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Can Schools Become Firms of Endearment?

Sisodia, Wolfe, and Sheth’s excellent book Firms of Endearment provides educational leaders with a great deal of food for thought. I’ll review a few of their most important findings and add my comments about how those findings might relate to schools and other educational institutions.


In their book, the authors report on their analysis of a group of companies they refer to as “firms of endearment”—a list of companies that includes: Whole Foods, Timberland, CostCo, Southwest Airlines, LL Bean, New Balance, the Container Store, Patagonia, and Toyota. Not only are these organizations nice places to work, they significantly out perform the companies identified by Jim Collins in his study of Great companies.

Firms of Endearment, the authors state, share a distinctive set of core values, policies, and operating attributes:

·       They actively align the interests of all stakeholder groups, not just balance them.   Instead of trading off the interests of one group versus those of another (for example, higher wages for employees versus higher profits for investors or lower prices for customers), they have carefully devised business models in which the objectives of each stakeholder can be met simultaneously and are in fact strengthened by other stakeholders.

·       Their executives’ salaries are relatively modest.
They operate at the executive level with an open-door policy.

·       Their employee compensation and benefits are significantly greater than the standard for the company’s category.

·       They devote considerably more time than their competitors to employee training.

·       Their employee turnover is far lower than industry average.

·       They empower employees to make sure customers leave a transaction experience fully satisfied.

·       They make a conscious effort to hire people who are passionate about the company and its products.

·       They consciously humanize the company experience for customers and employees, as well as the working environment.

·       They project a genuine passion for customers, and emotionally connect with customers at a deep level.   By earning a larger share of customers’ hearts, they earn a larger share of customers’ wallets.

·       Their marketing costs are much lower than those of their industry peers, while customer satisfaction and retention are much higher.

·       They view suppliers as true partners and encourage suppliers to collaborate with them in moving both their companies forward.   They help suppliers reach higher levels of productivity, quality, and profitability.   Suppliers, in turn, behave as partners, not as beleaguered and indentured servants.

·       They honor the spirit of laws rather than merely following the letter of the law. They apply uniformly high operating standards across the world, regardless of local requirements that may be considerably less stringent.

·       They consider their corporate culture to be their greatest asset and primary source of competitive advantage.

·       Their cultures are resistant to short-term, incidental pressures, but also prove able to quickly adapt when needed.   As a result, they are typically the innovators and breakers of conventional rules within their industries. (pp. 8-11).

Sisodia, Wolfe, and Sheth identify several characteristics of Firms of Endearment. Below, I’ll summarize some of the ones that I think are most relevant to educators, and then add some thoughts about how those ideas apply to schools.

 Dialogical relationships with all stakeholders:

 Firms of Endearment, the authors tell us, recognize the importance of dialogical relationships with all stakeholders.   Dialogue, they suggest, is based on four principles:

 ·       One: Establishing a positive relationship (or reinforcing an existing one) before getting down to business

·       Two: Showing willingness to be vulnerable

·       Three: Fostering reciprocal empathy, whereby stakeholders reciprocate the company’s empathy ( P. 60)

·       Four: Conducting conversations with genuine reciprocity

Dialogue in Schools:

There are at least two important ideas here.   Schools which are FoEs would place a high premium on dialogue—which can be understood as respectful interaction between two individuals, where each side listens and each side expects to learn.   Thus, leaders in FoEs, should spend more time listening than talking, and all stakeholders should feel that their voice matters.  

This surfaces the second ideas—all stakeholders are important.   In schools that would include educational leaders, teachers, other school staff, state and national agencies, parents, students, and others.   Do students in your school feel like their voice counts?   Do they feel like they are listened to more than told what to do? Do teachers, principals, parents and all other stakeholders feel their voice counts?   In an FoE school, they would.  

The rewards of a more dialogical approach might reap benefits.   As the authors note, “Projecting empathy to customers, employees, and other stakeholders is like spraying Miracle-Gro on a tomato plant.   The relationship between stakeholders and the company will grow, blossom, and bear fruit” (p. 61).   Is empathy the Miracle-Gro for student achievement?


FOE leaders realize how important it is to build trust with all stakeholders. The authors suggest that trust is build upon four foundational ideas:

·       Respect for individuals. “FoEs view each individual employee as a “whole person” rather than an impersonal “factor of production.” Management demonstrates respect for individuals by encouraging employees to participate in company decisionmaking, regardless of their rank” (p.74).

 ·       Transparency. “FoEs are free of the paranoia many companies have about sharing information with all employees as well as with other stakeholders.   The FoE way is the sunshine way … companies open up their books to employees” (p. 75).

 ·       Team building. “FoEs cultivate an uncommonly strong sense of team participation, doubtless a major factor in their low job-turnover rates” (p.75)

 ·       Empowerment. “FoE employees generally have the authority (and the obligation) to spend company resources necessary to make a customer happy or fix a production problem” (p. 76)

 Trust in Schools

In thinking about this, I’m reminded of Marshall Goldsmith’s comments about how to be a nice person.   The easiest way to be a nice person isn’t to try to listen more carefully, to be more caring, to praise people more effectively, and so forth. The easiest way to be a nicer person is to stop being a jerk! Actually, Goldsmith says it more colorfully, but you get the idea.

What, then, should schools stop doing to generate more trust?   I have a few ideas:

·       Stop communicating to teachers in ways that are unprofessional or demeaning

·       Stop monitoring teachers’ actions in ways that seem a lot like spying, and start providing more meaningful, supportive professional development, like coaching

·       Stop using assessments as punishments (where you round up all the teachers, tell them the achievement scores stink, and tell them they need to figure out how to do better) and start using assessments developmentally, that is tying assessment to effective professional learning

·       Stop creating or reinforcing a culture of fear and start creating a culture of support

·       Stop doing all the thinking for teachers (through pacing guides, scripts, and so forth) and start respecting the professionalism of teachers

·       Stop telling teachers what to do and start listening to what they have to say

 Energizing Positive Culture

 The authors point out that there are three primary elements to organizational culture:

·       Organizational vision. “This is about creating and implementing a winning game plan.   It is like a road map, intended to answer the question, “Where are we going and how do we intend to get there?” … a common element found in every FoE is dedication to maximizing the creation of value for all stakeholders. 

·       Organizational values. “This is the aligning force that keeps an organization centered and balanced.   Managing an organization’s values is like steering a car, essential to staying on the path and reaching the desired goal.   Values are the answer to the questions ‘Who are we and what makes us tick?’”

·       Organizational energy.   “Like the engine of a car, this is the force that propels the organizations forward at a steady speed. 5 All FoEs are high-energy organizations.   They reflect the passion, joy, commitment, and perseverance of their employees and other stakeholders” (p. 201).

Schools that have energizing positive cultures 

In which school would you prefer to work or prefer to send your children?   School A: where teachers are alive with the love of learning and the love of their students, or School B: where teachers spend a great deal of time blaming parents, children, and administration for their students’ poor achievement and where students hear much more criticism than encouragement? The answer is obvious.

To create more schools like our first example, leaders (and I see just about everyone working in schools as a leader) should recognize that leadership is about shaping culture as much as it is about anything.   So how do we do that? 

I suspect that schools can create a tremendous amount of “passion, joy, commitment, and perseverance” if they do a few things.   First, spend less time discussing abstract test scores and more time discussing the human dimensions of education.   There are few jobs that contribute more and that have the potential to do more good than educating children, and yet schools often seem to go out of their way to avoid talking about the good that is being done.   Assessments scores are important—they are a way of monitoring progress and driving improvement—but the real story to tell in schools is not the numbers but the stories of a boy who couldn’t read learning to read, a girl bursting with enthusiasm for a science project, two children treating each other with profound and innocent respect and young adults leaving schools to go on to be the first people in their families to attend and graduate from college.

Second, tie student assessment data and teacher evaluations directly to effective teaching practices.   I don’t believe it does much good to identify a problem if you can’t also help identify a solution.   In fact, I think unhealthy school rituals such as walk-throughs that are not tied to teaching practices can do more damage than good.   So, if an administrator conducts a walk-through, every teaching practice observed on the evaluation tool should be connected to a teaching practice.   This is the idea at the heart of the Big Four that I describe in Instructional Coaching and that I will be discussing in greater detail on the instructional coaching website.   We can and should observe for particular high-leverage teaching practices.   But we also need to provide sufficient support so that teachers can implement them.   Which leads to my final point:

Third, provide respectful, empowering, positive, effective professional learning so that teachers can have the kind of support they need to implement those new practices.   This kind of professional learning likely includes instructional coaching, partnership learning, professional learning communities and other forms of professional learning that will help teachers take abstract research and translate it into the way the practices they habitually use in their classrooms.

Not surprisingly, a foundational characteristic of FoEs is that they encourage the life-long learning of employees.   The authors note that “people continue to develop and grow throughout their lifetime, and employees are no exception. Even the most experienced and best –qualified employees need and benefit from continuous education” (p. 83).

If a school district fails to provide effective professional learning, it will struggle to create the positive culture of an FoE.   Teachers cannot commit to the compelling and positive goals of schools if they are not making a difference in children’s lives.   Without professional learning, teachers may struggle to make a difference, lose enthusiasm, and make excuses.   But, if teacher receive effective professional learning, if they see themselves making a difference, they will be find it very easy to recognize the important contribution they are making, and positive energy should grow and spread through out the school.

 Final thoughts

This is one of the longer pieces I’ve written, and yet I don’t feel I’ve come close to summarizing the ideas and strategies suggested by the authors. Just a few others include:

·       Taking the long view rather using than quick fixes.  

·       Emphasizing collaboration

·       Creating organizations that are self-actualized, “which in part means “letting go of ego”

·       Emphasizing love rather than fear: “When asked about his leadership philosophy, Herb Kelleher answered, ‘A company is much stronger if it is bound by love rather then by fear’ ”(p. 156).

And there are other ideas.   Just to say the book is worth careful consideration.   While not a book about schools, it is a book that has much to say about what schools can and should not be. I highly recommend it.  


Open Space Technology

Open Space Technology ,(OST) first described and popularized by Harrison Owen, is a powerful form of what I refer to as Reflection Learning, one of six learning structures in Partnership Learning.   (You can download a free version of my short book on Partnership Learning here, and you can also see a short video of me describing Reflection Learning here).   Owen stumbled on to this methodology. After organizing and attending conferences, he realized that, he says, “…the truly useful part had been the coffee breaks. So much for one year’s effort to arrange papers, participants, and presenters. The only thing that everybody liked was the one thing I had nothing to do with: the coffee breaks. There had to be a message here” (p. 3).


            Open Space is a deceptively simple process that puts conversation and choice at the heart of the matter. At the Kansas Coaching Project’s Annual Instructional Coaching Conference,   my friend Sue Keck facilitates our OST session each year.   Thus, at the conference, Sue asks participants to consider hosting a discussion about a coaching topic they are very interested in discussing. Inevitably people list such issues as evaluating coaches, the role of the principal, math coaching, reading strategies, social networking and coaching. They write their discussion point on chart paper and post their chart on one of the walls around the beautiful old room at Liberty Hall in Lawrence, Kansas where we host our conference.

            Those who host a topic agree to lead a conversation about whatever they have posted.   Once topics are posted, the remaining participants then pick the one that they are most interested in discussing.   Sometimes one topic attracts a large number of participants and the group might choose to divide into smaller groups.   Sometimes only the host is interested in the topic.   In the rare event that no one chooses to discuss a topic, Harrison Owen points out that maybe the host is the only person who is qualified to discuss that topic.   Furthermore, “ There is nothing in the rule book that says a “group” must be composed of more than one. And by the way, when was the last time you had a large piece of time free to work on a major idea for which you had a passion?” (pg. 96).

            Owen offers many suggestions for facilitators, and I think they are especially relevant for any one using the Partnership Learning approach.   I’ll list them here, and then offer a few comments at the end.

Open Space Technology will not work, and therefore should not be used, in any situation where the answer is already known, where somebody at a high level thinks he or she knows the answer, or where that somebody is the sort that must know the answer, and therefore must always be in charge, otherwise known as control, control, control (p. 15).

… Open Space Technology runs on two fundamentals: passion and responsibility. Without passion, nobody is interested. Without responsibility, nothing will get done. Obviously, different people feel passionate about different things (different strokes for different folks). And it is quite unlikely that anybody will take responsibility for something they do not care about. It is extremely important, therefore, to declare right up front what the focus is (p. 18).

Voluntary self-selection is the absolute sine qua non for participation in Open Space (p. 21).

The unique and critical role of the facilitator in an Open Space event revolves around two functions: creating time and space and holding time and space. Observably, in performance, this means doing less rather than more. Under the best of circumstances, the facilitator will be totally present and absolutely invisible (p. 57).

Owen offers the following four guidelines for facilitators:

Show up: “ This is not complicated and simply means you have to be physically on hand. Of course, mere physical presence does not guarantee authentic presence, but it is certain that if the body is not there not much else will be available either, and that body must be in good shape. Showing up tired, hung over, or stressed out just won’t do. Safe space is calm space, and that calm must begin with you, the facilitator.

Be Present: “ Being present … means providing those around us with a profound sense of grounding, reality, solidity, which translates to security, peace, and strength. Being in the presence of one who is truly present is comfortable in the root meaning of that word, “with strength.”

Telling the truth: This “defines the quality of our presence. It is a hard job indeed. Actually, it is even harder than it sounds, for the issue is not so much faithfully reporting the facts of the case (which is certainly useful) but rather being the truth. That is to say, reflecting an essential, powerful, and good humanity in the way one is.”

Letting it Go: This means “Have no attachment to fixed outcomes… the point is that we have no permanent claim on anything that is, and the sooner we get that through our heads the better things will be. It is not that we have gone out of control, it is quite simply that we had no control to begin with. Obviously this phrase is anathema to those folks who have spent their whole lives trying to keep or gain control, which turns out to be most of us. Letting go is also essential for the effective facilitation of Open Space. To the best of my knowledge, there is exactly one way to absolutely guarantee the failure of an Open Space event, and that is to try and control it. It won’t work. Things will either shut down or blow up, but in either case the results will be less than optimal. Guaranteed” (pp. 62 – 64)

“To the extent that the facilitator becomes prescriptive, imposing time, space, and solutions, he or she will fail. The more done, the less accomplished. It is necessary to be physically on hand, be fully present, be the truth, and then get out of the way. As the world would see it, the ultimate facilitator will do nothing and remain invisible.

Preparing oneself to assume this role cannot be done in a moment, nor can it be left to chance. One the contrary, preparation is an intentional, ongoing act that must become part of the life of the would-be facilitator (p. 64).”

A Few Thoughts:

            This is only a quick overview of OST, but those familiar with Partnership Learning should see that this is very much a partnership approach.   When we use Partnership Learning, we work from the assumption that our participants do not need us to check up on them and make sure that they are doing what we ask.   Recently, I was asked, “what do you do to make sure that your participants are on task?”   My response was that “I really don’t do anything during the workshop.”   I try to set up learning structures that people choose to participate in that are inherently compelling enough to keep people interested.  

            If participants consistently don’t tackle the learning opportunities I offer, then I figure my job is to re-think the activity, not use proximity control to get participants to do what they don’t feel interested in doing.

            I have also started to use OST during various workshops.   I let participants post topics, host discussions, and so forth. In each case, after some very careful explanation, participants have had lively, meaningful conversations.

 Next Week: We'll discuss Firms of Endearment, a book Michael Fullan mentions frequently in his book  Six Secrets of Change, which I have discussed previously in this blog.






Turning to One Another

Margaret Wheatley’s Turning to One Another is a passionate argument for the power of meaningful communication, a book I recommend everyone take the time to read with care.   When I read it recently as part of my research for my book on Partnership Learning , I saw several themes. I’ll list them here and include quotations from her book to illustrate each theme.   After that, I’ll say a little bit about the implications of her ideas for coaches and me.


A Radical Brokenness

“We have never wanted to be alone. But today, we are alone. We are more fragmented and isolated from one another than ever before. Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes it as “a radical brokenness in all of existence.” We move at frantic speed, spinning out into greater isolation. We seek consolation in everything except each other. The entire world seems hypnotized in the wrong direction – encouraging us to love things rather than people, to embrace everything new without noticing what’s lost or wrong, to choose fear instead of peace. We promise ourselves everything except each other. We’ve forgotten the source of true contentment and well-being”   (pg. 4).


“This is a very noisy era. I believe the volume is directly related to our need to be listened to. In public places, in the media, we reward the loudest and most outrageous. People are literally clamoring for attention, and they’ll do whatever it takes to be noticed. Things will only get louder until we figure out how to sit down and listen. Most of us would welcome things quieting down. We can do our part to begin lowering the volume by our own willingness to listen” (pg. 91).


  “Do you have as much time to think as you did a year ago? When was the last time you spent time reflecting on something important to you? At work, do you have more or less time now to think about what you’re doing? Are you encouraged to spend time thinking with colleagues and co-workers or reflecting on what you’re learning” (pg. 96)?

“We’re forfeiting the very things that make us human. Our road to hell is being paved with hasty intentions. I hope we can notice what we’re losing – in our day-to-day life, in our community, in our world.   I hope we’ll be brave enough to slow things down” (pg. 96).

“Conversation … takes time. We need time to sit together, to listen, to worry and dream together. As this age of turmoil tears us apart, we need to reclaim time to be together. Otherwise we cannot stop the fragmentation” (pg. 5).


“I believe we can change the world if we start listening to one another again” (pg. 3).

“We have the opportunity many times a day, everyday, to be the one who listens to others, curious rather than certain. But the greatest benefit of all is that listening moves us closer. When we listen with less judgment, we always develop better relationship with each other. It’s not differences that divide us. It’s our judgments about each other that do. Curiosity and good listening bring us back together” (pg. 36).


“Most of us have had the experience of listening to someone and realizing how different they are from us. We don’t share any of their experiences, values, or opinions. But surprisingly, at the end of listening to them, we feel more connected to them” (pg. 117).

“… in all our diversity, we share the experience of being human. We each have the same longings and feelings. We each feel fear, loneliness, grief. We each want to be happy and to live a meaningful life. We discover this shared human experience whenever we listen to someone’s unique story”   (pg. 118).

“Remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know. Real listening always bring people closer together” (pg. 145)


“Conversation can only take place among equals. If anyone feels superior, it destroys conversation. Words then are used to dominate, coerce, manipulate. Those who act superior can’t help but treat others as objects to accomplish their causes and plans. When we see each other as equals, we stop misusing them” (pg. 141).

Our Fundamental Human Goodness

“In our daily life, we encounter people who are angry, deceitful, intent only on satisfying their own needs. There is so much anger, distrust, greed, and pettiness that we are losing our capacity to work well together. Many of us are more withdrawn and distrustful than ever. Yet this incessant display of the worst in us makes it essential that we rely on human goodness. Without that belief in each other, there is really no hope” (pg. 72).

“Goodness and talent are common human traits. Most people are more generous and talented than we assume. It’s hard to see this day-to-day when we work in restrictive environments where we’re told what to do, told what to think, usually ignored, often disrespected, sometimes dehumanized. Once you’ve worked and lived under these conditions, it’s difficult to remember your own capacities, let along those of others. But in an emergency, when others are suffering, we emerge powerfully, leaving behind our roles, our boredom, our exhaustion. Disasters reveal capacities long buried by bureaucracy and disrespect” (pg, 125).

“Work that serves the common good doesn’t take away our energy. Instead, energy pours into our bodies through our open hearts and generous spirits” (pg. 127).

Wheatley and Coaching

Coaches, I think, are wonderfully positioned to do the good work that Dr. Wheatley discusses.   By taking time, truly listening, and talking about ideas they care about, coaches, I believe, can profoundly improve the world inside their schools. Coaches, by really listening to teachers, by treating teachers with deep respect, can offer some teachers a kind of altered reality.   “I know,” a coach might say during a one-to-one conversation with a teacher, “that talk in the staff lounge isn’t very positive or supportive, but right here right now we can treat each other with kindness. We can show each other that we care.”

For this reason, I really believe that coaching is not just about effective instruction, coaching is about creating a more positive culture in school, one conversation at a time.   School culture is manifested in conversations, and no one has more conversations than a coach.   In my workshops, I often suggest that coaches need to make a decision about what they will discuss, and stick to it.   For me, that means, if a conversation isn’t good for kids, isn’t good for the school, then the coach probably should not be involved in it.

Ultimately, I believe we will never have the kind of schools we want if we do not start having more mutually humanizing conversations.   We can’t expect our kids to enjoy and benefit from learning if the teachers feel frightened, alone, and under attack.   Coaches can provide real, meaningful support, and by listening, as Wheatley says, they might just change the world.

Personal reflections

I opened this book at just the right time because watching the Republican Convention—even though I am a Canadian, not an American citizen—I found myself getting angrier by the minute as I watched what to me seemed like a deliberate attempt to deceive the American public. (If you’re interested, I’d be happy to send you an email letter summarizing my thoughts). Margaret Wheatley, however, has reminded me of Gandhi’s famous quotation, “Be the change you want to see.”   Despite my anger, I will prove nothing by trying to bully those whose opinions are different than mine.   So, I will do my best to listen first even when it seems that those who are talking aren’t listening to me.   Indeed, by listening, I might learn a lot, and I might even help some see my point of view.   If I start by shouting, there’s little chance anything I say will have any impact.

  Next week

I’ll be writing about Open Space Technology , by Harrison Owen, which describes a kind of reflection learning structure that presenters and coaches can use to foster meaningful dialogue during workshops and other forms of presentations. It is a great book, and if you give presentations or lead workshops, and you’ve never heard of it, I think you’ll find it useful.












What Sway can teach instructional coaches about influence

The popular business book, Sway , by Ori and Rom Brafman is an example of what I consider be a new genre of book, which I refer to as "edutainment."  Books, like The Tipping Point , Blink , and The Wisdom of Crowds , are filled with interesting anecdotes, short sentences, and accessible, compelling stories.  The books are fun, but they also make you think, which I guess is the best part.

Sway, is about, as the subtitle says, 'the irresistible pull of irrational behavior," and the book identifies several "psychological forces that de-rail rational thinking."  I'll list some of these forces below, and then briefly discuss why they might be relevant to coaches.

Irrational Force #1: The Diagnosis Bias

Since life is so rich and complicated, we all have to make snap decisions about people and events around us. As the authors note, "the moment we label a person or a situation, we put blinders on to all evidence that contradicts our diagnosis" p.7.  The trouble, the authors claim, is that these quick decisions, bias our perceptions, and, even more important perhaps, people around us tend to act consistently once we diagnose them.  Educators have know this as the Pygmalion Effect .

Implications for Coaches

Coaches need to be careful not to label teachers too quickly. If a coach determines a teacher is weak, they may be blind to the potential of that teacher. A better tactic might be to assume that each teacher has tremendous potential, and that coaching is a way that a coach can help the teach reach that potential.  The authors' comments  for all us, I think, are also especially meaningful for coaches: we should "remain flexible and examine things from different perspectives   … keeping evaluations tentative instead of certain, learning to be comfortable with complex, sometimes contradictory information, and taking your time and considering things from different angles before coming to a conclusion.   It can be as straightforward as coming up with a kind of self-imposed ‘waiting period’ before making a diagnostic judgment" p.178.  Of course this advice also applies to teachers in the classroom working with children.

Irrational Force #2: Loss Aversion

The authors, citing numerous sources, explain that people are more concerned with not losing than they are with actually making rational decisions.  A person who loses a few dollars on the stock market might hang on to stock for a long time, expecting the stock to go up, rather than cut his or her losses.  Then as the stock continues to decline, that person, even after losing more and more money, might stubbornly hold onto the stock with the irrational hope that the stock will rise. As the authors say, “our natural tendency to avoid the pain of loss is most likely to distort our thinking when we place too much importance on short-term goals. When we adopt the long-view, on the other hand, immediate potential losses don’t seem as menacing”   (p. 172).

Implications for Coaches

This force might be at work at the personal and organizational level.  That is, a teacher might not want to change a particular way of teaching, even if it is not working, simply because they've invested time in mastering the practice.  So, a teacher might act in a way that suggests that they are thinking,  "even though my way of teaching isn't working, I've spent so much time trying to teach this way, that I'm sticking with it."  Similarly, organizations that invest massive amounts of time and resources in developing pacing guides, for example, might just not want to abandon that practice even if it isn't working.  

Faced with this, coaches need to focus on providing persuasive learning experiences rather than talk and also suggest and promote data based decision making. If more decisions are based on data, better decisions should be made in schools. More importantly, schools will likely make better decisions if they focus on long-term thinking rather than quick fix solutions.

Irrational Force #3: Value Attribution

People, the authors tell us, "over estimate their ability to form objective opinion" (p.86).  One way this happens is that we value things, ideas, or people based on the context in which we view them.  The authors explain that "When we encounter a new object, person, or situation, the value we assign to it shapes our further perception of it, whether it’s our dismissal of a curiously inexpensive antique we find at a flea market or our admiration of a high-priced designer bag in a chic boutique” (p. 51).

Implications for Coaches

This one has really got me thinking.  I believe the implication here is that we have to be strategic about how ideas are spread across a school.  Coaches, I'm thinking, might want to make sure that they don't give away their services too easily, for fear that it might seem that coaching isn't that valuable.  Also, it makes a lot of sense for the superintendent and other major leaders in a district to be involved in any large group presentation about coaching, so that teachers see that important people in the district value coaching as a way to move a district forward.  Finally, bringing in respected outsiders to a district might also encourage others to view initiatives as being very valuable.  I'm still thinking about other implications, but I think this force is very important.

Irrational Force #4: The Primacy of Fairness

The authors cite many studies that show that people are more motivated by a need to be treated fairly than a need to get a good deal.  People, will turn down a deal that is beneficial to them if they think they are not being treated fairly.  When they feel cheated, in fact, people would rather treat the cheater a lesson than achieve their goals.  I'm not sure this is irrational, but it does have implications for coaches.

Implications for Coaches

The authors point out that people will be more likely to feel they are treated fairly if they are involved in whatever they are experiencing.  As the authors explain, “When we make decisions or take actions that will affect others, keeping them involved will help ensure that they feel the process is fair… A potentially divisive situation can be transformed into a collaborative effort, allowing people to evaluate the facts objectively, rather than be swayed by the sense that the process was unfair” (p. 180).

Clearly this makes sense for coaches, and explains why the instructional coaching process, based on reflective, respectful conversations, is quite effective.  Coaches need to ensure that teachers know they are equal decision makers in the process and that their voices really are heard by their coaches.

Irrational Force #5: Money Versus Altruism

The Brafmans explain that when we are offered money to do something it affects one part of the brain (which they call the "pleasure center"), and when we are asked to do something for altruistic reasons it affects another part of the brain (which they call the "altruism center").  Further, the authors comment that "it turns out that when the pleasure center and altruism centers go head to head, the pleasure center seems to have the ability to hijack the altruism center" (p. 144).  This means that if you ask people to something for moral reasons, and then offer them money, their motivation might actually go down, rather than up.

Implications for Coaches

Coaches and leaders of coaching programs, I think, would do well to really emphasize the moral purpose behind coaching work. Also, coaches and program leaders need to think carefully about offering money as the way to get people to attend workshops and other professional learning activities.  If people do it for the cash, they might not see the real value in what they are doing.  It might be wiser to especially emphasize the good that is being done through various professional development activities.  This is not to say that teachers shouldn't be paid for their time, but that payment should never be the real reason for the work.  By keeping improving student achievement as their main goal, coaches can actually increase the likelihood that teachers will be motivated to implement new, better ways of teaching.

Next week, I'll be reviewing an outstanding book about the power and potential of conversation: Margaret Wheatley's book Turning to One Another .



In preparation for writing my book for Corwin Press on Partnership Learning (I plan to be done by December!), I have read many books on the topic of creating presentations.   Without a doubt, the book that I have learned the most from is Slide:ology, created by Nancy Duarte


Duarte is the person who helped Al Gore create his Inconvenient Truth presentation.   That presentation, of course, was so powerful that Gore won an academy award, the Nobel Prize, and, perhaps most impressively, dramatically raised global awareness about the dangers of climate change.   It would not be unreasonable to say that no one has done more to influence how we think about global warming, and a large part of the reason for that is simply the way in which Gore’s presentation was put together and delivered.

Indeed, so useful and comprehensive is Duarte’s book, that I’d have to say that on the topic of developing presentations, there is this book, and there is everything else.   Reading Slide:ology was a revelation of sorts; I’ve come to see the presentations I have created as primitive, clumsy products compared to what they might be.   I feel as if someone finally explained grammar to me after I’d been writing for years making multiple grammatical errors.

So what does her book teach us? I’m not able to summarize all she says.   However, here are some of her suggestions, or at least ideas that caught my attention today as I went back through Slide:ology:

·       Brainstorm prior to presenting using post-it notes.   Write on the post-its using a Sharpie.   If the idea is too complex to write with a thick Sharpie pen, then you need to make it simpler

·       Use stick men and other drawings to develop the story of your presentation.   Don’t think of your presentation as a series of individual slides but as a coherent unit

·       Come to an understanding of your audience by asking, (1) What are they like? (2) Why are they here? (3) What keeps them up at night? (4) How can you solve their problem? (5) What do you want them to do? (6) How might they resist, (7) How can you best reach them?

·       “Data slides are not really about the data, they are about the meaning of the data,” so follow the five data slide rules: tell the truth, get to the point, pick the right tool for the job, keep it simple. Duarte goes into great detail explaining just how to do these things

·       Expect to use a lot of time to plan a presentation, maybe as much as 60 hours for a 1 hour, 30 slide presentation

·       Duarte explains that effective slide design hinges on three things: arrangement, visual elements, and movement, and then she tells us in great detail what to do about that

·       White space, which isn’t necessarily white but which is the part of the slide which is unused, “is as much an element of the slide as bullets, headings, and diagrams”

·       “it’s OK to have clear space; clutter is a failure of design.” “Remove everything on your slide that doesn’t bring emphasis to your point”

·       “The four visual elements of a slide are background, color, text, and image”

·       Background: Throw our your PowerPoint templates and start thinking of your background as a blank canvas that you design intentionally

·       Use the same colors through out your presentation and use colors that integrate harmoniously.   Use the color wheel on PowerPoint or Keynote to help you find harmonious colors

·       Consider using pure white or pure black backgrounds since they are best for showing contrast

·       When using text, use the 3 second rule, that is people need to understand the slide in 3 seconds

·       Don’t combine more than 2 fonts during a presentation

·       Part of effective slide design is considering type setting issues like kerning, ligatures, and letter spacing (you’ll have to look these up to get her suggestions)

·       Think about the bullets in your slides (if you use them at all, and there is much to be said for not using them) as headlines

·       Use sides that use a family of images, that is images with similar colors, lighting, themes, rather than a wide range of images that don’t necessarily go together.   Using the first image you find each time can creates a unharmonious presentation

·       Be careful about creating visual vertigo by using too much animation

·       When reducing your old slides, highlight the key word in each bullet, and then practice reading the slide by focusing on that word, then create a slide with only those words

·       Try not to use font smaller than 30 point

·       Remember that your audience can’t read and listen to you at the same time, so consider creating slides that have fewer words if you want them to listen to you

These are just some of the comments (ironically summarized in bullet point, it occurs to me), but they do not do the complexity and in fact beauty of the book justice. She goes into great detail about what kinds of diagrams we might consider using, or how to select the right color family, or how to do type setting for maximum impact. Truly, the book is full of useful ideas, thoroughly developed. And even Gar Reynolds, the author of another comparable book, Presentation Zen calls it the best book on presenting ever created.   So I suggest, if you’re interested in taking your slides several levels forward, that you consider looking into Slide:ology.  You can  also view an interesting little video by Nancy Duarte on the website for her book.

Before closing I want to add that I can imagine some of you might sensibly be saying, “Well why should I be concerned with this, I’m a coach, why would I need to worry about presenting.” I’m convinced that workshops and presentations are still important parts of professional learning in schools.   Workshops introduce new ideas into the school or district, with coaching providing the support to translate those ideas into action.    For that reason, our presentations should be as well done (and I would include partnership learning structures) as possible.   Creating a well-prepared presentation is just as important as crafting a well-prepared written document; anything less is at least careless and may be irresponsible.   Of course, a well-crafted presentation, where the slides powerfully support the talking and learning structures, can be an exciting, authentic, and truly useful way of sharing information. I think Slide:ology can help us do that.   

Next week I'll write about Sway a book about "the irresistible pull of irrational behavior."  I think it is must reading for coaches.