Empathy: The Foundation of Authentic Communication

“Until and unless people communicate authentically with others, in ways that facilitate trust and understanding, schools will not realize their mission as learning organizations.”

Fault-finding judgement v. No fault interpretation

The beginnings of my teaching career coincided with the publication of “A Nation at Risk”. Ever since, there has been a stream of commission reports that cast a critical eye upon public schools and teachers. Each of these reports analyzes “the problem”, makes judgements as to who is at fault, and suggests how “the problem” can be fixed. It is not a surprise that this methodology has trickled down to the district and school level. The “find the faults and fix ‘em” approach will never foster growth; empathy fosters growth.  When we empathize with another person’s experience we are seeking to understand how that person makes sense of their experience. Understanding requires listening and clarification, not analysis, judgement and prescription.

The Tschannen-Morans employ the language of  Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication (NVC) model to create a process of empathic reflection that leaders, coaches, and peers and use when listening to each other’s stories.

Observe – Think of yourself as a camera. You are capturing the experience, not evaluating it.

Recognize Feelings –  Sift the story in order to discover and reflect the feelings the other experienced. Discard the evaluations or judgements that might be attached to these feelings.

Discern Needs – Use probing questions to reveal the needs that are motivating actions. Separate strategies – the actions teachers are currently taking to meet their needs – from the needs themselves.

Make Requests – Ask teachers to declare what next steps they might or will take. Frame this as a question. “What next steps are you willing to take?”.  A request should be stated as invitation that allows the teacher the freedom to decline.

What strategies have you used to create empathy with others? Tweet your idea to …

Creating Empathy http://tombrandtt.edublogs.org/?p=93 How do you create empathy #beyondtools

 

Empathy: The Essential Ingredient for Growth

If we want [teachers] to meet the needs of all students, we need to model with them how that is possible, by meeting the needs of all teachers.
Jane Kise – Differentiated Coaching: A framework for helping teachers change (2006)

At a recent meeting, my school district’s curriculum director stated that, “optional teacher professional development is the reason for the student achievement gap”. This statement could be unpacked in many ways, but it highlights the critical role professional development plays in addressing the number one educational crisis of our time.

The curriculum director felt that voluntary professional development was inadequate, inefficient, and diminished the district’s capacity to effect transformational system change. Others felt that the district’s compulsory professional development had resulted in high absenteeism and unengaged passivity. Everyone at the table recognized that years of voluntary and compulsory district professional development had not produced the desired system change. This was a passionate and important discussion, and has a direct relationship to the next element of evocative coaching, empathy.

If professional development is going to truly change the work of teachers and the achievement of students, it must be empathetic.  Simply stated, empathy is our respectful, no-fault understanding and appreciation of someone else’s story.  An essential ingredient in the story – listening process, empathy is “a lubricant for change and a glue that holds people together”.

How Does Empathy Facilitate Change?
When teachers feel that their stories are appreciated and accepted, they are ready and willing to take the risk to move forward and grow. Principals, coaches and peers can foster an empathetic culture by resisting the urge to judge, analyze, compare or suggest.

Wow, that’s going to be difficult. Isn’t that what teachers do? Analyze, Judge, and Suggest.

Rather than jump in to fix the “problem”, we need to listen and connect with what is beneath the surface, the “stirrings of what might become” and help each other move forward.

How does your empathy help others grow?

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Training “2.0”: Incorporating Story and Listening into Professional Development

The term “Web 2.0” has been used in “techie” conversations so much that it approaches being a cliche. Despite its overuse, the affordances of “2.0” (sharing, connecting and collaborating) are powerful and should be applied more in professional development environments.

Currently,  “2.0” professional development is centered around personal learning networks. Teachers using Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and assorted other social networks create groups around shared interests. You can learn much more about PLNs from people more knowledgeable than I . Click here for more information.

I’d like to contemplate two tools for creating a “2.0” environment around technology training and professional development: learning contracts and teacher storyboards.  Some of what follows comes from my experience with these tools, but much of it is “what if?”.

Learning Contracts

I first encountered learning contracts while taking courses from the Powerful Learning Practice network. I was skeptical. The idea of a student declaring what he or she intended to learn from a course was way outside of my experience and comfort zone. But over time, I began to see how empowering Learning Contracts can be. If learning contracts are an unfamiliar concept, I’d suggest reading this article by Roger Hiemstra.

In brief, learning contracts provide a bridge between the needs of self-directed adult learners and the objectives of a course – or training session.  Contracts can take many forms. A typical contract might be a table with columns labeled as objectives, resources and strategies, completion date, evidence of learning, verification of learning.

Storyboards

As an English Language Arts teacher, I employed a variety of graphic organizers to assist student learning. Storyboards were a favorite. Student immediately grasped their narrative structure, probably due to their prior knowledge with comics, graphic novels, and video.

So how might a storyboard impact professional development? In an earlier post, Starting with Stories, I described two types of trainees: conscripts and volunteers. Volunteers are willing to invest much more of themselves into the task, are more comfortable taking risks and solving problems and will think of unique ways to apply what they are learning to their classroom. Perhaps more teachers will move from conscripts to volunteers if trainers intentionally integrate story into their sessions? By their nature storyboards afford the visualizing of a story, focusing the story on key frames or episodes, and allow for textual descriptions of details. Unlike a learning contract, storyboards also enable teachers to bring to the surface any obstacles or conflicts that block them from growth and possible actions they have taken or might take to overcome these conflicts.

So let’s imagine how technology training might change with the addition of learning contracts and storyboards.

  • Training begins with participants assessing their competencies in the training objective areas and creating a learning contract to guide their experience.
  • Training begins with a storyboard that “plots” the teachers training journey complete with any obstacles they anticipate.
  • Training session objectives become “menu items” that teachers choose from to create their learning contract.
  • Training session objectives become actions that can be incorporated into a teacher’s narrative – perhaps as problem-solving steps that address conflicts or obstacles.
  • The training space is segmented  into trainer-directed and teacher-directed areas. Teachers freely move between the two spaces when necessary.
  • Training ends with teachers assessing their learning contracts and contemplating their next steps.
  • Training ends with teachers plotting the next episode of their learning story.

I’d love for you to become a co-author. How might you use learning contracts and storyboards to empower technology training and professional development?

Tweet your idea to …

Incorporating Story. http://bit.ly/1aBoLa6  How would you use learning contracts and storyboards in PD? #beyondtools

 

Digital Tools for Purposeful Listening

The great irony of Evocative Coaching is that rather than controlling the development narrative with his or her own story, the coach evokes the teacher’s story and by listening openly, enables teachers to reveal key details that will be crucial to their own development.

In the previous post I outlined the three types of listening described by the Tschannen-Morans: mindful, reflective, and imaginative. In this post I’ll explore these three types of listening in more detail and inquire into ways technology might enable purposeful listening.

Mindful (Quiet) Listening

Mindful listening requires a peaceful environment and a receptive and attentive coach.

Two mindful listening behaviors are …

  • open-mindedness – suppress the natural urge to judge and opinionate and filter information into dualistic categories such as: good/bad or right/wrong.
  • attentiveness – attempt to get an intuitive sense of what lies behind the teacher’s experience. Put yourself in the teacher’s shoes and ask yourself, “What am I feeling? What do I want?”

Reflective Listening

Reflective listening is successful when a coach is able to preserve the content of the teacher’s story along with the emotions (energy, commitments, and desires) that lie underneath the story.

Three reflective listening strategies are …

  • checking in – summarizing and paraphrasing what we heard
  • reflecting back – restating the most helpful topics or themes from a conversation
  • inviting – encouraging teachers to search through their stories for greater understanding

Imaginative Listening

The Tschannen-Morans talk about stories as “may-be so” constructions rather than unchangeable reality. Stories are “propositions, to be explored with anticipation, imagination, and curiosity”. Once a teacher tells their story, their growth journey has just begun.

Three reflective listening strategies are …

  • Vantage points – Ask teachers to imagine what the experience might have been like for one or more of the characters in the story. The more teachers learn to see things from the vantage point of other characters, the more open teachers become to considering alternatives.
  • Pivot points – Ask teachers to imagine how an experience might have turned out if the situation was handled differently (action, perspective). What if? How might?
  • Lesson points – Ask teachers to generate new conclusions. What new outcomes might be possible as a result of their new perspective? What else?

Purposeful Listening and Technology

The short amount of time available and the numerous interruptions that occur before, during and after the school day can impede mindful listening. In a well-intentioned effort to make the time valuable, the coach may end up doing most of the talking. And if the teacher isn’t given the space to tell their story the coach cannot be receptive or focused on that experience which is the essential factor for growth.

The Flipped Classroom and various derivatives of “flipped” learning and instruction have led teachers to experiment with a number of unique ways of teaching. One affordance of flipping is reordering and reorganizing time. In classrooms that might mean watching a video outside of the class time that explains a concept, and using class time to dig deeper into the concept.  In a similar vein, the coaching process can be flipped so that teachers have the time to find a peaceful environment to tell their story and coaches have the space to listen receptively and attentively.

Video Conferencing

Video conference tools such as Google Hangouts or Skype allow coaches and teachers to find time independent of space to have a conversation. The video component, although not necessary, allows both the coach and teacher the opportunity to read the nonverbal cues that are such an important part of communication.

Blogs

Blogs might be the best tool for storytelling and purposeful listening since writing allows more time for thought and reflection. Coaches could create public/private blogs or documents using Google Sites or Documents shared between the coach and the teacher.  The commenting feature in Google Documents provides a mechanism for reflective and imaginative listening. I’ve attached two examples of coaching conversations from 21st Century Classroom Assessment, an online class offered by the Osseo Area School’s C4 Model of Learning professional development program.  This document contains an excerpt from an Edmodo discussion between the course facilitator (me) and a teacher. This document illustrates reflective and imaginative listening using the Google Documents commenting feature.

A Cautionary Note

By their very design, these digital tools create shared, public documents. Clear digital protocols regarding ownership, sharing, and eventual deletion need to be established to maintain a healthy relationship between coach and teacher.

I’d love to hear how others are using digital tools to foster and maintain professional growth. How do you employ technology to empower listening? Tweet your answer to …

Digital Tools for Purposeful Listening. http://bit.ly/13GWk65
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Purposeful Listening

Our coaching begins when teachers share their stories and reveal the sense they are making of their experiences.

Great trainers always tell great stories. I can still see a particular presenter’s face. I can recall another’s clothing. And I remember the funny or poignant stories they told. Just don’t ask me to demonstrate anything I learned from them. That’s the power of story. Its affect lingers long after any specific knowledge or skills have faded away.

Good coaches evoke coachable stories. To evoke is to “bring to existence” or “to call into action”. So the purpose of evoking stories from teachers is to bring to the surface the feelings, factors, limits, and possibilities that exist for that teacher at that time.  Allowing and enabling the teacher’s story to become public is the first crucial step in growth because the more a teacher understands their experience as a story rather than as settled facts over which they have no control, the more they are nurturing their capacity for growth.

So evoking story is about enabling teachers to recognize their experience as a story and figure out how they can call into action the necessary skills, knowledge, and passion to improve their practice. The coach facilitates this process through purposeful listening. The great irony of Evocative Coaching is that rather than controlling the narrative through the imposition of their own experience (story), the coach evokes the teacher’s story and by listening openly, enables teachers to reveal key details that will be crucial to their own development.

The Tschannen-Morans describe three types of listening: Mindful, Reflective, and Imaginative. Brief outlines of these types are below. Subsequent posts will examine each type in more detail.

Mindful (Quiet) Listening
The Tschannen-Morans put it bluntly; If we don’t have time to listen mindfully, we don’t have time to coach.  We listen mindfully in order to understand the experience of the other person, not as a precursor to establishing our own agenda and training purposes. Mindful listening is not a polite courtesy, it is the foundation of our relationship to the teacher.

Reflective Listening
Reflective listening stands in contrast to “deflective” listening.  Deflective listening is driven by an agenda and is used to evaluate, educate, and explain. When we listen reflectively, we take time to think about what we heard and express our best guess about what the teacher feels, needs and wants.

Imaginative Listening
As teachers tell their stories, coaches attempt to understand how they might be told differently. This imaginative listening considers stories as “maybe so” assemblies; structures that can be torn down and reassembled in different configurations. Reworking and retelling stories from different perspectives can reveal new and novel possibilities.

Which type of listening do you value most? Tweet your answer to …

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Evoking Coachable Stories: Uncovering What Lies Within

“Stories illuminate our efforts to reclaim, retain, reframe our personal narrative. Who are we now and who do we want to be in the future.” David Drake

In my district, we have been taught to begin meetings in a very intentional way. First there is the presentation of protocols: no sidebar conversations, take care of yourself, etc. Then there is the agenda that spells out what will be discussed or decided during the meeting time.  Such structure is necessary in order for a meeting to be productive.

Coaching begins in a very intentional way as well. It begins with a story; the story a teacher needs to tell.  To encourage teachers to tell their stories, coaches must create a safe environment. The key to this creation is asking questions that trigger stories related to the teachers previous learning and growth. These stories enable teachers to discover the focus, power, and engagement that lies within themselves.

Our coaching begins when teachers share these stories and reveal the sense they are making of their experiences. Evocative Coaching describes two strategies for evoking coachable stories.

The Check-In

  • What color might capture how you feel right now?
  • What object that you can see reflects how you are right now?
  • What song could be the theme song for your day?

The teacher’s mood and feeling at the moment will dictate the success of the coaching session, so it’s important to acknowledge and accept these feelings. These three questions all have a physical component to them. They require that teachers attach their feelings to some object that can be sensed. Also, they encourage descriptions rather than explanations.

Tell Me a Story …

  • about what is working well for you.
  • that illustrates what you love about your work.
  • about an experience in the classroom that taught you a valuable lesson.
  • about when you tried something new.

These story starters invite teachers to tell stories about times when they felt engaged, excited, and challenged by teaching.  They encourage a “How did you grow?” story wherein teachers uncover their own capacity for learning.

What techniques do you know of for evoking a coachable story? Tweet your answer to …

Evoking Coachable Stories  http://bit.ly/181bAOh (your answer) #beyondtools

Starting with Stories

The How of professional development needs to consider the Who. Methods of delivery will fail if there isn’t a companion framework that addresses the important factors of consciousness, connectedness, and competence.

In my technology integration professional development experience, there have been two types of teachers: conscripts and volunteers. Conscripts have been “drafted” into the training, but would rather not be there. They are hesitant to invest too much of themselves into the task and might express their lack of self-efficacy with comments like, “I’m just not a techie” or challenge the value of the training with comments like, “When will I ever use this in the classroom.” In the very same sessions, there will be volunteers. Volunteers are willing to invest much more of themselves into the task, are more comfortable taking risks and solving problems and will think of unique ways to apply the technology with students.  What’s interesting is that a teacher can be a conscript one day and a volunteer another. What is necessary in order to make teachers into volunteers? The answer is story.

We know what stories are, but do we fully appreciate the role they play in determining how we see the world and our place in it?  David Drake puts it this way, “Stories illuminate our efforts to reclaim, retain, reframe our personal narrative. Who are we now and who do we want to be in the future.”

Can story explain why some teachers are conscripts and others volunteers? Beneath the surface elements of teacher stories lie important clues.

  • Intent – What does the teacher want? What goals are important to them and why?
  • Conflict – What are perceived dangers? What risks and obstacles are blocking the way?
  • Actions – What have teachers done in the past to overcome these obstacles and dangers?

How have you intentionally integrated teachers’ stories into digital learning professional development?  Tweet your answer to …

Starting with Story  http://bit.ly/13DyM3h (your answer) #beyondtools

Considering the Who in Professional Development

Effective teaching in the 21st Century is a complex endeavor. Not only are teachers expected to thoroughly understand subject area content, artfully structure classroom (and virtual) learning, and skillfully integrate technology, but also foster growth in higher order thinking skills such as creativity, innovation, and critical thinking. Few of us are “ready-made” to meet all of these expectations at the highest of levels which means that most of us will need to grow.

This week I attended a conference organized around leading change in a 1:1 learning environment. It was inspiring to learn of school systems that are making digital learning a priority. One component of this conference was teacher professional development. The speaker anchored teacher development around the SAMR model of technology integration and presented steps teachers take toward implementing higher levels of this model.

The SAMR model, along with the TPCK model, provide useful frameworks for the How of digital learning professional development. What needs to be considered along with the How is the Who. The best How model will fail if there isn’t a companion Who framework that addresses the important factors of consciousness, connectedness, and competence.

The Evocative Coaching framework considers these factors in light of what is known about adult learners. We are independent and self-directed. We build new learning around what we already know and can do well; yet welcome and need facilitation (not direction), feedback (not evaluation), and support (not judgement) to grow. What we learn needs to be relevant and immediately applicable to our current needs.

The evocative model provides a framework that embraces adult learning: Story, Empathy, Inquiry, Design (SEID). The first two steps of the evocative model address the Who of professional development.

Story
All growth begins with a story. Our stories reflect the ways we are making sense of our experiences. They are attempts to understand, value, and shape our experiences. Stories are crucial to any professional or personal growth.

Empathy
Empathy is our respectful, no-fault understanding and appreciation of someone else’s story. When we feel that our stories are appreciated and accepted, we are ready and willing to take the risk to move forward and grow.

Story and empathy create the climate for growth and development that are addressed in the inquiry and design steps of evocative coaching.

So how do you consider the Who? Tweet your reaction using the message below.

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The 21st Century Trainer

Technology training will not go away. It is very efficient, one or two skilled trainers can provide services to many others, and it fits into the traditional view of learning, the transfer of knowledge and skills from expert to novice. But can training alone develop 21st Century teachers?

Effective teaching in the 21st Century is a complex endeavor. Not only are teachers expected to thoroughly understand subject area content, artfully structure classroom (and virtual) learning, and skillfully integrate technology, but also foster growth in higher order thinking skills such as creativity, innovation, and critical thinking.

Few of us are “ready-made” to meet all of these expectations at the highest of levels which means that most of us will need to grow. Fortunately, inspiring, equipping and sustaining professional and personal growth is at the heart of Evocative Coaching. The Tschannen-Morans call this growth process the Dynamic Dance of Evocative Coaching. This dance creates relationships that “motivate and empower teachers to improve their own performance and quality of life.” The steps in this dance, as well as descriptors from the International Coach Federation, can be categorized by important 21st Century skills.

Creativity

  • Reframe difficulties and challenges as opportunities to learn and grow
  • Enable teachers to build supportive environments and teams
  • Use intuition and trust inner knowledge
  • See many ways to work with a teacher and choose the most effective path

Innovation

  • Invite teachers to discover possibilities and find answers for themselves
  • Inspire and challenge teachers to go beyond what they would do alone
  • Take risks
  • Experiment with new possibilities for action

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

  • Ask and trust teachers to take charge of their own learning and growth
  • Assist teachers to create personal growth plans
  • Shift perspective in order to view obstacles in a new light

Communication

  • Listen; let teachers do the talking
  • Maintain an upbeat, energetic and positive attitude
  • Talk with teachers about their teaching dreams and goals
  • Use humor to create energy

Collaboration

  • Accept and meet teachers where they are at that moment
  • Support teachers efforts to brainstorm and try out new ways of doing things
  • Collaborate with teachers to design and conduct appropriate learning experiments

Which of these categories or “dance steps” resonate with you? Tweet your choice using the message below.

 The 21st Century Trainer http://bit.ly/15ZjTfz (your choice phrase) #beyondtools

Why Technology Training is not Enough

Relationships are a key factor for any powerful, sustained adult learning to take place in a professional development setting. The 5 relational factors of Evocative Coaching are consciousness, connection, competence, contribution and creativity.

Schools view technology integration in terms of training. In most training scenarios the tool takes center stage and the trainer is center “sage”. Good trainers are able to incorporate two of the the five factors of evocative coaching, contribution and creativity, into their sessions.  A well intentioned training session fosters a “can-learn” attitude and is designed around manageable goals; and we all can recall a dynamic trainer whose energy, humor and delight with the possibilities of the tool encouraged us to dream of a changed classroom and transformed student learning. But no matter how great a training session is, it cannot influence three of the relational factors of evocative coaching: consciousness, connection and contribution.

Consciousness v. Unconsciousness
Consciousness occurs when we listen to stories in a mindful way, without judgement or distraction, and respond to these stories with empathy, a respectful, no-fault understanding and appreciation of a teacher’s experience. Training workshops aren’t designed for consciousness. There is no space for listening to stories, unless they are being told by the trainer; in fact, any prolonged conversation may interrupt learning. The teacher is encouraged to remain out of touch with what’s current in their world in order to soak in as much of the new information as possible. As a result, there is rarely a lasting increase in consciousness. Teachers enter the temporary world of the training session then re-enter their actual world. Transfer from one to the other is difficult.

Connected v. Disconnected
Collaboration begins with consciousness.  As a coach and teacher develop deeper connections, reflection increases, teaching practice becomes less private, and motivation and self-efficacy increase. Training workshops are not designed for connectedness. A skilled trainer creates a veneer of connectedness in order to lessen barriers to engagement, but these tactics do not foster deeper consciousness and lasting connections. A good workshop or conference might incorporate physical and virtual space into the schedule to encourage networking, but who remains to nurture these emerging connections after the event ends? Connectedness is especially important for teachers who express lower self-efficacy with technology. These teachers may become even more disconnected as they perceive the greater knowledge and skills of the trainer as more evidence of their deficiencies.

Competence v. Incompetence
Because adult learning is highly dependent on previous experiences of competence, coaches engage teachers with stories of past success in order to generate the motivation and self-efficacy necessary to grow to another level of competence. Training workshops are not designed for competence. Due to a lack of time, most trainers can not engage with a teacher’s past experience. Well designed workshops might offer beginner, intermediate, and expert levels of training, but most site level training aims for the middle which may leave many unsatisfied. Training is often designed around a known outcome: make a website, create a form, etc. Training does not offer the opportunity for teachers to create and conduct their own learning experiments to test out the effectiveness of strategies and tools in their own practice and then reflect on those experiences with a coach.

Technology training will not go away. It is very efficient, one or two skilled trainers can provide services to many others, and it fits into the traditional view of learning, the transfer of knowledge and skills from expert to novice. But can training alone develop 21st Century teachers?