Whispering: coaching to ensure excellence

Whispering: coaching to ensure excellence

Michelle Karns

I have tried to make sense out of the lessons learned over the past 10 years as a consulting coach who helps schools become accountable for educating everyone’s children. Recently, Suzanne Delaware, assistant superintendent of Atwater Elementary School District, said at the end of a week-long principal leadership training that she now understood coaching: “lt’s like horse whispering.”

I realized that she was absolutely right! Horse whispers are gently persuasive, quietly persistent and expertly focused on new learning. The key to “whispering” is a relationship that supports, nurtures and guides changes in attitude and behavior. Force and control are antithetical to this training and behavior-shaping.

When I look back over my career of coaching low-performing Title I schools, I realize that when we relied on “urgent” need and mandates we were far less successful than when faculties built change from postures of attraction, benefit and future-focused goals.

Unfortunately, many of the processes in school improvement have required rigid implementation and prescriptive mandates. Rigid prescriptions de not take advantage of the good things about humans. Coaching is a gentle process that supports change by creating the conditions to make it possible.

I think that I have missed many opportunities to coach/whisper school reform and change using what I know about the human condition. From my experience, the following are usually true:

* Humans will do what benefits them. When you understand the benefit, it can be translated into new action.

* Humans are resistant to being told what to do but are usually willing to do what they create themselves.

* Humans operate best when they are emotionally healthy and having fun.

* Humans will change when the benefit of the change outweighs the benefits of staying the same.

* The possibilities for improvement have to be believed to be achieved.

* Dignity is important to humans.

* A personal sense of control over life helps humans move forward.

* Belonging needs drive human behavior.

* Prosocial conditions breed more human creativity and collaboration than competitive environments.

* Whatever is focused on will expand. Whether we focus on how bad it is, or how good it is, we will get more of the same. We get to choose.

Michelle Karns is an author and a school improvement consultant.

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