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00:11 Tiffany Hogan: Welcome to See Hear Speak Podcast Episode 14. In this Episode I talk with Lesley Maxwell about coaching. What is coaching? How do we benefit from coaching? How do we effectively coach? And how does coaching help to promote evidence-based literacy practices?
This conversation is part of a series on leading literacy change that I have created for a course I teach online at the MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston.
Thank you for listening! And don’t forget to check out www.seehearspeakpodcast.com to sign up for email alerts for new episodes and content, read a transcript of this podcast, access articles and resources that we discussed, and find more information about our guests. Also don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast in apple podcast or wherever you are listening.
01:10 Tiffany Hogan: Welcome to See Hear Speak podcast. Today, I have Lesley Maxwell and she's going to be talking about becoming an effective literacy coach. I also have Norma Craffey, and I will let them start by introducing themselves.
01:24 Lesley Maxwell: I'm Lesley Maxwell. I'm currently the Associate Chair of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the MGH Institute of Health Professions. And what that means is I'm a speech and language pathologist, and I helped found one of the first programs in the country, that really integrated language and literacy into our curriculum. I'm broadly a pediatric expert, I work with kids from birth to adolescence, and I have a real love of language and literacy as part of that. And I will talk later about why I got interested in coaching, but I will say that I spend a lot of time as a consultant to regular education around language and literacy.
02:07 Norma Craffey: Hi everyone, Norma Craffey here. I am a first year doc student at the IHP and a reading specialist. Before being a reading specialist, I worked as an integrated classroom teacher in the pre-K through two public school setting.
02:20 TH: So Lesley, what got you interested in literacy coaching?
02:24 LM: Well, it was interesting because many years ago, before Reading First in Massachusetts, many of us who are in special education got pulled into the conversation about why so many kids in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts were not reading at grade level. And partly because I think our expertise was working with the children that had language disorders, and dyslexia and communication issues, we were thinking, obviously, very strategically about best practices for reading. And it was really wonderful that there was this regular education, special education collaboration, and I got involved in that movement. We did teacher trainings across the state and I helped develop the oral language module, as well as the phonological awareness module. And then I went on and was hired under Reading First as a module developer and a trainer, and I met a real... A lot of great experts in literacy and many of them were coaches.
03:18 LM: And so, I first got really interested in coaching because in speech and language pathology, we do not have a coaching model and we do very little in graduate school to teach our speech and language therapists how to coach teachers and families, etcetera. And so, I started studying coaching as a concept. And I also read a great article of the New Yorker by Dr. Atul Gawande who is a surgeon, and who writes about various issues, who went out and hired himself a coach. He said, "We don't have a model of coaching in medicine, we... " and he found that by hiring one of his ex-professors to watch him do surgery and give him feedback, his percentage of errors went down substantially. Right away. He had hit a wall.
04:07 LM: And so he started talking a lot about the need for coaching across professions. And then I took a sabbatical and I studied leadership and coaching, and I worked with a bunch of business leaders. Coaching is a big model in business, and so I started getting interested in the meta aspects of coaching, hoping to bring it into our field, the speech pathology also, and to better be able to be a coach myself, to people, but I'm not an official coach. And the last thing that got me interested is at age 40, I started a new sport. And this sport is called Dressage, which if you don't know about it it's not surprising because it's an equestrian sport. It's one of the three equestrian Olympic sports, but it's like watching paint that's already dry if you are not an aficionado, but I love it. It's my own small obsessive group of people that are interested in it.
04:57 LM: The funny thing about it is that I decided I really... So the only way to learn is to take lessons. And what you really have is you hire a coach, who's coaching you. So you're taking lessons, but they're also coaching you. And then I also read about it 'cause I'm a professor and I just tried to learn all about it. And I ended up winning a national award for writing about Dressage, not riding Dressage, which was super annoying for me, but I realized as the other thing I did to try to catch up and move faster is watch people. And it's a small sport, so I've met most of the people that went to the Olympics, and they all have coaches. And in Dressage, we say, "Everybody, even the best, even the gold medalist, needs eyes on the ground." And so, that's what I think about coaching now. That's maybe a long answer.
05:43 TH: I'm thinking I'm wondering if listeners might ponder this thought, like, "Okay, we don't a coaching in our field, but don't we have supervision, what's the difference?"
05:52 LM: So it's a big difference because coaching is about activating the reflection, the knowledge of the goals of the person that's being coached. It's not meant to be evaluative. And so, I don't even like the word supervision in our field because I feel as if supervision, you have this vision of a person with a clipboard standing there observing what you're doing, and giving you feedback about right or wrong, and that is not the essence of what a good coach does.
06:18 TH: So then Norma, what do you think about when you think of coaching? 'Cause one thing that Lesley did when she came to the course to talk about coaching, she asked right upfront for everyone to turn and talk. What is a coach, what does a coach do? So what do you think of when you think of coaching?
06:31 NC: So I think I share a lot of the same beliefs you have around coaching. Just as a classroom teacher, coaching was nothing that I experienced, also teaching in the pre-reading first reading first error. We did have some resources for coaching, but the coaches served in that supervisionary role. I was working in Connecticut at the time. And so, really, sometimes I say all of the time, in my own experience, it never felt like it was a growth model or a model in which I could make mistakes and it was always tied to evaluation. So it caused a lot of anxiety among teachers.
07:10 NC: Since then, they've done different pilots with mentoring and ensuring that the teachers that are being mentored are being mentored by people that are non-evaluatory, and that has shown some good results. I've never actually taught in a building that has had a coach. As a reading specialist, coaching wasn't specifically in my role, but I did work with some teachers that wanted me to come in and give them feedback and model lessons, and I did really enjoy that part of it. But I think the key point that you highlighted is that it's non-evaluatory and that it's based on the person and how to grow their profession as we all need it.
07:49 TH: So you said that you aren't a coach. Are there people that are hired and trained as, specifically as literacy coaches, by a district or is it usually a consulting firm?
07:58 LM: Absolutely. And I think people, you mentioned, is it goes district to district, state to state, what we call people, and then how you define what their role is. And so, with many of the schools that we worked with, in the group that I was working with, they did whole school change. Our first requirement was that you have a building-based coach and that that person's role... So, the role of reading specialist, I think we're talking about this, because I think that you can create a lot of change if what you're doing is facilitating the growth of the school team that's focusing on student outcomes. And so, we need to have these skills because... But in the role of reading specialist, some schools will actually say, "Okay, part of your role is coaching and part of your role is direct service." And so, and it could be even defined as 50% of that.
08:47 LM: One thing I think is important about coaching, as I look at coaching in general, Dr. Gawande, and in a literacy team, you want the person to be a content expert. So you have to start with having some content expertise. But many coaches, life coaches, they have expertise in coaching, but they can coach anybody from any profession, because what they're doing is helping you understand what are your goals, what is it that you want to achieve. In the business coaching, they coach across businesses. So these guys that are often... Were perhaps experts in their own, either as coaches, or usually have a... You can get a coaching degree, you can become licensed as a coach. There are some national licenses. And but you also... Most of them had business background, but they would be coaching maybe in healthcare when their experience is elsewhere.
09:36 LM: I do think with literacy coaches, you're most effective, you need to have content backgrounds. And a lot of what your role is, is not just activating that person, but also thinking of your school as a team that's working together and collaborating about best practices for kids, and then individually working with people about how one implements those best practices.
10:00 TH: So it's almost like it's a state of mind, really, because as a reading specialist, you may not be called a coach, maybe you will depending on the district or school, but this is a hat you could wear. And to wear that hat effectively, you have to have a sense of what is coaching. You've just mentioned it is not evaluative. What am I trying to say here, it's not evaluative, but it is facilitating. So, what are some other aspects of coaching that are critical in thinking about having that coaching mindset and being a coach?
10:29 LM: Yeah. I think that you had maybe a conversation earlier about difficult conversations.
10:35 TH: Yes, we did.
10:36 LM: And so, I think having some meta-knowledge about how to have difficult conversations. One of the things that happens when there is change, for example, in a school, so sometimes coaching is about helping people access new curricular materials or... There's always things that are happening and coping with change. You have people that respond differently to the need for change, and you have people that love change and are early adopters, and you have people that really don't like change. And change in schools is stressful for people. There's a lot of planning that goes into being a teacher, and changing means changing your materials and what you do on a regular basis. So, one thing that we talk about in the class is thinking about a bulls-eye with three rings, and for everybody, that the middle is your comfort zone and the next ring is your challenge zone.
11:31 LM: And in fact, if we're gonna grow as professionals and we're gonna keep learning, we need to be coached, how to get into our challenge zone and to grow. But the outside ring is your panic zone. So sometimes you need coaching about how to not stay into your panic zone faced with change or challenges, and also how to keep challenging yourself.
11:52 TH: That makes sense. I wonder what is the most important coaching tool that coaches use, in the schools especially?
12:01 LM: I would say listening. And we do an activity in our counseling class actually from a man named Dr. Luterman, where you just ask someone, we give them a question prompt, and then you have to sit and just listen to the person and not respond while they talk for three minutes. And it's very interesting because the listeners find it hard not to add their own stories or their own piece, but the speakers... And I will say, not to be stereotypical, but the women speakers often feel very uncomfortable talking about themselves for just three minutes. And so, it's really interesting how we've kind of lost the ability to listen. And it's something that you have to train yourself to do if you're a coach. I think listening and asking questions and helping people be self-reflective is more important than giving feedback.
13:01 TH: And it really does... I can see why you talk about that in counseling 'cause it does seem like that's a counseling skill to be able to listen actively, and maybe mirror back what you're hearing from the person, and help them to be reflective. And does a coach also help people think about their purpose and how you get to the purpose within the challenge zone versus panic?
13:21 LM: Tell me what you mean by "purpose".
13:23 TH: I was thinking about the idea of making change in school. And if you were working with someone and they're wanting to change the outcomes of their students. And then you're listening to what they have to say about that, and then refocusing on to improve the outcomes, maybe that helps them to maybe adopt a new policy that would be uncomfortable. But to get... When you're doing active listing, you can help to determine why is this uncomfortable.
13:48 LM: Yes, and I asked the question 'cause there was a very specific area on my sabbatical that I explored and went through training on, and it's called "Purpose-Driven Leadership". And what's interesting about it, and it's a whole activity you go through, and basically, you drill down to what your specific thing that you bring to every situation and that's your life purpose. And it's not necessarily being a teacher or teaching kids to read, it's... Because it's something that shows up in your life everywhere. In your home life, in your life, who are you. And a question that everyone says when I interview people is the hardest question I ever ask is, "What is the mark that you're gonna leave that's individual to you on the students that you encounter here if I hire you as a faculty member?"
14:36 TH: Wow, that's a tough question.
14:38 LM: Yeah, but if you know your life purpose, then you know what it is. And I would say that my life purpose has been to... It's been hard for me to get the words for it exactly, but to give voice, if it makes sense. The idea that... And give your own individual voice to the world. And so, that means that working in districts that are usually kind of... Some high poverty districts that are really struggling with literacy, if those... If I can help those kids and those schools become literate, then they're accessing their voice, they're giving voice. And it says... One of my favorite groups to work with is toddlers that can't talk because it's like your first words.
15:20 TH: Yeah.
15:21 LM: I had a little two-year-old come in and he knew my purpose even though I was a supervisor and I was working with the students. He walked in one day and he's yelled, "Lesley!" And then he walked up to me and he said, "I talk," and then he walked away.
15:36 LM: So one thing I would say is that as a coach, you can think about teachers as individuals. It's helpful if you help them see what their great talent is, that they're offering to the kids. And to also acknowledge that they often are gonna have to have, what we call "What's your sweet spot?" and then "What's your workaround around not your sweet spots?" And then if you're working with a team, in our grade level teams we're like, "Okay, her sweet spot is... And his sweet... Her sweet spot is designing for launch bonus activities. Your sweet spot is language vocabulary. Let's work in your sweet spots, share activities, share the things as a team." You can also, as a team, think about that.
16:15 LM: So that's one idea about purpose, I think. But the other thing I think you talked about is a collaborative purpose. So one thing that's difficult for many teachers is they're in their classrooms almost alone. And so, it's scary to have someone come in because you're being evaluated, potentially, and you feel that way, but the other thing is, you're not really feeling as if you're part of a team. Or if you are part of the team, often in our schools, you're a grade level team.
16:43 NC: Right.
16:44 LM: And so, the first grade teachers all say, "Well, we work great together but we don't talk to the second grade teachers because they don't do things the way we do." And then the grade school people say, "Well, we don't really know what happens to our kids after grade school. They go to middle school and I don't know what happens yet whether all this work we did changes things." And then when you look around the table, the kindergarten teacher say, "Well, no one talks to us about anything."
17:10 LM: And so that goes back to leadership. And so, one of the things I would say around... If you're gonna be a coach or you're gonna have effective change, is leadership's important. And the principles or the leaders of that school are one of the first clients you need to have, and they... The team building comes from there. And it comes from thinking about release times for teams to work together and the way that we're gonna train people together and... But that common purpose is very important.
17:37 TH: It sounds like too that when you embark on being a coach, you might also benefit from having a coach, so you're right. So what would you say to that, in terms of benefiting as a professional to having a coach?
17:48 LM: I would say get a coach. I would get a coach and I think... So many of my friends in business have coaches. I think that... I think it's hard to find a good coach that matches what your needs are. But a number of the faculty members have coaches here. The institute has hired coaches for upper management people because they feel as if it's so important. And it's different than therapy. It's not... It's more about goals and about... It can be everything from just, "How do I manage everything that's on my plate and how do I prioritize?" And also your life as a whole because we're all whole people and we are partners and parents and Dressage riders, or whatever it is. And oftentimes, I think we... Definitely, teachers, struggle to manage all the things that they have to manage in their life and at school.
18:47 TH: What if someone wants to... So maybe they're right in the middle. They're thinking about getting a coach to help them reflect, but then they're serving as a coach. How can they train to be coach? What are some resources that you have for those who are interested in coaching?
19:05 LM: So I'm gonna give you some resources that we can upload for people to learn more about some of those things. There are direct... There's some excellent articles about coaching. There's some groups that actually train people to do literacy coaching, so they have modules about literacy coaching. And that deal with both content level issues, as well as interactive kinds of things. But I'll also say... But this is also who I am... I would say, read widely, grab... There's so many things. So we've been training recently about how to run simulations. And the simulations are all about debriefing. They're all about the conversation that you have. And so, a lot of my teachings are around cases now. And so in terms of literacy coaching, it's best if you start with the kids. And you talk about cases and then you debrief about what you see with people. And so that's the listening, the talking, the questioning.
20:04 LM: One of the things we had training on difficult conversations is, always start with believing that there's good will on both sides. So if I walk into there and I believe that you want your kids to succeed, even if the little judgment in me is saying, "But you certainly aren't doing X, Y and Z." I try to leave that outside the door and start with the, "We both want what's best for the students." So those are little things. We talked earlier about growth mindset.
20:32 TH: Yes.
20:33 LM: Growth mindset is a concept that most teachers know about because it's really being implemented in the schools. And so, I got interested in it again. I said, "What is this?" And it's work of Carol Dweck out of Stanford. And basically, the way she talks about it is that people with a fixed mindset believe that there's a fixed amount of who you are and how smart you are and what you can do. You are who you are, and it causes people to avoid challenges and growth and to feel anxious about change. And that if you have a growth mindset, you see challenges as opportunities to grow. You reframe that feeling of anxiety that you might be having as the flutter of, "I'm in the right place." And you seek out feedback and you seek out coaching and you seek out a team of people that are gonna work towards growth. And there's an avoidance of feedback with fixed mindset. There's the impostor syndrome, there's all sorts of things that happen. And so we've realized that it's not something that's been executed in graduate school, really. And so we've been talking about that with our students because...
21:48 TH: Yeah, it's obviously so important. I'm wondering. Do you... We have a curriculum that... You've talked about a curriculum that's been developed here. Can you tell us more about that?
21:55 LM: Sure. I'm working with a team of student leaders. So I introduced the concept of growth mindset. And some people it just resonates with and they're able to use it right away. One of the things I have to say about growth mindset and coaching also is that I have reframed... When I go to my colleagues, I say I need a coaching moment and they say that to me, now. And so that means I'm not necessarily asking you for advice, but I am, but I'm thinking out loud, but that we can all be each other's coaches and it opens the door for conversations to happen and I've had a lot of help.
22:29 NC: And support.
22:30 LM: Yeah, and I don't have to go to my superior for it or whatever. I can go to anybody and say, "I need a coaching moment." And that's a little bit of growth mindset, which is, I often now, now that I'm the associate chair, I'm in an evaluative role with people and by I think myself openly saying, "I need your expertise and your coaching and your listening and your questioning of me." It makes us more of a... We're not very hierarchical but it makes us more of a team. And it makes people, I think, feel they're more comfortable being in challenge zones than being growth zones.
23:06 TH: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I definitely think reframing... It's such a human nature, almost like fight or flight to avoid uncomfortable situations or avoid situations where we feel, oh, just release anxiety, but to reframe that in a way that's what you said. What did you say? It's a moment of growth or it's you should be there.
23:26 LM: I think our goal for our students would be that they spend a lifetime seeing challenges as opportunities for growth versus things to overcome. And people talk about a different, about being a reactive school versus a responsive school.
23:46 TH: Yeah. And bringing that over as a leader.
23:49 LM: Yeah. And it helps me out, as I mentioned earlier, being on a podcast, I had to have a growth mindset. That's why I'm over here going... Panic zone. Panic zone. Growth mindset, I hate Tiffany.
24:02 TH: I feel your pain.
24:04 NC: So I'm wondering, just thinking of all of the SLPs that'll be going into schools or reading specialists that are gonna be transferred. In Massachusetts, they do have a peer mentorship within the certification program, whether you're transferring to a new school and you've taught for 20 years, you might have someone that's in your same certification area to touch base with and vice versa for new teachers. But beyond that, we don't really have, like you're talking about, a way in which that when you're done at the IHP with your reading specialist degree and you've never actually had the role before, there isn't that time in how the schools are designed now for you to grow and to learn. And I have to say that I feel every day I'm learning new things that I look back on my career in teaching and wish that I knew it at the gate. But I wonder if you have any advice for our Reading Specialist or SLPs that are going out into the field. And they might not be in a coaching position but they might be expected to do coaching and they might not have that administrator that's on board.
25:11 NC: We talked about it being your first thing that you look at when you're doing a whole school change, so how to... I know we've talked about burnout in previous episodes, but how to manage that type of a situation because I've heard, just in talking to a lot of peers and colleagues, that that's the reality of what's going on in schools right now.
25:34 LM: There was a lot in there so... [laughter]
25:35 LM: And I'm thinking about something that I'm not sure is an answer to your question but... So, one of the things I think that is important for speech and language pathologists, and for reading specialists, is that... And me, as a professional development provider, professional development stand-up lectures don't work. They actually don't. They either confirm what you already know. They don't change you if you don't agree with it, and it's very difficult to implement that in isolation. And so, I would argue that if you could establish a professional learning group at your school and that it could be a group that comes together and with a commitment to take something, perhaps they learned in professional development and apply it and come back. Another way to think about this is quality improvement. We talk about that in healthcare. Quality improvement is a cycle. You try something, you evaluate it and then you go back and you try something different. It's iterations.
26:37 LM: I'm a perfectionist. A lot of us are and it's not a great mindset to have. And many of us are, and we want the best for everyone, and we wanna be excellent at what we do and we... I'll tell you, every single person that works for me, including myself, are course evals. I've been doing this for over 30 years. Stake through the heart, if there's one comment right that you could have done something differently. It's just we are that way. I had, one of our board of trustees, I was working with him on a project and he's a business guy and he would... His timelines for me were crazy, like that stuff I had to have to him and he said to me, "Just give me a B minus" and I said, "I don't do B minus." And he said, "No, in business, we do B minus." He said, "And then we do iterations and we may throw the whole thing out. Don't get too attached 'cause the team is gonna come together and make it better."
27:30 LM: So I guess what I'm saying is a professional learning group can do that. You can create your own teams even if it's not, nationally, teams. They often grow out of that. I just taught a course on literacy, an online course to para-professionals in a school and they all had their own professional learning groups and they all talked about that and they felt that was the way they were really able to process the information even though it was asynchronous and they were learning on their own online. That made it real, so again...
27:58 NC: That was a great idea...
27:59 TH: It's really, it's interesting. I'm just putting the connection together too, in terms of team coach.
28:03 LM: Yeah.
28:04 TH: Team coach. We're seeing a lot of sports analogies, but there's something really there.
28:07 LM: Yeah.
28:08 TH: In terms of moving people forward, working together and collaborating. So I appreciate all the advice that you've given us in giving so many new resources and context for the listeners. Thank you so much Lesley. And thank you, Norma.
28:27 Tiffany Hogan Check out www.seehearspeakpodcast.com for helpful resources associated with this podcast including, for example, the podcast transcript, research articles, & speakers bios. You can also sign up for email alerts on the website or subscribe to the podcast on apple podcasts or any other listening platform, so you will be the first to hear about new episodes.
Thank you for listening and good luck to you, making the world a better place by helping one child at a time.