people.  This is a huge area of growth for me personally and professionally and a listening goal is going to go right up with the video goal from the first day.

The connection segment was fairly brief and it focused primarily on summarizing Gottman’s work around relationships and marriage.  This was helpful in that it provides a clear language for how people connect, or fail to connected.  Gottman claims that people make a bid for connection in a variety of ways ranging from the ostentatious (Let’s take the credit card and go nuts!) to the more mundane (Would you like a cup of coffee?)  These bids represent a hope of connection from one person to another and how the other person responded to the bid is extraordinarily important component in whether or not those two people will connect.

This concept immediately shifted my entire mindset on what it means to make a connection and I instantly decontextualized a plethora of connections in my life be they deep, superficial, nonexistent, or stillborn.  I imaged how the bid was presented and received and quickly came to terms with many issues that had been presenting difficulty.  Gottman explains that people react to a bid in one of three ways:

  • They turn toward the bid:  This is an acceptance of the bid, and acknowledges that the bid has value and there is a shared interest.  This leads to positive connections very smoothly and efficiently.
  • They turn against the bid:  This is when someone directly opposes the bid.  This acknowledges that a bid has been presented, but makes it clear that the bid was an incorrect method of approach to a connection.  This does not necessarily shut the door to future bids.  Sarcasm can very easily be misinterpreted as turning against a bid.
  • The third option is that a recipient may turn away from a bid, effectively ignoring the bidder.  This is the most damaging for the relationship because the recipient does not even acknowledge that a bid has been made and the bidder is left feeling immediately devalued.  Turning away from a bid is particularly insidious because it can happen inadvertently when a recipient is truly unaware that a bid has been made.

This was just enough of Gottman’s work that I feel equipped to leverage the language in my personal and professional work, and I am still interested in investigating it further to deepen my understanding.  I see this work on connection playing a massive role in my life.

The last piece I was present for was the segment on building trust.  The whole thing can be summarized by Knight’s equation for trust below:
Trust Equation
Essentially the factors on the top of the equation help increase people’s trust in you while self-focus serves to diminish trust.  This section was very straightforward and served to give names to many of the thoughts I already had around trust and building trust in the teachers I work with.

The three days of Jim Knight’s Instructional Coaching Conference deeply highlighted the importance of maintaining basics of quality education throughout a session.  Day 1 had everything I needed: community building, challenge, relevance, and choice.  When I lost relevancy and challenge in day 2, Knight lost me as a participant.  When he added them back on the third day, I was immediately reenergized and cognitively engaged.  Despite the difficulties of the second day, I have a strong collection of thoughts, methods, and theories to leverage in my work with novice teachers.  I know that I will be a better coach as a result of these last three days, largely, thought not exclusively, because I can now give name and justification to many of the moves I make.  As an added bonus I can take many of these techniques and theories and integrate them positively into my personal life.

Lawrence, KS Indie Rock Local Music Scavenger Hunt Wrap-Up:
I want to begin by giving huge props to Taryn at Love Garden.  She really outdid herself with the recommendations and I’m leaving with a very positive view of the Lawrence music scene.  Instead of linking just a couple more bands, I’ve opted to list everything I left with in no particular order or classification.  Happy hunting.

  • Y(our) Fri(end) – Taryn’s band that I linked on day 1.
  • The Noise FM – garage rock sounds with higher than garage production values.
  • Heartscape Landbreak – intellectual, somewhat meditative, very cerebral art rock.
  • Hospital Ships – some of the same guys as above, much more accessible and straight ahead indie rock
  • Cowboy Indian Bear – Should be named Bear Ninja Cowboy.  Very ethereal, harmonized vocals over a variety of song structures. Mellow.
  • The ACB’s – Extremely accessible indie-pop.  Un-complex and very fun.
  • Fourth of July – Lo Fi mid-tempo indie rock.  They have a good beat and you can dance awkwardly like all the other hipsters.
  • Olassa – Straight ahead, stripped down, country in the spirit of Emmylou Harris or Allison Krauss.  Lovely.
  • Truckstop Honeymoon – Old fashioned bluegrass, most of the time, with contemporary lyrics.  Extremely fun.
  • Quiet Corral – Lawrence’s answer to Mumford and Sons.  Accessible, listenable, excellent.

Holy Bonus Tracks Batman! (Love Garden was sold out of their records but they have bandcamp pages.)

  • Bloodbirds – Punk rock.  What… you want more?  Ok… it’s fast, loud, and really good.  Happy?
  • Müscle Wörship – More punk rock with a better band name.

Lawrence Kansas

The goal for day one of the conference was to lay the philosophical and theoretical groundwork of instructional coaching, therefore day two of a three-day conference should be the big push on the new learning.  I was hoping to be piled with new information that I would have to spend this blog post sorting through as I processed my thoughts from the day.  Alas, that was not the case.  Quite the opposite in fact.

photo (10)Today was a disappointment and I was significantly less engaged in the content. (See the graph)  In a full eight-hour day I left with only five pages of notes in a small moleskin, and one of these pages is a mind map of the previous day (below).   This significant change in my engagement was primarily due to an inappropriately long time spent on review, information that did not meet my needs, and a generally low level of intellectual demand throughout the day.

We spent over ninety minutes superficially reviewing every single component of the previous day.  I am not opposed to reviewing material, and it is an essential component of learning, however balancing to the appropriate amount is essential.  I will own the fact that by writing yesterday’s one thousand word post I did a substantial amount of review independently that a large number of participants likely did not do.  However, my colleagues agreed that the amount of review was highly unnecessary.

After that ninety minutes on review Knight opened the floor to questions without setting any criteria for the questions.  This went on for nearly an additional hour.  As the questions dragged on, I just kept adding to my mind map to create what you see below, complete with Jim the Knight, Immanuel Kant, and Paulo Freire:

Image After the lengthy morning of review and individual questions ended with a break, I was hopeful that we would come back together for a continued focus on how proper coaching technique.  We did that, but to a very limited degree.  As much as yesterday was highly stimulating and steeped in philosophy, today was intensely tactical.  This was the day to drink the “Jim Knight’s Coaching Method” flavor of Kool-Aid.  Step by tedious step, Knight outlined a granular methodology.  Where on day one he presented the grounding research and philosophy before discussing specifics, he only focused on the specifics today, and these specifics took very little intellectual work on my part.  Additionally the specifics were not well aligned with the particulars of my work with novice teachers, leading to further disengagement.

The biggest disconnect seemed to come from Knight’s assumption that coaches work at the building level and are tasked with working with all teachers, whereas I work at the district level, almost entirely with teachers new to the profession.  From a theoretical, strategic, standpoint there are huge similarities and I can then translate well from his assumptions into my work, however, at the tactical level I was left with a pile of methods that do not relate well to the reality of my position.  Also Knight was frankly working at a very foundational level of tactics that I simply do not need.

Overall Day 2 was a significant letdown.  I started the day highly optimistic and looking to find deep meaning in the work.  Knight lost me initially with the excessive amount of superficial review and unfocused question time, and then he failed to regain my attention by presenting new content that was significantly too straightforward or misaligned to my needs.  While the day was disappointing from the standpoint of learning about instructional coaching, I was able to shift my focus in the afternoon to watch how he presented so that I could clearly identify my issues with his choices and delivery in order to inform my own practice.  Most notably I will look to take more formative assessment during workshop sessions, and then have the presence of mind to adjust my workshop based on the information from that assessment to best meet the needs of my audience.  I don’t want anyone in my talks to feel how I felt today.  I’m remaining hopeful for day three.

Lawrence, KS Indie Rock Scavenger Hunt Part 2:

Today’s highlights from heading back to Love Garden and finding Taryn again is definitely Hearscape Landbreak’s Practitioners of Light and Attraction by the Noise FM.  They fulfill my needs for intellectually elitist art rock and straight-ahead, yet well executed, garage rock respectively.  Enjoy.

Heartscape Landbreak

The Noise FM

Lawrence, Kansas

Day one of an education conference usually goes by quickly.  There is significant time spent on norming, getting to know new people, and establishing the work for the remaining days.  Today was no different: there was a protocol for partnering, setting the purpose for instructional coaching, we baselined potential barriers to adults helping adults, and then launched into Jim Knight’s foundational framework for coaching.  A predictably structured, yet well executed, first day.

Jim Knight sees coaching as a moral imperative to help teachers reach more students.  I appreciate this view of coaching as it aligns powerfully with my vision of quality education: namely that all students improve as a result of a teacher’s intervention.  In terms of delivery, Knight struck an effective balance between compelling anecdotes, such as an audio example of a high school freshman who could not read a simple passage, and deep, evidence-based statistics around implementation rates of new learning with and without follow-up by coaches.  He very succinctly made the case for instructional coaching.

After presenting the need for coaching (a fairly easy sell to a room full of coaches) Knight worked through his “5 Simple Truths of Helping,” outlining the potential hurdles of adults providing help to other adults.  This was primarily reaffirming to me as they were topics I had considered, though Knight’s language gives me a much stronger vocabulary for explaining these concepts to others.  The 5 truths can be summarized as such:

  • In order to change we need an awareness of what to change and an authentic need for the change.
  • Teaching is intensely personal and as coaches we need to speak bold truths in a way that respects teachers’ identity.
  • Teachers, as knowledge workers, have a high need for autonomy and need to construct knowledge for themselves.
  • Coaches must respect teachers’ status as highly trained and experienced professionals and avoid a paternalist role.
  • All parties must commit to the goal, ergo it must be a personal and authentic goal.

These truths provide a strong philosophical foundation for adult education as contrasted with educating youth, and while they are not particularly groundbreaking, they are important to stay mindful of.  It is easy, and highly problematic, to slip into habits from teaching youth, and being able to name these basics will allow me to integrate the truths into my practice.

With the groundwork established we moved into Knight’s approach to coaching which he terms “the Partnership Approach.”  This is framed with seven attributes that all serve the goal of philosophically grounding the coach in the role of a collaborator and partner in the teacher’s work of educating youth.  Where the 5 Truths are intended to cover all work with adults helping other adults, the  Partnership Approach is specific to the role of the instructional coach.  The attributes are as follows:

  1. Equality: Simply put, everyone has equal worth by the simple fact of being a human being.  (Think categorical imperative.)
  2. Choice: More specifically this is limited choice.  Choice provides valuable autonomy, however too much choice can be paralyzing and should be avoided.
  3. Voice: Teachers often report feeling like their opinions have no bearing on their work.  Coaching is a time to increase teachers’ impact in their work.
  4. Dialogue: Specifically the double movement of meaning between coach and teacher in a way that is based on humility, hope, faith, and humanity.  (From Paulo Freire!)
  5. Praxis: This is literally the practical application of theory.  Teachers have to be able to implement the issues discussed.
  6. Reflection: This is reflection with the goal of improvement and the consideration of ideas prior to implementation.
  7. Reciprocity: The basic assumption that both parties in a dialogue are capable of making meaningful contribution.

I’m most impressed by Knight’s heavy inclusion of Paulo Freire’s work from Pedagogy of the Oppressed and his commitment to instructional coaching as a moral obligation.  Freire establishes teaching as an inherently revolutionary act whose purpose is to establish a new, more humanizing, status quo.  For Freire education, an literacy most importantly, is the path out of poverty, oppression, and it is a universal right founded in Kant’s concepts of universal respect for all humans as beings capable of reason.  From reading Knight’s work I did not expect this level of passion for equity and my attitude toward Knight noticeably shifted when he leveraged Freire.

The room full is of coaches and administrators from middle class and affluent districts as those are the districts that can afford to hire coaches.  There is one woman of color, and zero men of color in the group of participants, and Knight is pushing a strong social justice agenda based on equality of opportunity and education’s ability to humanize the most oppressed.  It is encouraging to know that these ideas are not reserved for abstract academia or urban schools highly impacted by poverty (read: High percentage Black and Latino students) and the ideas are leveraged in service of powerful education across all schools.

I left the first day very hopeful for the remainder of the conference.  Through Knight’s presentation, what was previously based on instinct can now be executed in a more deliberate and repeatable fashion.  My most valuable takeaway, however, is intensely practical: I need to film my teachers and myself.  This is, without question, the easiest and most powerful way to establish an honest picture of what someone’s teaching (or my coaching) looks like from an outside perspective and the barrier to entry is extraordinarily low given available technology.  I am giving myself a personal goal to use video in a teacher observation and debrief next week, after I return from the conference.

PS: A big shout out to Taryn at the Love Garden record shop for hooking me up with some fantastic local indie music. Enjoy some beautiful, contemplative, indie rock.