What happens in Vegas should NOT stay in Vegas
Updated: Mar 4, 2019
I have had to take some serious reflection time before blogging on my experience from the Teaching Learning Coaching Conference 2018 held on October 9-12 in Las Vegas, Nevada organized by the Instructional Coaching Group and Dr. Jim Knight. For those of you interested, the conference’s lively twitter feed is found at #TLCVegas2018 and #TLCourage. I wish I was able to tweet more, but the conference WIFI didn’t seem to like my Canadian devices!
This year’s TLC Conference theme was: COURAGE. I arrived late on the Canadian Thanksgiving Monday and from the pre-conference onward, every session was like cognitive candy, with an extra sprinkling of stimulating discussion at every turn & meal. It is no wonder I had to take some time to come down from the sugar high and digest all I learned. This post aims to share my key take-aways and offer links for further exploration. Although I recognize being succinct is an important coaching skill (reiterated often throughout the conference), it is clear that I need further work on this…
Better Conversations with Ann Hoffman (Fun Fact: her son is a founding member of the band The Shadowboxers & I am grooving to their beats as I write).
I had read Jim Knight’s “Better Conversations: Coaching Ourselves and Each Other to be More Credible, Caring, and Connected,” so the session was more of a review, however, I did appreciate Ann Hoffman’s energy and her emphasis on ‘Getting better is NOT an option. How you do it is.” In this session, we worked through these questions:
Why is the way I communicate important?
What are the six better conversation beliefs?
What are my beliefs?
What are the ten better conversation habits?
What can I do to internalize the habits?
*All resources as well as a podcast & webinar on the book can be found here.
I left this session with the goal to return to Paulo Freire's "Pedagogy of the Oppressed." If dialogue is at the core of conversations, there is power in reframing coaching dialogue as a meeting of the minds and exploring Freire’s 5 requirements for thinking together:
Humility — that it is more important to get things right vs being right
Faith — that we all hold wisdom & knowledge
Love— anchored in empathy and that we both want the best outcome
Critical thinking — we think together
Hope— that there are many possibilities for a better future and we are better off for having these conversations.
These five concepts also offer a useful framework to explore my TLC Conference keynote experience.
TLC conference keynote recap:
Jim Knight is often lauded for his humility, but it is his sincere hope for the future that I think most inspired conference participants: “To hold a vision for a better future, and to act in ways that make that vision become a reality.” In this talk, Jim argued that if we love and learn, we will lead, and leave a legacy. If you weren’t inspired through his personal stories, his selection of commercials rarely leaves a dry eye. Interested? Check out his choice for love (IKEA -nailed it!) and learning through intentional practice ( Bell Whiskey -you made me weep!). It is clear that the legacy of Freire and Shane Lopez (Making Hope Happen) have deeply influenced Knight’s praxis. Knight raises key questions that I am still rumbling with: What’s one part of your vision for a better world? What are you doing to make that vision a reality?
In his keynote, Dr. Pedro A. Noguera challenged participants to engage in critical thinking- to ask better questions focusing on equity and change. He argued that achievement gaps are the outcomes of opportunity gaps and we need to be asking how we can create schools where a child’s race and class do not predict how well they will do. He also stressed the need to focus on the teachers: “When we don’t support the teachers, we don’t support our students.” I am sure I was not alone in feeling a heavy responsibility to reflect on my own role in systemic inequity and the progression of student disengagement after his talk & poignant question: Why do well-intentioned individuals create inequality for students and families? (Want to learn more? Check out this TEDtalk)
Linda Cliatt-Wayman embodied love as she shared her courageous teaching, leading and coaching story in the final keynote of the first day. As Jim noted, we all should watch her powerful TedTalk and learn from her deep love and desire to make a difference in the lives of her students. A woman of slogans, she inspired us all to do better for the children and youth we work with and for and that one person can make a difference: “If nobody tells you today that they love you, remember that I do and always will!” She is every bit as inspiring and real as she is in her TEDtalk and I will be sharing it soon in my teacher education classes. The post keynote Q&A was an excellent opportunity to explore Cliatt-Wayman’s journey in greater depth and reinforced the call for all coaches to not only reflect on our ‘why’: Why are we doing what we are doing? But to DO something about it: So What, Now What?
Chip Heath’s Day 2 opening keynote on The Power of Moments is still resonating deeply with me- so much so that I bought the book (co-authored with his brother Dan). Great experiences hinge on peak moments and these peak moments have one or more of these four key elements: Elevation, Insight, Pride and Connection. Reflecting on our own K-12 schooling experience, we were asked to consider: Why aren’t there more peak moments in the K-12 schooling experience? What peak moments do I create for my students? What peak moments am I creating in my personal and professional life? Through Heath’s use of powerful examples, a sense of hope and urgency was instilled in me (and likely other audience members) to start building these peak moments. As Chris Barbic, creator of Yes! College Prep’s signing day notes: It takes collective responsibility, collective support and collective hard-work! I was also profoundly moved by Eugene O’Kelly’s (2007) approach to making peak moments. Documented in his book, Chasing Daylight: How my Forthcoming Death Transformed my Life” O’Kelly shared how after his diagnosis of inoperable brain cancer, he used his last three months to really live- to make peak moments with his loved ones: “I’d attained a new level of awareness, one I didn’t possess the first 53 years of my life. It’s just impossible for me to imagine going back to another way of thinking, when this new way has enriched me so. I lost something precious, but I also gained something precious.” As I listened to this talk, The Tragically Hip’s song “courage” was playing in my head on repeat and I couldn’t help but think of Gord Downie and his diagnosis of an incurable brain tumour. He is the perfect Canadian example of a man making peak moments with loved ones & fans in his final months during their Man Machine Poem Tour (Check out the trailer to the Long Time Running documentary here). You can be sure that O’Kelly’s book is next on my reading list. (If you want to get a sense of Chip Heath’s presentation for a business audience-check him out at Forrester’s CXNYC 2017 here.)
In her keynote, Kristin Anderson explored the meaning of courage and returned to its latin roots, cor: “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” It was clear that she has faith that teachers (and coaches) have the potential to make a difference in the lives of students and colleagues and urged us to unleash our superpowers! She asked: What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? What gets in the way of you taking that risk? Can you tap into your courage and self-efficacy to make this happen? From this session, I am eager to explore self-efficacy and collective-efficacy further and in particular, how it relates to coaching in education.
The closing keynote was by Joellen Killion entitled Coaching with Heart, Mind, and Hand. Using a mountain climbing metaphor, Killion urged coaches to engage in critical thinking to examine our own mental models: Who am I as a coach? Do I coach from the heart, mind or hand? What is implicit and explicit in my decisions, actions and words? What am I learning about myself, my practice, and my impact on my clients? Anchored in transformative learning theory, she outlined how the mind, heart and hand can work together to make powerful coaching experiences. It is through committing to dissonance, grasping courage and examining continuously that we will improve our coaching practice.
Beyond the keynotes, there were a variety of breakout sessions to choose from- each chosen to offer conference participants an opportunity to explore different areas, such as coaching processes, district equity coaching, coaching for emotional resilience, coaching teachers to increase student motivation and manage behaviour, and beyond. I really appreciate that the TLC Vegas conference included a wide variety of presenters who come at coaching through different theoretical lenses and use different processes. However, as much as I found this a strength of the conference, the sheer variety of what ‘coaching’ means in education and the number of different models is also a great weakness. With coaching defined and understood in so many different (and sometimes opposing) ways, it is incredibly challenging for practitioners to navigate. In my conversations with conference attendees, I was struck with how different our understanding of coaching is and how directly this understanding is tied to our work environment. Clearly, when it comes to coaching, context matters!
Another interesting aspect for me (and something I continue to struggle with) is the fact that so many districts are resistant to using the term ‘coaching.’ I tried to explore this further with a few of the conference participants and get the sense it has something to do with a history of ‘compliance coaching’ in their districts or that the term connotes ‘improvement coaching,’ which leads to teacher resistance. I was especially disheartened to see that this desire to rebrand or rename ‘coaching’ as something else was shared by participants from a variety of provinces in Canada. As someone who wants to build coaching cultures across Canadian schools and districts, this is particularly worrying. It certainly would be helpful to have some consistency in terms of definition and understanding. With the new partnership between Growth Coaching International (GCI) and Instructional Coaching Group (ICG), I am hoping that (without losing their unique qualities) some more clarity will be made available.
On a personal level, I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about ‘transformational coaching,’ the model put forth by Elena Aguilar. I like the way Elena defines coaching as “a partnership in which you assist someone in becoming reflective and moving towards actionable goals that will be impactful.” I use her book “The Art of Coaching” in my graduate course and look forward to reading “Onward.” I loved seeing her role play transformative coaching with an audience member in this session and was reminded of the importance of modelling coaching to support coach professional learning. I will definitely use her follow-up questions to spark further discussion: What did you notice about what the coach said? Was there anything you found surprising or unexpected? What did the coach say that might cause a shift in the client’s thinking?
Another breakout session that I really enjoyed was the advanced coaching session with Dr. Christian van Nieuwerburgh. Having read most of his work, I was looking forward to meeting Christian in person and to learning more about his forthcoming book. The session was framed around this question: “In practice, what is an experienced coach able to do that a newly-trained coach might not be able to do?” With so many experienced coaches and coach trainers in the room, it was a powerful opportunity to not only share ideas, but also explore the various tensions (Christian offers nine) that exist in coaching. This session was a powerful reminder to notice what we do as experienced coaches and to examine our intentional practices so that we might be able to better help our newly-trained colleagues.
So, in a nutshell, I left the Teaching Learning Coaching Conference 2018 inspired. It was not only the conference keynotes and sessions that contributed to my learning, but I loved the opportunity to reconnect and learn from colleagues who are doing meaningful work in my school district, build my coaching community network, learn about incredible coaching in international contexts, and finally, meet and chat with coaching experts whose work has greatly influenced my own coaching practice.
Thank you Jim & the ICG for the powerful learning experience and I am already looking forward to the 2019 TLC Conference in Kansas!