Saturday, November 09, 2013

Vulnerability, Coaching, and Growth

Embracing growth makes us vulnerable.

Vulnerability, in part, is when you acknowledge your shortcomings and areas for growth.

Many choose not to go this route, and many today still think of acknowledging shortcomings as a step in the wrong direction rather than the right direction--why would we want others to know of our areas of weakness or need to improve. Even some evaluation systems or professional ranking routines may serve to punish those who embrace or acknowledge goals which make them vulnerable, goals they might not reach.

Yet we know that embracing our areas of greatest need and our willingness to be vulnerable (human) helps us to move forward in our lives, professions, and relationships.

As we coach students, colleagues, and others, we have to be aware of vulnerability too. At the coaching table, those you coach put trust in you--they share a willingness to be vulnerable, to grow with the expectation that you will honor that vulnerability with empathy, honesty, hard work, and care.

Yesterday, a young bright child stood next to me as I edited her writing piece--a very strong essay for a young child. As I coached, I debated in my mind about how much to push and how much to wait, and eventually decided to push hard this time because the child was ready for a writing leap. After the hard push, I looked at her--she looked vulnerable and a little disquieted by the event.  I asked, "Are you okay? Was this edit too much?" She waited, and then I explained that her lengthy prose was wonderful, and would fit the fiction genre so well, but for persuasive it hid her main point and argument. "What do you think?" I asked.  She nodded and smiled ready to tackle her work. The student, a quick minded, bright girl probably hadn't had much feedback like that before--she was probably used to lots of "Just Greats" on her work. Knowing that we need to continue to move these "high" students along by coaching well, and prompting growth, I made the choice to push--a choice I believe was right for the moment. Coaching, like teaching, is a dance--while you want growth, you don't want to push too hard or create a level of vulnerability that's harmful either. That's the challenge.

Similarly during a math test yesterday a number of children could not figure out a problem. I encouraged by saying, "Remember good learning includes struggle. If you knew all the answers right away, it wouldn't be a good test. I want you to stretch, think, and push yourself. This test will help me to help you do your best and learn. Try to get some of the answer. Challenge yourself." The good natured fourth graders followed through. They persevered. I offered some hints to some which gave them an inroad to the problem and prompted response. In both of these scenarios, we didn't lose the common mission which was aimed at collective and individual academic growth.

Coaches, leaders, and teachers who see their role as developing organizations with depth and care, coach with honesty, compassion, and an eye on making things better. Good teachers, leaders, and coaches are keenly aware of vulnerability--they put the mission of positive learning and developing center stage as they work to kindly and truthfully coach towards greater growth and more successful individuals and organizations.

With this in mind, I'm wondering about these questions:

1. Who are the coaches in our midst?  No matter where we sit on our continuums of need--who are the people that coach us forward with empathy, care, and strength? We must all seek coaches to lead us forward if we want to grow.

2. How do you coach others in your midst?  Do you keep the collective mission center stage in your work while also mindful of individuals' long-term and short-term needs and desires?  Do you have a trusting, honest, and caring relationship with those you coach?  Are you coaching with clarity, focus, communication, and direction?  Are you a loving and compassionate guide?

3. In our organizations are we collectively committed to common goals, mission, and vision?  Do we clearly understand and agree with our organizations' mission and vision?  How is this mission and vision created, communicated, coached, adapted. and met? Do we feel like we're a part of the process or that the process is placed upon us?

These are important questions as we move ahead. We have to be vulnerable to grow and learn. We have to be aware of the vulnerability of those we coach and work with. We also have to recognize together the role vulnerability plays in our collective success with regard to the good work we do.

No one is without room for growth, and no one is without the ability to kindly, respectfully, and knowledgeably coach others around them. Schools can be one-to-many ratios in classrooms, schools, or systems, or they can be many-to-many ratios where all are working to coach, teach, and learn from each other thus creating vital learning communities with shared mission, effort, and result.

There's lots to learn in the world of education today, and by placing vulnerability, coaching, and growth at the forefront, we will get there in ways that will make us all more successful, purposeful, and proud.