Part 1 of our conversation with Elena Aguilar, author and instructional coaching expert

Here is the transcript.

– Hi, and welcome to PL Together Lounge Talks. I’m Adam Geller, founder and CEO of Edthena. Today we’re talking with Elena Aguilar. She is the author of multiple books about coaching, including “The Art of Coaching” and “Onward”. She is the founder of an organization of Bright Morning, and dare I say she is one of the people that can honestly be called a guru of coaching. Elena, thanks so much for joining us.

– Thank you, it’s good to be here.

– Yeah, so let’s start for folks that may be really familiar with your books but not as familiar with Bright Morning, what is Bright Morning?

– Bright Morning is the organization that I founded a few years ago that is an international coaching and consulting firm. We provide professional development services, coaching, consulting, and other learning opportunities to folks around the world who are committed to creating just an equitable spaces. Mostly we work in and with educators, but we also work in other sectors as well.

– Well, for folks that haven’t yet encountered Bright Morning, I definitely encourage you to check out their website because they’ve got a lot of good resources, especially right now, they’re really topical to what’s happening. So a lot of good content there in addition to learning about Elena and her team. Let’s, I guess Elena, start with maybe if we all say some bright news, but I’ve been asking folks with some good news. There’s a lot of change, a lot of discomfort, but there is a lot of positive happening if we look for it. So, can you share an example of an educator or someone who supports educators where they’ve adapted or changed in a way that’s really just given you an extra tap on the gas pedal recently?

– I actually think I want to name and appreciate a whole school district, and that is the Portland Public Schools. District leaders there contacted me, must have been six or seven weeks ago now, and asked if I would be interested and able to provide some professional development for all the teachers in their district as well as some for school leaders and coaches. This week I am finishing six weeks of PD for them, and that has been really amazing to see how they’ve taken up the work around resilience. It’s all around cultivating resilient communities during a time of crisis with a commitment to racial equity. And so, it’s sort of the intersection of resilience and equity and how do we provide, how do we support people and communities with a cultural competence lens and with awareness of racial equity and social justice. And so, I meet with folks in a live session twice a week, and just hearing the stories of the ways that teachers have been taking up this learning and implementing it, and acting on it right away, as well as just really appreciating the way that district leaders prioritize this kind of experience for their people. I’m feeling a lot of hope from that approach ’cause it’s systemic, it’s not just one individual person. It’s a systemic response.

– You’re stealing my confirming comment. I was going to say what I really like about that example is it’s a whole system. So I’m stealing that back. I agree though, like wow, to have an entire system of a major metropolitan area take that rapid response approach. That is exciting. You mentioned resilience, and I know that that is a big topic for you. Maybe let’s start there. Obviously, having resilience is always important. Even just trying to frame it up as the current situation, I take that deep breath and I have a sigh because wow, it’s really easy to feel like, “Ugh, I just got knocked over.” Resilience is always important, but why is it important now? Why can’t we just go home and make sure that we’re feeling safe and secure? Why not just, you know, be quiet and go quietly?

– Well, let’s just start really briefly with a definition of resilience. Resilience is our ability to rebound after adversity. It’s how we weather the storms in our lives. And we all have some resilience, every human being is resilient, and we can build it and we can strengthen it. Right now, we are all doing the equivalent of running a marathon. This is gonna be a long stretch of challenge, and so, folks who have done some resilience building intentionally before are kinda more in shape for this marathon, whereas others are really feeling the aches and pains of this brutal, I mean it’s a trauma, it’s a shock to our system. And so, now more than ever is a really important time to understand what is resilience, how do we build it, and what can I do everyday to build my resilience? And I think one of the really important things to know about resilience is that one of the key habits is to understand emotions and to be able to recognize your own emotions. And so when I say start building your resilience, one of the most powerful things that anybody can do right now is to actually stop and literally, perhaps, sit down and say, “What am I feeling? “What are all these emotions that have been “coursing through me now for six weeks, eight weeks?” And actually to pause and gain some understanding around what is fear, and how do we develop a healthy relationship with fear, and how do we feel sadness, and what do we do with sadness? Those are key ways to build resilience. And so, I’m not gonna just prescribe that people start saying positive affirmations, or taking bubble baths, or meditating. All of that is also good and helpful, but actually stopping and saying, “Oh my God, I’ve been overwhelmed by sadness. “I’m so sad.” Doing that will actually build your resilience.

– You know, you made the kind of comparison to the marathon and even said the aches and the pains, and it made me think of, it’s almost like somebody saying, “Oh, well you should start doing yoga.”, but there’s a lot underneath that. I agreed to participate in a course my friend offers which is Yoga for Inflexible Friends, where it’s not like other yoga classes I’ve been in. It’s about like learn this deep stretch and practice that stretch. She’s really focusing on the tools that you need to be a yoga practitioner. So I’m wondering in this realm of kind of becoming more aware of your emotions and becoming more kind of ready to recognize them and name them. I mean, do you have some tactical resources that you would suggest people go to if that’s an area where they recognize they need to build some skill?

– There are resources in my book “Onward” and the “Onward Workbook”, which is all about cultivating emotional resilience. And so, the workbook has hundreds of strategies. It literally has one strategy for every day of the year plus a few. And so, there’s a lot in there about what does it mean to get to know your emotions, and to experience them, and to connect with them. Really, the key thing is to not try to get out of them, or go away from them, or resist them, or push them away, but to actually experience and explore them. So, there’s a lot of resources in those books.

– Can you name one of those techniques somebody might, even without more research, they can hear you explain it in 15 seconds here and try it out tomorrow and see how it feels for that matter.

– The first thing is just being able to recognize when you’re having an emotion. Or some people experience emotions in their bodies, like when you’re feeling angry you can feel your breath get shorter, your hands, perhaps, perspire, you can feel your heart beating faster. Sometimes when we feel sadness, it’s sort of the lack of energy. So first is just recognizing when you’re having an emotion and then having the language to name it, and say “Oh, this is sadness.” or “This is anger.” or “This is hopelessness. “I wonder what that’s about.”

– Yeah, I know one thing I’ve seen related to that, like naming of emotions, folks can go to a book like yours or research for names of emotions because it’s something we’re pretty bad at as humans is knowing the vocabulary to name all those emotions. Lots of different frameworks for thinking about that out there, but it might be a tool even just finding that and printing it out and putting it next to your monitor or your laptop might be helpful.

– Yeah, that is really key. We actually have on my website, there’s a tool called the Core Emotions, and I have a whole bunch of free resources there that people can access, and that’s one of the ones that’s really useful, and it is one of the sort of groupings. It’s one that I just like the most about how we categorize emotions. And so yeah, it’s just developing the literacy and the ability to use language to describe how you’re feeling is really key.

– Great, well those resources would be available on your website which is, right?

– Mm-hmm.

– Well, Elena, we’re going to continue the conversation in just a moment. For those of you watching or listening, you can hear the rest of this conversation at Elena, thanks so much for joining us.