How Culture Creates Room for Coaching and Collaboration (or… Culture – it’s what’s for breakfast!)

ISTE-Coaching Standard 2: Teaching, Learning, and Assessment 

f. Coach teachers in and model incorporation of research-based best practices in instructional design when planning technology-enhanced learning experiences 

Standard 6: Content Knowledge and Professional Growth 

b. Engage in continuous learning to deepen professional knowledge, skills, and dispositions in organizational change and leadership, project management, and adult learning to improve professional practice 

c. Regularly evaluate and reflect on their professional practice and dispositions to improve and strengthen their ability to effectively model and facilitate technology-enhanced learning experiences

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is a famous quote from legendary management consultant and writer Peter Drucker. To be clear he didn’t mean that strategy was unimportant – rather that a powerful and empowering culture was a surer route to organisational success. ~Ross Bernard

While learning about and researching the ISTE Coaching Standards and how to be an effective and meaningful coach throughout this quarter, building trust and authentic relationships with teachers around student learning and educational practices has been at the forefront.  Drawing on my own personal experience as an educator, I realize every day that there is more to learn, do and adjust as a teacher when striving to keep student learning and success moving. Yet, I must admit, I know that for myself and fellow teachers I work with, there is a twinge of uneasiness and uncomfortable vulnerability if assigned a coach. Reflecting on my own knee-jerk reaction, I have come to realize that this is because coaching is not currently the norm within the overall education setting. When it is present, coaching tends to focus on new teachers or teachers whose evaluation marks are low. (Please note that this is my opinion and experience, and I do not believe everyone feels this way and it is not viewed like this at all schools, thank goodness!) When this is the current culture around coaching, educators see coaching as someone trying to fix them rather than an opportunity for authentic growth, collaboration and student-centered reflection – something everyone in the education field would benefit being a part of – from principals to teachers to specialists to instructional assistants, etc. 

In the article, The Instructional Coach: A Springboard, Not a Scarlet Letter, Jensen writes, “…how can schools pull back the curtain on teaching and turn it into a team sport, complete with a coach for every teacher?” In order to pull back the curtain, Jensen suggests 4 ways that schools, especially leaders and coaches within our education system, can help educators feel more comfortable with coaching. 

  • Spotlight Strengths – focus on the strengths that all the teachers in the building already have.  Have them reflect on their own strengths and each others strengths – at my school, we do shout-outs at the beginning of every staff meeting and having this occur within a coaching session could be really helpful for building trust. “Acknowledging that the building is full of capable and competent educators goes a long way in shifting the culture toward accepting coaching.”  
  • Team Up for Growth – From the starting point of strengths, educators are more likely to be ready to focus on areas of growth.  When teachers determine how they want to grow, the door is open for collaboration, rather than dreading the knock from the outside.  When coaches provide support in the self-identified areas for growth, we honor the expertise of the teacher and position ourselves as a springboard for growth rather than a scarlet letter.”
  • Be Flexible – Coaches need to be flexible and adapt to the educators schedule, timing and the busy nature of education. “Finally, part of every school leaders’ responsibility in building staff capacity includes making coaching accessible.”
  • Spread the Word – If a school is lucky enough to have the resources to have coaches, starting with the teachers who are willing and experienced could go a long way when trickling down to teachers who may be uneasy about coaching.  When the vocal teacher leaders within a staff have a positive experience with coaching, they will become your greatest asset as they spread the word that coaching works, it is worth the time, and everyone needs a coach.”

Bernard Ross, an internationally regarded expert in strategic thinking, organizational change and personal effectiveness with The Management Centre, lays out 5 steps to change and align culture. Below is an excerpt from his article, Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast – I highly suggest reading the article in full but for the purposes of this blog post and focusing on changing culture, these steps seem critical and I have left in the descriptions that seem relevant to the educational system since he focuses more on organizations and companies. 

Understanding culture is not enough. The point is to change it. And to do this you need to follow five steps.”

1. Analyse culture as it is now (and be honest!)

Job one is to sit down and work out accurately what the culture is now. There are a number of ways to do this.[. . .] Focus groups, especially externally facilitated ones, can be a great way to get a real handle on this. You also might want to run an anonymous survey monkey study.

2. Imagine the culture as you want it to be

[. . .] think about how you want your culture to work, if everything was correctly aligned. To make it concrete we often then list the key stakeholders and describe how things will be better for them in the new culture. These stakeholders could include: staff, beneficiaries, service users, donors and others.

3. Map the differences between the two

Now compare your two cultural web diagrams, and identify the differences between them. [. . .]

4. Make an action plan

You need an action plan to make sure that the culture change actually takes place. [. . .] This plan should ideally be published and available to everyone. (Provided transparency is a part of your culture!)

5. Measure differences over time

You need track that your approach was actually implemented and that it has had the desired effect. [. . .]

Ross also explains in his article how to map out current cultural desires using specific questions that can help guide coaches and leaders in determining what is creating the current culture – positively and what opportunities are available to shift. 

One of the deepest takeaways that I have had when looking at how to establish a positive coaching culture is the importance of starting at the top and having the positive outcomes filter down throughout the school. Magdalena Mook speaks to the importance of starting at the top in her article, How to Create a Coaching Culture

1. Start from the top, but include everyone

Typically, coaching takes hold in organizations where a well-respected senior leader is engaged in a coaching relationship and can promote its benefits across the company. While buy-in and strong support are very important at this rank, ultimately, coaching should be made available across each level of an organization, to professionals of all ages and levels of experience. This is crucial for a lasting, enterprise-wide impact.

I have noticed in education, coaching tends to focus solely on teachers. It would be interesting to see if not only investment from administration but also participation in being coached, helped to lessen anxiety and/or hesitation for a teacher who is offered coaching..especially if it was being offered to all teachers, as well.  But that is another topic for another time!  

Finally, here is an interesting video that gives a unique perspective of having a coaching mindset. These ideas translate into the education realm…which makes sense considering coaching is adaptable to all professions and focuses on growth for who is being coached and those who they interact with, especially.

Resources:

Gawande, Atul. (Jan. 30, 2018). Want to Get Good at Something? Get a Coach. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHDq1PcYkT4

Jensen, Sydney Clark. (Jan. 3, 2019). The Instructional Coach: A Springboard, Not a Scarlet Letter. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/ascd-express/vol14/num13/instructional-coaches-a-springboard-not-a-scarlet-letter.aspx?fbclid=IwAR1PmF0lge4tIB_dmDaGB0Xozgic5dcSb9-UGKqbB_tc1YDV0uommOqJ71Q

Kobulnicky, Ben. Does Culture Really Eat Strategy for breakfast. Retrieved from https://medium.com/startup-grind/does-culture-really-eat-strategy-a3172df58912

Mook, Magdalena. (Jan.11, 2017) How to Create a Coaching Culture. Retrieved from https://www.bizjournals.com/bizjournals/how-to/growth-strategies/2016/01/how-to-create-a-coaching-culture.htm

Ross, Bernard. Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast. Retrieved from https://www.managementcentre.co.uk/culture-eats-strategy-for-breakfast/