In part 2 of this 4-part interview, Center for School Transformation CAO & Professor Megan Tschannen-Moran defines evocative coaching and outlines how to use the approach.
Watch the interview video on evocative coaching above, or read the interview transcript below.
Evocative coaching helps you replace “How did it go?” with “How did you grow?”
– Welcome to another PL together lounge talk. I’m Adam Geller, founder and CEO of Edthena, the video coaching platform for streamlining feedback to teachers. Today, we’re talking with Megan Tschannen-Moran. She’s a professor at William and Mary, and also the author of several books, including one called Evocative Coaching, Transforming Schools, One Conversation at a Time. Megan, thanks so much for joining us.
– Thanks. I’m so glad to be here, Adam.
– Well, I mentioned your book because I feel like I want to talk about and understand what is evocative coaching, because, you know, we hear about a lot of different kinds of coaching, but I haven’t heard about evocative coaching before. So, you know, when you’re just meeting somebody and they’d say, “Well, what is that?” What do you tell them?
– Yeah. Well, the word evocative means to call forth or to give voice. And so we chose that as the name of our coaching model because we want to make it really clear that the coaching projects remains with the person that we’re coaching, that it’s, they are in charge of their own learning and growth. And that our job is to create an inviting space where they can discover the answers that are within. That these answers are going to be much more durable than answers that we push in from the outside, try and being in a directive mode, or insisting that they do things the way that we have done it or that, you know, what we discovered in our own professional lives as a way of moving forward. So this idea of giving voice that we’re calling forth, that we’re asking our primary job as coaches is to ask powerful questions that get people to reflect and to think deeply about their own work in order to discover their own answers. It doesn’t mean that that there’s no input from us as the coach, but we are providing input in a way that we’re really careful not to deprive the person we’re coaching of the ownership for the, of the coaching project.
– Lots of steering us toward this kind of mindset here that we will not be directing the solution toward the teacher. We need to bring it forth from them, as you said. So your coaching cycle, I know has two big, you call them turns the no fault turn and the strengths building turn, and we’ll have an opportunity to go into each of them a bit more ’cause I know there’s some sub-phases, or I don’t know how you describe them, but tell us first, just big picture. What are the two turns, and how are they different? How should I be thinking about them as a coach and conceptualizing them as two distinct phases of the coaching cycle?
– Yes. So the first phase is the no-fault phase, and this is where we’re building trust and rapport. And we are listening. Our posture is as coaches is to listen well, to throw out some powerful questions, and then listen well to invite them to tell us their story, what’s going on for them in their professional lives, what’s going on in the classroom. What are they feeling really proud about? You know, what are the challenges, what are their struggles. But we want to get that story at the center of what we’re doing, and we do that by listening well. And then we’re going to offer empathy. So we have a structured process by which we are going to affirm it, acknowledge and affirm their reality, what’s going on with them. So that they’re a little less alone with those experiences that as coaches, we can come alongside of them. We use a term called join up that we borrowed from Monte Roberts, who is a horse trainer, but he’s able to create a sense of connection with his horses. And as a result, move the project of training or starting a horse along much more rapidly than traditional models. And so we want to do that with teachers as well, create this bond of support and trust. So that then we were watching for this beautiful moment between phases that we call the golden side. The place where the person feels that we can see that they felt heard, they felt acknowledged. And that often comes with the bobbing of the head, sometimes just dropping of the shoulders, a leaning in, and we’re watching for that moment. We don’t want to lose that. ‘Cause as valuable as no fault turn is, the purpose of coaching is to bring about motivation and movement. And so we want to look for that moment, that opening, and then move into our second phase, which we call the strengths building turn. So at that point, we want to look for their strengths, go on a treasure hunt and saying, “Okay, what have we got to work with here? What are some outstanding strengths that you’ve got that we can marshall in service of this next great thing, this next phase in your professional learning and growth.” And then as we did, as we designed that, we use design thinking process to design what we call an experiment, a coaching experiment, we’ll use that experimental design template to invite them to articulate a hypothesis. Let’s frame their learning and growth the way scientists do. Let’s let’s have a hypothesis. If I do a little bit more of this, then I think I’m going to get some more of that. And then we designed an experiment to test that hypothesis. And so we call it the designing a smarter experiment as opposed to a smart goal. And the difference is that a smart goal is something you can fall short of. And so we recognize that in schools where smart goals are a part of the evaluation process, people have a tendency to game the system, to shoot low so that they feel safe. Like, I’m pretty confident I can make that goal. So they’re not really stretched goals very often. They are sort of safe goals, but an experiment you can’t fail. If as long as you reflect on it and learn from it, then it’s been a valuable experience. So we want to be thoughtful. We’re not just trying willy nilly. We want to think through this experiment and get as clear and specific as we can in laying it out. But then when we explore it, our next coaching conversation, we’ll come back and say, “How did you grow?” instead of “How did it go?” ‘Cause then you might go, “Oh no, it was terrible,” and whatever. Instead, how did you grow from that? What new insights, what learning emerged from your experiment? And then, so we evaluate it, and then we refine it. That’s the smart, or that’s the ER on smarter is that we try our experiment, we design our experiment, we give it a try. Then we take a look at it. What went just the way I was thinking it was going to, and then maybe where did things deviate for better or for worse. And, and then we refine it. Okay. How are we going to build on what we learned, and what are we going to do the next time?
– I like how you described the difference between the smart goal and the smart experiment because the experiment is something that you can’t fall short of. That, it really resonated with me as someone who, just like you, talks a lot about coaching and reflection. And it just made me realize like, yeah, that’s what it’s about. The purpose here is to have examined the progress, not to determine if, you know, explicitly, if the end goal was met as part of that coaching process. You mentioned some templates. I want to make sure to mention to folks listening and watching to this, head to schooltransformation.com because if you were hearing, “Oh, we have a template.” Well, I have good news. Those templates are on their website. You can check them out. I do want to ask Megan here one question to help kind of help myself as well as I suspect some coaches out there, kind of think through your model, you know, we’re in a mode where we’re helping the teacher or the educator uncover what’s next for them. And you described kind of that strength-based search. But you know, there is an aspect here, you’re not giving labels to it, but an aspect of something that is needing improvement. And sometimes people are feeling like they’re, you know, hitting their head against the wall, finding some creative solutions. So do you have any advice for not falling back into that directive mode, but maybe it’s just as simple as offering options and letting the teacher choose, but you know, how does the coach clear a roadblock for that educator who’s feeling stuck and not able to design a solution?
– So, first thing we want to have established enough trust that they can be frank with us to say, you know, “I’m hitting my head against a wall.” You know, “Here’s some things I’ve tried, and it’s not working for me,” you know, “I’m still struggling in this area.” And then we may engage in some brainstorming about ways to move forward. But what we try to do as part of this evocative model, keeping the responsibility and the ownership of professional learning with the person is we’d like to invite them to put the first idea on the table because we have a, we delineate a set of traps. And one of the coaching traps we talk about is the fix-it trap. And if we take, that’s a sort of an indication that we’re taking too much ownership. And we say, well, how about this? No, that won’t work. Well, how about that? Oh, I tried that. And so if we keep getting a lot of yes, but; yes, but; yes, but; that’s kind of a simple symptom that maybe we better step back and change our approach as coaching. We’re not getting it, and they’re feeling pushed. So it could be, you know, so tell me three things you’ve already tried and what are the things that didn’t work or sometimes when people are stuck, we try a method that we borrowed from Hollywood screenwriters, or at least that’s where we first heard about it, I was like, “Okay. So what’s the worst idea you could put out on the table?” So for the first brainstorming, it’s just like, “What would it be a really bad idea for moving forward in that area of challenge?” And sometimes that brings us a sense of levity. I mean, at that point somebody’s under a lot of stress, right? They’ve tried. this is something that’s important to them. They’re frustrated. And so sometimes just introducing something a little bit lighthearted. Okay, well that would be a terrible way to go about that. We can get some lightheartedness about it and then come back in to… But we, as a coach, never want to be the one doing all the brainstorming. We don’t want to put all the ideas on the table. And even if we put the first idea on the table, they’re very likely, because teachers have been socialized to be in compliance mode because we’ve had overly bureaucratic and underly professionalized work settings, they’re likely to think, oh, that’s the thing you want me to do. So yes ma’am yes, sir. I’ll do it. And that’s not the energy that we want around this coaching project. We want to cook up motivation in this person so that they’re engaged and motivated to engage, to do this experiment that we’ve cooked up together.
– Lots of gems there. And I feel like a key message was, in a good way, you were pointing the finger at me and saying, no, no, no. Do not go back into that directive suggestion mode. So a helpful way of thinking about it. I like those tactical ideas that you were suggesting. Megan, we are going to need to take a break. For those of you who are watching this, or maybe this was shared to you by a colleague, or you found it on social media, and you’re wondering what we’re going to talk about next, Make sure to head to PLtogether.org for the rest of this conversation, as well as many more. Megan, thanks so much for joining us.
– Glad to be here. Thanks.
For more interviews with education leaders about evocative coaching and other insights, check out all of our PLtogether Lounge Talks.