Evocative Leadership

Posted by in Blog,Coaching in Education | June 14, 2012

As we prepare to launch the next section of our Evocative Coaching Training Program, in September, I am reminded how much our work has to do with school leadership. Evocative coaching will not realize its full potential if it is turned into someone’s assignment or job description. Unless it becomes embedded in school cultures and unless school leaders learn how to approach teachers and other personnel in person-centered, no-fault, and strengths-based ways, evocative coaching will not live up to its tag line: “transforming schools one conversation at a time.”

There are many practical reasons for leaders to learn about coaching. First, it makes leaders more effective. Second, it makes coaching more economical. Third, it makes school transformation more possible. Coaching does not always happen in the context of formal coaching sessions. It can happen on the spot, in the hallway or in the classroom, as leaders walk around and observe teachers in action.

One of our trainees, Michael Bossi, the Leadership Coaching Director for the Association of California School Administrators, wrote eloquently of this challenge in a recent email. With his permission, I invite you to consider his words and reflections:

I am engaged in reading the Evocative Coaching book—and truly enjoying it. I have come to the point of sincerely believing that all of our current attention—with RTT and the ESEA reauthorization—upon teacher evaluation and principal evaluation is misplaced as a pathway to improving student learning, closing the achievement gap, and improving instruction and school leadership. I have not seen schools in California improve one bit from all the of the negative attention, pressure, urgency, public humiliation, and graduated sanctions. Instead I have found that educators have lost confidence and misplaced or even disregarded their sense of purpose. Teachers are increasingly allowing themselves to be reduced to technicians and principals to Compliance Evaluators. SMART goals have replaced vision. It is pretty discouraging.

Our leadership coaching, focused upon developing leadership capacity in principals, is making some headway. Our work has been guided primarily by the Blended Coaching work of Bloom, Castagnia, Warren, and Moir. We are partnered with the New Teacher Center in Santa Cruz in our coaching work and, as an administrator’s association we are focused upon serving our members—site and district administrators.

Recently, we have turned more and more of our attention toward the importance of trust and trust building as the foundation upon which a learning community is based and have introduced the five facets of trust from Trust Matters. This has been well received by our coaches who have engaged principals in coaching discussions around leadership in modeling and developing the five facets. Perhaps you have heard about our most recent work with 52 elementary principals in Los Angeles where we are trying to turn their focus from the “downward spiral” toward the more positive approaches of Hoy’s Academic Optimism: building collective efficacy, relational trust, and academic press through hope. To Hoy’s three factors we have added “vision/purpose” because we feel that many of those with whom we are working have lost their sense of calling, as have their teachers. We are trying to find some kind of balance between:

  • Providing some common positively oriented foundations
  • Empowering the group and responding to the needs of the group for prioritized PD
  • Recognition that each school, culture and leadership dynamic is unique, so we are encouraging them to set individual goals. But, frankly, despite our best intentions…we are struggling to find our way.

Later in January, again, noting that we are working with principals—most of whom have extremely limited and rapidly dwindling resources (California worse than most and getting worse each month)—we are turning our attention to refocusing the group upon supervision, upon development of their teachers, upon their responsibility as leaders to build capacity. We will make the case, as you do so well in your book, that people don’t grow from the deficit model, from negative evaluations, even from well-meaning but direct negative feedback.

As I read Evocative Coaching, I am constantly wondering…”How far could we go in implementing these strategies as supervisors? How successful could we be in truly separating supervision from evaluation and changing the teacher-principal relationship to a trust-based, positively oriented focus upon strength-building? How far could principals go in establishing professional relationships with their teachers based upon story/empathy/inquiry/design?

In my work as Director of Leadership Coaching, I obviously believe in coaching, but, for the foreseeable future in California, I don’t see us as being able to afford a dramatic increase in coaching—for teachers or principals. I do feel that we, as a statewide administrators/leadership association, could have a significant impact in redefining supervision and in focusing efforts to improve learning and teaching upon better supervision, as opposed to “better” evaluation. I get the whole challenge of the principal in conflicting roles as both evaluator and supervisor/developer.

Would we be trying to twist Evocative Coaching’s Möbius strip into a pretzel by trying to “make it work” for supervision, and not just for coaching?

In my reply, I made it clear that we would not be twisting the Möbius strip into a pretzel at all. If school leaders do not learn how to bring out the best in teachers and staff through conversation and their way of being, our schools will fail to make the requisite progress. Technical changes in schedules or curriculum, for example, are not sufficient. Today’s challenges require the innovation model brought into Evocative Coaching through appreciative inquiry and design thinking. Sound intriguing? I invite you to sign up for the September training while the early-bird discount is still available.