Because Counting Our Blessings Just Isn't Enough

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There is a recurring dream I have, typically when I am feeling anxious and unsure. I am standing at the edge of a tall mountain, overlooking the sea. The view is magnificent, and I feel both inspired and fearful. I stretch my arms upward toward the sky, as if ready to soar like an eagle. I jump as high as I can into the air, arch my body forward and bend into a dive. I descend with great speed, the wind enveloping me. As I splash into the water I feel a comforting transition from the windy speed of my descent, to a calm, cool forward movement as I swim beneath the sea. I look around, for what I am not entirely sure. The water is not the crystal clear blue of a tropical sea, but rather the dark green of a northeastern lake, filled with plant and animal life; vibrant yet murky. I find it difficult to see in the opaque water, yet realize there is something I am seeking.

 

When I awake from the dream, my mind floods with whatever challenges I am currently facing, registering the lack of clarity I feel. Sometimes, I remain painfully confused. Yet there are moments that I grasp an insight, gaining greater awareness and understanding. Those moments feel like impactful coaching conversations.

 

Since publishing  The Coach Approach To School Leadership: Leading Teachers To Higher Levels of Effectiveness, my co-authors Jessica Johnson, Kathy Perret, and I have been privileged to receive insights and wisdom in conversations about the book from educators striving to lead with a coaching hat. Time management, relationships, and feedback are topics explored in the book that have resonated deeply with educators. There are also topics educators seek to know more about, touched on in the book, which deserve to be explored further. Key among these is reflection.

 

After our Coach Approach twitter chat last month, the most requested topic for further exploration was reflection, with recommendations for upcoming chats including:

  • Getting teachers to be reflective and truly LOOK at their practice!
  • How do we get teachers to true reflection of their practice?
  • Effective ways to support reflection!!

 

I returned to the book, to ground myself in what we had conveyed on the topic of reflection, finding that we only touched on the topic, and could easily have dedicated an entire chapter. Where reflection does appear in the book is as a key component of the ORID framework, a tool we find particularly impactful. The framework enables coaches to engage in a logical sequence of questions, inviting reflection and insight, while pointing to next steps.

 

ORID is an acronym for types of questions coaches can use:

O – Objective

R- Reflective

I- Interpretive

D- Decisional

 

Objective Questions are easy to answer and are aimed at identifying pertinent facts and information, primarily in order to relieve stress and invite active participation. These are typically “what” questions, such as What were the key points you noted about . . . ? What did you observe during the . . .? What body language did you notice in participants?

 

Reflective Questions elicit emotional response and personal reactions, inviting a deeper level of participation. These questions ask, “What about ‘the what’?” Examples include What was the most/least successful thing you noted? What seemed to really work/not work? What concerns you/confuses you/annoys you? What was exciting surprising, or frustrating about . . .? How did you feel as you were . . .?

 

Interpretive Questions invite sharing and generate options and possibilities for the future, asking, “So what?” Examples include What did you learn about yourself through this experience? What are things that you might have done/could do that would have enhanced/would enhance the outcome? What do these results mean to you in terms of future planning? What other ways could you assess . . .? What insights have you gained about how you . . .?

 

Decisional Questions develop opinions, options, or solutions that lead to future actions, clarifying expectations for improvement or change. Essentially, these are “Now what?” questions, such as What things will you do differently? What things will you do the same? Which of your skills will you further develop, and what will you do to develop them? What are your next steps? What supports will you need to continue to work on those areas?

 

Frequently, in the fast paced lives of schools, teachers and principals alike are very quick to jump straight from objective to decisional questions. What can I take from this conversation to implement right now? There is impatience, and frequent frustration with those who strive to linger in reflection. And yet,  it is in the combination of the reflective and interpretive phases of the ORID framework that impactful wisdom and understanding comes. The process, when pursued in a thoughtful and self-disciplined manner, empowers us to open our minds to the possible, with a grounding in the realities of the present.

 

How do we enable teachers to engage in reflection in order truly to look at their practice? The answer is at once both simple and tremendously challenging. Allow ourselves to linger in the reflective and the interpretive, gaining insight and understanding into questions and possibilities. Doing so will entail numerous challenges.

 

Perhaps most significant challenge to reflection is time. While efficient to shift directly from objective to decisional mode, speeding forward deprives us of the self-understanding and exploration of alternatives. We can schedule time not only to be in classrooms, but to engage in meaningful coaching conversations with teachers, creating time in our busy school schedules for administrators and teachers alike to meet with one another and reflect. We can then dedicate time for the ideas generated in these conversations to simmer and develop, not expecting immediate action.

 

An additional substantial challenge to reflection is in developing the coaching skill of facilitating reflective conversations. These entail both the reflective and the interpretative stages of the ORID framework. Important professional learning can involve practicing these conversations with a trusted colleague who can offer us feedback and help us prepare. A possibility is for principals leading with a coaching hat to find a peer with whom to engage in these conversations on our own practice, with each of us taking turns to coach and be coached.

 

Ultimately, reflection is an act of courage, requiring us to embrace the person we currently are with compassion, while at the same time acknowledging the gaps between who we are and who we are striving to become, stretching into the person we are striving to become with hope.

 

I invite you to share your own perspectives on ways you self reflect and ways you help others reflect.

 

 

  • How have you engaged in courageous reflective conversations?
  • What are ways you might expand on the ways you engage in courageous reflective conversations?
  • What are ways that reflection can involve both pain and hope?
  • How have you engaged in hopeful reflective conversations?
  • What are ways you might expand on the ways you engage in hopeful reflective conversations?

 

 

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