Jane Kise chats with Heather Rader about her book Creating a Coaching Culture for Professional Learning Communities.
A full transcript is available below the player.
Heather Rader: In your book, Creating a Coaching Culture for Professional Learning Communities, your opening quote from Dufours reads, “the first and most brutal fact that must be confronted in created PLCs is that the task is not merely challenging, it is daunting. It is disingenuous to suggest that the transformation be easy or to present it with a rosy optimism that obscures the inevitable turmoil ahead.”
That quote really got my attention because it’s my belief that without care and cultivation, that PLCs will fade away as another initiative that comes and goes. So I’m curious, what was your wakeup call when you knew Creating a Coaching Culture was going to be necessary?
Jane Kise: Well, you know I have worked with teambuilding in different settings for 20 years at least and we just don’t come at birth with a set of collaboration skills. It takes hard work to learn how to listen to each other and share ideas and get out of our own mindset on what works and what doesn’t work. And when you bring a team together, if their beliefs and work styles are similar, they settle into collaborative efforts easily, but they often have the same blind spots and opinions and that can lead to less than optimal results. So they need a coaching culture to understand what they are missing.
On the other hand, if teachers are brought together and their teaching styles and teaching beliefs are very diverse, they often politely interact but fall short of comparing, questioning or challenging their own or others’ beliefs and practices. So the research even indicates that that’s true even when they are meeting for that very purpose, meeting to share beliefs. And that’s why you need a coaching culture.
You need a culture where you’ve got a common framework that lets you compare your beliefs and practices and when you are doing it, you’re looking at what does this mean for students rather than which adult is right or wrong? And you need a way to see the link between your strengths and my strengths, your beliefs, my beliefs, our practices. Then if we are really going to have a coaching culture, we need to be working on problems that are front and center in our own classrooms. Whatever the school is asking, it still has to connect with us and what we’re facing day-to-day.
We need differentiated support, just like we asked teachers to give students; we need to give that kind of support to teachers. And finally, the last element of a coaching culture is time. Just last week a PLC leader told me their principal was giving them 20 minutes a week to meet as a professional learning community. And I simply plead with people to push back. You can’t collaborate deeply in 20 minutes a week. And if you are not going to get 45 minutes to an hour a week, I suggest you just not call it a PLC.
Heather Rader: Yeah. Well, I’m really connecting with your piece about the differentiated support because you’ve described two very different teams. So the beliefs and work styles are the same, then we’ve got this great momentum of moving forward with collaboration but we’ve got blind spots to look for. And then if we are diverse, then we are going to have this congenial connection but never get to the real piece of collaboration. And those are teams that can be working right next door to each other in our schools.
Jane Kise: Right, right. And it’s more common than we think for example to have a team that’s your unanimous and yet only leaving out some students because oh, just for example, you know how if you think about elementary teachers, they simply have a different persona than high school teachers. That’s because people with certain personalities and strengths are drawn to those different fields. So you really can have these biases.
The same with math team versus a literacy team. Different people are attracted to those fields and so we really can gather in groups that just reinforce what we believe.
Heather Rader: That makes so much sense. Well, and I love your work around the eight mental preferences and I had begun using them with the teams that I work with. And so when I did my analysis, I am an introvert, intuitive, thinking, judging, preference type or an INTJ as you put it. So I’m curious, what is your preference type and then tell me more about how type theory can help teams?
Jane Kise: Well, my preferences are introversion, intuition, feeling and judging which means that in a nutshell that I love gathering information from diverse sources and pondering how to make it useful in helping individuals and groups meet their full potential. That’s what I try to do as a coach. I sometimes joke that I want to work myself out of a job but that I will have the tools and the understanding so that they can really converse and do the work on their own.
Type theory which is the letters that you and I are throwing around has its origins in the work of both Carl Jung and Isabel Myers. And it’s the framework that describes normal differences which is so key in education. We don’t want to label people as good or bad or better or –
This is simply normal differences that we notice all the time in how those around us gain energy, the information that grabs our attention, how we make decisions and how we approach work and life. And all of these normal differences affect how we work together.
Just for example, in type theory the concepts of extroversion and introversion are a little different than how we normally talk about it. Here it’s how we are energized. So think about a PLC meeting. If there’s too much talking and all the interaction is brainstorming and on the spot decisions, a lot of the introverts start losing their ability to focus or draw conclusions because they’ve got to get some time to think deeply before they want to put an idea out. I am an introvert sometimes in those meetings and I start feeling like my head is stuffed with bananas. I just can’t get the process going.
But then again, if I start demanding too much reflective time, then my extroverted buddies start losing energy. They can’t remember what they were going to say because they need to say it to think it and they can get antsy. They don’t want to sit still that long. Of course, as adults they can but I am talking about our normal references though. And when we understand these very basic differences, we can set up norms to help everyone on the team really do their best.
Heather Rader: That makes me think of on Friday mornings when we have our coaching meetings, periodically we will have check-in time. And after doing this for several times where we check in with the coaches to see how it was going and it was almost half and half that the extroverts thought that it was great and it was really working for them. But some of the introverts were saying well, it would be really nice if we had some time to kind of write first and really reflect before we go to share.
And yeah, so I think it’s true with any well functioning team that having awareness of those preferences can really help how you structure activities and just that awareness piece.
Jane Kise: Exactly. I had one team where they set a fabulous norm for this particular team of having someone map on a whiteboard what was being discussed and then take a couple minutes when they were done with their brainstorming, idea generating to reflect on what they thought was key and do that silently before we drew any conclusions.
In the first time we tried it, one of the extroverts said, oh wait; we don’t really have to sit and write. Can’t we just talk about what we think is more important? And one of the introverts said well, remember we talked about the norms and how I just can’t process when all of that talking is going on so I need to sit and look at it. And he said right away, oh, I understand now. I will figure out how to take the quiet time. So there is no blaming going on and once – we even see this with students when we teach it but they are more patient with each other. And that makes working with each other all a whole lot easier.
Heather Rader: Right, right. So in chapter 6 of your book, you write about the markers of a coaching culture. And the fifth marker is stated as conflict becomes a source of renewal. And so what are some strategies that you use with teams who see this marker as a struggle?
Jane Kise: Well, we do try to set up the norm that we are holding our opinions for a very good reason, that either out of our own experience or our own natural teaching style, we have generated a belief about why what we’re doing would be helpful.
So one strategy I use is helping teams see the upside and the downside of each of their positions. Let’s take the age-old argument about phonics and whole language. Phonics for example — about 75% of the population really needs that orderly look at how words are formed and it’s in Myers-Briggs terms, it’s the scenting types. If they don’t see that structure in the language, they can think that they have to memorize every word in the dictionary. And the downside of course is that we put too much emphasis on phonics, we can get in that interest in reading for pleasure that we so want to nurture. So those sensing types, they have heard what is really important about phonics and those that would rather have whole language have been able to express what they were concerned about with phonics.
And then we switch to the other side. With whole language of course, the upside is when students have choices in what they read and see literature as something enjoyable, we are creating lifelong learners. The downside though is we can easily lose students if we also don’t pay attention to phonics and comprehension strategies. So both sides when we do this work feel they are being listened to. They have heard the upside of their own position, the downside of the other as well as the flip and they are more likely to collaborate to get the best of both worlds. Both sides want readers that seek out materials to read and also know how to comprehend and decode what they read. So we are all on the same page going through the same goal and therefore, the conflict is around how do we make sure we stay on the upside of both and not shift to the downside. And that’s a very different conversation than who’s right and who’s wrong.
Heather Rader: Right, and in just the piece of noticing and naming the two different positions and knowing where people are coming from with that, I think that’s great.
Jane Kise: That can be half the battle. We often say I don’t want to be the one generating the terms. Let’s name your position, what does it really mean? And that’s another great help to do that.
Heather Rader: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So when you were talking about the diverse teams, let’s take a team that’s quite diverse, at a lower level of collaboration and say they will share activities with each other but they don’t really discuss or reflect on instruction with any kind of depth. What are some simple things or maybe they are not simple, coaches can do in this situation?
Jane Kise: Well, I think the first thing you do is bring something that you or someone else created and get them to critique to improve it. Out on Solution Tree’s website are all the free reproducible masters for my book. I point that out because there are a couple of formative assessments, there’s grade level work, there’s a PLC assignment and all of those things, and there’s a bunch of other short lessons, assignments for students. And I get teachers to critique what I have made and try to improve that. Once they see that that can be done safely, that I am actually getting great feedback on how to do things without any personal criticism, they are much more likely to seek input on their own lessons and strategies. So that’s my number one. Let them pull your stuff apart and that way you are just building the trust of the team.
Number two is focus the discussions you are having. For example, I might have them watch me model a strategy and I will ask for feedback on a narrow topic, maybe did kind of questions I’m asking or the evidence they see or don’t see of student engagement or how many students are on task or something that keeps discussion focused on what I want the most feedback on so that we are not going off into – sometimes it would be appropriate to discuss say the manipulatives I am using in math or the way I set up a problem. But that would be a different discussion. So narrowing it gives them the idea that they can also seek specific feedback and not leave themselves wide open to whatever their colleagues might want to talk about.
And the third thing I see as huge in getting these big discussions going is find some evidence that simply rocks their belief. Some of the things I do, like I have a film that shows a classroom in a diverse urban area with students that are behind grade level and yet are having a high level discussion where everybody is willing to share their mistakes in the class work together to figure out where their fellow student went wrong. So the controls are in the hands of the students and they can see this safe environment. So that’s one kind of evidence.
Sometimes I will model a strategy that proves to the teachers that we can get unruly students on task in just moments if we do the right start the class. That jars their belief. I don’t even know the kids and we can get them started.
I might take them through a reading, there’s one out on the Solution Tree website called How Do Students Get Smart? And it pulls all kinds of research down into a three page document that a PLC could look at quickly and understand where they might want to change their beliefs. So you can just search my name at Solution Tree and find all the free masters to download.
Heather Rader: That’s so great. Wow. Well, thank you Jane so much for sharing your teaching and learning experiences with me.
Jane Kise: Well, it’s my pleasure. The coaching and the PLC work is so important that I just love running across new tools myself that can help me improve my effectiveness. So I hope this does the same.