Wednesday, April 10, 2013

AISI: The Little Innovation Engine that Could

I've been prompted by a couple of friends (the good kind of friends who push and prod you into doing those things you really should do for your own good but are reluctant to dive into) to get blogging again. My challenge with it is this post. Before I can write about other things, I have to get past writing this post...the one centered on what's happened with the de-funding of AISI. I've started at least ten times, but couldn't work out just what I wanted to say. It's a very emotional topic for me, and still fairly fresh. But not as fresh as the day the Alberta government budget was tabled and we learned, along with other Albertans, that the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement would no longer be funded as of April 1st, 2013. Not only that, but the entire School Research and Improvement Branch, which I've come to call my working home, would be disbanded. Some of us would be placed elsewhere, others would be on their own to look for new work. The announcement was for the most part received in stunned silence. It was inconceivable.

But now I've had some time to grieve AISI...privately and connectedly...and it's critically important to acknowledge my deep gratitude for all my comrades-in-arms who together helped each other process the loss and the implications, moving forward. You know who you are...many of us are still banding together in the online community.

Why would the ending of a government funded program cause such a stir? Such is the legacy of AISI, the little innovation engine that could. The global social media community came alive with messages of support even in advance of the final decision...AISI was the catalyst for so much positive change in Alberta schools and in the teaching and learning sphere. And that's the good news. So -- onward. As another good friend said to me not long ago, "What's the best that could happen?" Love that. And so I'm framing the rest of this post, and my thinking and efforts going forward, around that question.

...the best that could happen is that the AISI community rallies and continues to move forward in their quest for learning, innovation and knowledge building, finding ways around challenges, barriers and lack of funding because that's we do around here.  
...the best that could happen is that the online community expands to take in more educators, administrators,  learning coaches, pre-service teachers, district office personnel and researchers who are passionate about connecting and learning together. 
...the best that could happen is that the drive for the improvement of Alberta schools, teaching and learning continues and that there is a place where innovation can be celebrated, capacity can be built, and students most of all will benefit. 

And finally, the best that could happen is that AISI will be remembered as the foundation on which transformation in education in Alberta was built.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Expert Learners

In one of the communities of inquiry I frequent, a question was posed by Lani Ritter Hall (@lanihall) around a discussion of unlearning the need to be the "expert" and what it might mean to adopt a learner-first attitude. And that got me thinking...

I wonder if our definition/expectation of 'expert' is shifting. I hope it is. When I look at those folks I would consider 'expert' in their field, no matter what that field is, it truly is those who have modeled for me what it means to be a learner first. They don't purport to have all the answers, but they can point the way in how to find those answers, point the way to other people who can help in that journey, or even point to digital technologies that can support answer finding by helping make those connections.

What does it look like/sound like here in our space? I think I see a balance of questions and shared experiences, of showing more than telling, of people who are willing to be vulnerable enough to put beginning thinking out there for others to help them refine, of co-learners who are willing to respectfully engage in that refinement process because in doing so, they too are coming to a deeper understanding of the topic under consideration.

That's what it seems like to me. But that being said, I know that's only my perception, and that's why I invest myself in participating in communities of inquiry. Seeing/hearing/sharing the perceptions of others, some very widely divergent from mine, opens my eyes, mind and heart to other ways of thinking and knowing. That's exciting and is something that can be challenging to find elsewhere in my world.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Nature of Connectedness

The Connected Coaching course I've been engaged in this summer is drawing to a close, at least in terms of the more formal class meetings and assignments. But it's become such a part of who I am and how I live in the world that it will carry on indefinitely. I can count on one hand how many professional learning or PD opportunities have had that kind of impact in my life.

One thing I'm walking away with is that self-directed learning is a connection activity. As much as I love learning with others, discussing ideas and working through my thought processes in collaboration with my friends and colleagues, when I thought about "self-directed" learning, the word self was what stood out for if the learning process was totally devoid of input/interaction with others. Like a self-help book, for example. To be self-directed, before, meant (for me at least) it had to be relatively solitary, independent. Like the five year old who learns to tie his shoes (I can do this, Mum!) pushing away the helping hand and forging on alone, forgetting all the scaffolding that came before. So it's interesting for me to recognize, then, how connected "self-directed" learning actually is. Oh, I've been a collaborative learner when the opportunity was there; working with others produces the finest work, I've always believed. But somehow, I've never seen or thought deeply about the connectedness in self-directed learning.. As much as I truly believe that "none of us is as good as all of us", I've never thought that applied to self-directed learning. Coming to really know how connected self-directed learning truly is...that's been an awakening.

Another reason I loved this course so much is that it is so strongly aligned philosophically with what I believe about teaching and learning...connected coaching hones in on appreciative inquiry and strength-based learning. It doesn't stop there, though; it provided a wayfinding model that put legs on that philosophy with strategies to help actually implement all those wonderful ways of thinking so they could move from ways of thinking to ways of being. Makes it dance!

Don't get me wrong, this course was no walk in the park. More like a hike in the mountains with episodes of occasionally straying off the path and getting lost, being chased by a bear, finding a ripe patch of blueberries to indulge my appetite, and finally reaching the summit...all with my trusted friends and colleagues at my side to help pick me up, dust me off, point me back in the right direction as we all set off together again. And as we straggle back down the mountain together to go our separate ways, we each leave with a backpack of more than good memories and a sleep-deprived high -- we actually have a toolkit of connected coaching/wayfinding strategies, tools, techniques, readings etc. to help us continue our self-directed journeys. More importantly, we are leaving with the knowledge we have trusted colleagues with whom we will always be connected, that help is just a tweet/email/skype away, and speaking for myself, that my self-directed learning journey has not only changed me, but has only just begun.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Wayfinding Addendum

So I'm having this discussion with another, more experienced connected coach in the PLP network. We were talking about the Olympics and what that had to demonstrate about trust and relationship building in terms of high performing teams, essentially. And out of that, came more wonderings that I have around connected coaching that I think might be worth bookmarking here.

As I'm trying to assess where my own strengths lie and what new ones I need to develop, what I'm finding on a very practical level is that I have this impulse to "tell" and to share my own experiences. It's so much trickier to put all that aside (well, as much as anyone can ever really put their experiences aside...I mean it's part of who you are) and ask some good questions that allow the other person to reflect on their own experiences, needs, wants, desires in terms of their learning journey.

Lani is teaching the course I'm taking, and she and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach (who attended our class last week) are both so masterful at the art of appreciative inquiry. It's a little daunting, but I'm determined to get better at it. Maybe I need to design a little graphic to keep on my computer screen...something that reminds me to ? not !

Marsha brought forward the notion of repacking and transferring former experiences and expertise I've gained to a new medium...the thing is, I've lived in this medium for a lot of years. I'm really comfortable with the affordances and constraints of technology, and I engaged in appreciative inquiry with my students when I was in the classroom, but now that I'm working with adult learners it's almost as if I've forgotten everything I ever knew about strength-based learning! It may be because I know that adults are very solution-focused...or maybe that's just an excuse?

I guess my biggest wonders right now are, in terms of connected coaching, if there's a place for modelling self-reflection and sharing experiences or is it critically important to keep the focus on the other learners? Isn't part of being a learner first and being co-learners sharing? And how important is it for a connected coach to maintain the stance of a coach more than a co-learner? I do know what my own opinion is about these things at the moment, but as I learn more will I change my thinking?

Finding my Way in Wayfinding: A Self-Reflection

 I've long been wanting to ponder/reflect/write about the connection between standards and dispositions for connected coaches (as put forward by Powerful Learning Practice) but couldn't quite manage to find the time. Now that it's a class assignment I'm finding the time. :) Or at least, this will be a start in making some of those connections.

In terms of Appreciative Strength-based Facilitation, this aspect of wayfinding is perhaps the one that resonates most strongly with me philosophically and yet the very thing that I have the most difficulty practicing. And I've yet to discover the reason(s) for that! It's such a conundrum. A riddle, wrapped inside a mystery, inside an enigma, even. ;) 

Where I think the challenge lies is really just a lack of practice. It may be as simple as I haven't created enough time/opportunity to engage in coaching others. I've committed most of my available time to learning, reading, reflecting and discussing with my co-learners and my colleagues rather than "doing". And more than anything else, coaching/wayfinding is an active practice. I do believe that in time it will actually become a way of's not something that I have to go to a certain place to seek out and it's not necessary to have a job that relates to coaching...wayfinding opportunities abound in the world, personally and professionally. 

In terms of the connected coaching standards linked to appreciative strength-based facilitation that exhort coaches to:
  • Persevere in exploring ideas and concepts, rethinking, revising, and continual repacking and unpacking as they build upon and assist in uncovering strengths of those they coach. 
  • Engage in discussions on difficult or messy topics from an appreciative inquiry perspective to increase confidence and self efficacy.
 ...perseverance in exploring ideas and concepts, etc. and engaging in discussions on difficult or messy topics just come naturally to me. I have an very curious, playful and inquiring mind, and so there's nothing I like better. But that's about ME. What doesn't seem to "come naturally" is to turn that around when supporting someone else's's really hard to leave the ME out of such discussions, I've learned. And that's kind of embarrassing. Oh, it's not that I don't engage others in those kinds of discussions...but I don't consciously connect with listening for their strengths and reflecting that back to them as a strategy for helping them to move forward. I'm working on that! 

It's not all gloom and doom though. In terms of the Connected Professional Knowledge standard we're looking at, I'm fortunate to have worked with many amazing people over the course of my career from whom I've learned many strategies and activities to assist in creating a connection to the content and context, to myself and to the learning community. And going back to what I stated earlier about "committing most of my available time to learning, reading, reflecting and discussing with my co-learners and my colleagues" -- in terms of the standard in Professional Expertise of 'collectively reviewing and analyzing with an open mind and without judgement many perspectives on coaching' surprisingly...that's something I've been very engaged in prior to and during this course. Hey! I think I just unearthed a strength there that I previously viewed as a weakness. Too funny...because really...almost everything can be appreciated and lifted up as a strength on which to build, if you only look at it the right way. Sure, you may have to turn it on its head at times, but it's all about perspective. And that may be the most important and surprising thing I've learned about connected coaching so far. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Balancing Act

It's kind of an ongoing process...this thinking about balance. A recurring theme in my life as I explore the tipping point, and try to discover the secret to maintaining balance. Right now, after a serious car accident at high speeds, I am learning to walk again after a badly broken right ankle. I can walk unassisted now, two months later, but haven't yet regained my normal gait. Part of my recovery process involves "walking a tightrope" which is actually a line painted on the floor and other exercises to regain my body sense and balance during physio.

As I regain my physical balance so I can return to a balanced gait with a full range of motion, I've found I'm also having to work on regaining my mental/emotional equilibrium. I'm scared to was a bad accident, caused by someone else's inattention. There wasn't anything I could have done to change the outcome. So now, while the actual driving process came back to me just like riding a bike...I'm hypervigilent when I drive anywhere, and anxious. As a result, I'm reluctant to drive at all, and only for short, familiar distances. That's something I need to come to terms with. I need to seek out that sweet spot, that balance where I recognize that I am doing all I can personally do (driving defensively, obeying the rules of the road etc) to ensure my personal safety and that I can't control anything else. I'm not there yet.

In terms of connected coaching in online spaces, I think there's also a balance to be found, particularly in terms of taking an appreciative inquiry stance in working with teams of educators. I believe that listening actively--hearing what lies behind the words--is an important part of a connected coach's toolkit. There's a place of stillness from where a coach needs to hear, and truly appreciate, what the other is communicating.

I wonder if perhaps for those of us with strong personalities/opinions/ways of being, whether we are introverted or extroverted, it can sometimes be difficult to put aside our own agendas and be mindful that "it's the group's group". I think that is a part of finding the balance...knowing that it's not about one's own agenda, yet at the same time knowing that as a coach, you have a definite role, along with skills and competencies, to assist in the growing and moving forward of the collaborative work. It's knowing how to be a part of something and at the same time, not being inextricably bound to it. Although it's early days in terms of my coursework, these are the thoughts I'm currently playing with.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Knowing the Territory

Under my dad's instruction, I went out to hill my potatoes before the rain comes this afternoon. It's hot and muggy today, and my young German Shepherd is eager to help. It's better to just to let her, otherwise she's off in another garden area eating my strawberries!

My dad explained to me that you need to hill potatoes for two reasons: because the potatoes like to grow up into the looser soil and you won't have to dig so far down to get them and because they belong to the nightshade family, so you need to keep the sun off them. As I was hoeing the dirt and mounding it up around the potato plants, I was thinking about the parallels between that work and connected coaching. It's really not much of a stretch...everything is connected!

Much of my work as a coach involves creating optimal conditions for both growth and harvest. As a connected coach, I have to watch for signs that my cohort is ready/wanting/requiring something from me, and for signs that I need to stand back and let things grow and flower. I need to be mindful of and have the professional expertise to support my colleagues in ways that will help them move forward towards their own goal, their "harvest". I have to not only engage in an appreciative strength-based interaction with them, but at the same time be reflective about the impact of my own decisions and actions. Really, a lot like gardening, all the way around. I wonder if that means eventually it just becomes second nature, a way of knowing/being? Just like knowing your way around in the garden...