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This website contains ideas that are "in process." Simply put, what you read here may be just some random thoughts, rather than validated and final procedures. Mind you, aren't most ideas "in process?" The bulk of what you'll read here are answers to questions I am emailed or asked during presentations, or summaries of excellent ideas others share with me.

Of course, you can add to this blog by leaving your own comments, too.

You can learn more about Instructional Coaching at www.instructionalcoach

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Questions for Unmistakable Impact

Teresa Simmons sent me these questions for those who are discussing Unmistakable Impact.  I think they are great questions, so I am sharing them here for anyone who might be interested:

Impact Schools

1. What does it look like when we provide an  environment where our teachers are "energized, thrilled, and empowered by learning?"

2. How do we move closer to a professional learning community that empowers teachers to embrace proven teaching methods?


1. After experience a few years of change with the CLC initiative, where are we (JRHS) as a whole in the "states of change" mentioned on page 21?

2. What does a partnership approach look like? How do we respond in a partnership approach when members of the group say "no"?

3. Which partnership principle is most critical? Which one is the challenging to follow?


1. How do you feel about the Target idea? How can every educator be provided with an opportunity to have authentic input into the document?

2. How important is it for the principals to be the first learner in their schools?

Instructional Coaching

1. How would the use of the Target improve coaching?

2. What are the most important attributes of a coach?

3. Why are some of our teachers "resistant" to coaching? How can that be changed?

Workshops That Make an Impact

1. How can the partnership approach improve the effectiveness of a workshop?

2.  On page 169, at the bottom of the page, there is a comment about what separates great teachers from the rest. Refer to this and tell us what you think.

Intensive Learning Teams

1. What are you thoughts about the ILTs and the procedures described on page 177?

Partnership Communication

1. How can all faculty members be encouraged to honor the partnership principles?

2. Review the "bids" section starting on page 230. How important are "bids" in life? in the workplace? in the classroom?


Video clips

Playing For Change | Song Around the World


Maurice Cheeks-National Anthem


Lost Generation 


 Paul Potts


WKRP: Venus Explains the Atom


Somewhere in the Irish Sea


Retriever Dog Stays Dry



Radical Learners

I have started a new blog, Radical Learners.  In order to focus on getting it up and running, I am going to pause my writing on this blog for a short while.   You can find the new blog, Radical Learners, at this link.  I'm including my first post here, in the hopes that you will be inclined to check out Radical Learners:

Radical Learners: 

The people who will save our schools are not the policy makers, or educational researchers, or text book developers, or consultants, or anyone else who works outside of a school.  Our schools will be saved by the teachers, principals, superintendents and other educators who live to learn.  This new group, people I call radical learners, is emerging in schools all across the world.  They are people who are driven by learning, who get up in the morning fired up to try something new, to make a difference, to teach and learn. 

Radical learners are everywhere.  Often alone, they stand up for kids in board meetings, the principals office, and the staff lounge, but mostly they stand up for kids in their own classrooms. They are creating PLNs, grapping good ideas off of Twitter, writing, reading and sharing good blogs, reading new thinkers like Godin, Gladwell, and Pink, and old thinkers like Friere, Dewey, and Mason. Radical Learners are loving people who will not let schools let kids down. They work the system to make it better, and kinder, more loving, more equitable, more challenging and supportive. They work really hard because they know how much learning matters.

Who are the radical learners?

Radical Learners:

  • believe we are here on earth to learn, so they are turned on by every chance they get to discover something new
  • use technology to learn, to teach, or lead (and because it’s cool)
  • have hope because they know that to teach without hope is to damage, but to teach with hope can save the world
  • love the members of their PLN
  • have mentors and coaches
  • mentor and coach others
  • are witnesses to the good
  • are brutally honest about what is really happening in their classroom and would welcome any visitor who could help them improve
  • don’t blame others but accept personal responsibility 
  • infect everybody with their love of learning, most importantly the children they teach
  • make a difference

 Are you a radical learner?

If you are interested, please check out Radical Learners and let me know what you think.


Should Coaching be Confidential?

In most types of coaching, whether life coaching, executive coaching or instructional coaching, the practice of coaching occurs within confidential relationships. There are at least three reasons for this.  

            First, when coaches deal with what matters to teachers, they are privileged to see and hear information most others will not see and hear.  To share that private information with others is a violation of a person’s privacy. Second, coaching is much more productive when collaborating teachers are open about their ideas, thoughts, and fears. For many teachers knowing that coaching conversations are confidential makes it easier for them to talk about what really matters.  Third, when we ensure that coaching is confidential, we increase the chances that teachers will choose to work with a coach.

However, not everything a coach does, can or should be confidential. For example, coaches need to keep principals informed of whom they are working with and what they are working on. ICs working with the Kansas Coaching Project discriminate between what should and should not be shared by saying that coaches do not share data or evaluative information. We communicate clearly to teachers that coaching is nonjudgmental.  Coaches are partners helping teachers learn new practices, not evaluators. Indeed, in most cases ICs have no administrative training on how to evaluate teachers, so it would not be appropriate for them to evaluate teachers anyway.

In some schools confidentiality is not an issue.  In especially positive, safe settings, teachers may be more than comfortable having their coach share any information.  Indeed, Michael Fullan (2008) identifies transparency as one of his six secrets of change, stating that “when transparency is consistently evident, it creates an aura of ‘positive pressure’ - pressure that is experienced as fair and reasonable, pressure that is actionable in that it points to solutions, and pressure that ultimately is inescapable” (p. 14).

            To create settings where such transparency is possible may require baby steps.  In a culture where there is not a great deal of trust, confidential coaching can be the default mode, but over time, if teachers agree, more information can be shared. The greater the lack of trust initially, the more important confidentiality usually is.  What is most important is that principals and coaches clearly delineate what they will and will not discuss, communicate that policy across the school, act consistently with the policy. Perceived betrayal of trust can severely damage a coaching relationship. For example, when a teacher says something to a coach that she think will be kept privately by the coach, and then discovers that what she said was shared with others, it may be impossible for the coach to ever win back the teacher’s trust.

This is the first of several weekly excerpts from my new book, Unmistakable Impact: A Partnership Approach for Dramatically Improving Instruction.  There will be one post a week up until the book is released in November.



Requirements for Dialogue

On Facebook a while back Cathy Toll asked her friends an interesting question:  "What books have had the biggest influence on your life?"  As I've been working on writing Unmistakable Impact, I realized that a book that should go on that list for me is Paulo Friere's Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  I've read the book again and again, and each review rewards me with new insights about how people can work together as partners.


What I uncovered this time--written on just a couple pages in the middle of the book--are his requirements for dialogue.  For my book, I used the requirements as the structure for my discussion of dialogue. Here's what I wrote:

Friere has identified five requirements for dialogue: humility, faith, love, critical thinking and hope. Each provides an excellent point of departure for this introduction to dialogue.

            Humility. “Men who lack humility (or have lost it) cannot come to the people, cannot be their partners in naming the world … Dialogue cannot exist without humility” (Freire, p. 79). People who take the partnership approach recognize that humility is a necessary precondition for dialogue. After all, if I know it all, what could I possibly learn from you?

            Humility is manifested in many actions during dialogue. First, we need to go into conversations as learners more than teachers.  When we talk with others with the goal of learning from them, rather than teaching them, our entire way of conversing changes. We begin as listeners and turn the focus onto our partners.  During dialogue, the humble communicator is fully present, paraphrasing what is heard, hearing the emotion and meaning of what is said in addition to the actual words. 

Humility means, too, that we are more concerned with getting things right than being right.  Therefore we ask good questions, real questions, that we don’t know the answer to, and then we listen for the answer. We stop trying to persuade and start trying to learn. As David Bohm has written, “If something is right, you don’t need to be persuaded. If somebody has to persuade you, there is probably some doubt” (Bohm, On Dialogue, p. 15).

Too often our conversations are self-centered rather than learning-centered.  When this is the case, we listen for evidence that our conversation partners agree with us, and when people don’t agree, we work hard to show them we are right and they are wrong.

Humility in dialogue often means that we simply withhold our opinion so that we can hear others. This may involve a kind of radical honesty. Rather than covering up the flaws in our argument, or hiding our ignorance, in dialogue, we should display the gaps in our thinking for everyone to see.  If we want to learn, we can’t hide behind a dishonest veneer of expertise.  Indeed, treating others as equals demands that we tell them truthfully about what we believe, assume, know, and do not know.

In dialogue we humbly let go of the notion that there is only one right answer—our answer!—and we see conversation as a testing ground for ideas. If the purpose of conversation is learning, then the last thing we should be doing is confirming our own misconceptions by solely seeking others who see the world the same as us.  As  David Bohm has said, “If you are defending a position, you are pushing out what is new” (Bohm, On Dialogue, p.15).

            Humility also lays the foundation for one of the most important practices within dialogical conversations—questioning assumptions.  Usually, our assumptions go unquestioned, and we assume that what we assume is the truth. We take our assumptions for certainties, and this leads to many conflicts and failures of understanding when we encounter other people whose unquestioned assumptions conflict with ours.  Dialogical conversations at their best enable us to explore our assumptions, through conversation, so that we will be better able to learn from others.

            Faith. “Faith in man is an a priori requirement for dialogue; the ‘dialogical man’ believes in other men even before he meets them face to face” (Friere, p. 79).  When I engage in dialogue, I truly recognize that those I speak with are equal to me, and I work from the assumption that they hold within them wisdom, knowledge, ideas, and gifts.  When we take an anti-dialogical approach and tell people what to do without listening, or try to persuade people to do what we think is best for them, without their choice or voice, we show a profound lack of respect for their humanity. Dialogue is never manipulative; it is grounded in  free conversation between people who respect each other as equals. If we are equals, then I should value your words as much as I value my own.

            When we have faith in others, we let go of the notion that we need to control them, tell them what to do, or hold them accountable. We see people as autonomous individuals deserving of our respect. William Isaacs elaborates on respect in his book Dialogue (1999).

Respect is not a passive act.  To respect someone is look for the spring that feed the pool of their experience… At its core, the act of respect invites us to see others as legitimate. We may not like what they do or say or think, but we cannot deny their legitimacy as beings. In Zulu, a South African language, the word Sawu bona is spoken when people greet one another and when they depart.  It means “I see you.”  To the Zulus, being seen has more meaning than in Western cultures.  It means that the person is in some real way brought more fully into existence by virtue of the fact that they are seen (Isaacs, Dialogue, p.111).

When I have faith in my conversation partners, there is a much greater chance, too, that they will trust me.  Without mutual trust there is little chance that a conversation will be open enough for dialogue to occur.

            Love. “If I do not love the world—if I do not love life—if I do not love men—I cannot enter into dialogue”  (Freire, p. 78). Dialogue is only possible if we have empathy for others. In dialogue, we start by being empathetic, respectful, and non-judgmental rather than taking the superior approach and starting by judging others. When we are empathetic toward others, when we move from love rather than control, we recognize our mutual humanity, the great bonds we share with others just because we are all people. This is especially important for people with whom we disagree. Isaacs, again, recognizes empathy as a core part of dialogue: 

One lens that can reduce the temptations to blame and increase respect is to listen to others from the vantage point that says,  “This, too, is in me.”  Whatever the behavior we hear in another, whatever struggle we see in them, we can choose to look for how these same dynamics operate in ourselves (p. 124).

            Love is necessary for dialogue but love can also be created by dialogue.  As Bohm writes, “love will go away if we can’t communicate and share meaning… However, if we can really communicate, then we will have fellowship, participation, friendship, love, growing, and growth” (p. 41).

            Critical Thinking.  “Only dialogue … is … capable of generating critical thinking” (Freire, p. 81). When we go into conversation to confirm our views rather than to learn, we choose to think by ourselves rather than with others.  If I only want to hear you tell me that you agree with me, then I don’t really want to hear your thoughts at all. If we really want to learn from a conversation, we are wise to go into it looking for ideas that disprove our way of thinking rather than looking for confirmations that our opinion is right.

            Dialogue is the thinking approach to communication.  In the best situation, our ideas flow back and forth so freely that we truly start to think together, we reach a point where we lose sight of whose ideas are whose.  Such conversation is energizing, humanizing, and the most natural way for partners to communicate.

            Hope. “Dialogue cannot be carried on in a climate of hopelessness. If the dialoguers expect nothing to come of their efforts, their encounters will be empty, sterile, bureaucratic and tedious” (Freire, p. 80).  Dialogue cannot occur when people are paralyzed by hopelessness.  Dialogue can only flourish in situations where there are many possibilities.

            In part, this means, that a conversation that is dialogical can only be so when it is open-ended. If I come to you with a plan and I expect you to implement it, I am clearly not engaging in dialogue. Dialogue occurs when we start by trying to understand together, when we listen and learn rather than tell and resist. 

            Hope too, for me at least, means that even act of dialogue is a hopeful act, a sign that we believe a better future is possible.  When I listen to you, and you listen to me, we are better for the experience, and there is always the hope that we can create something new and better, that we can advance thought, and, through dialogue, create a better tomorrow.