Appreciate Strength & Just do it

Appreciate strengths (1)


Photo by Delaney Schlemko & the story behind the photo


As I reflect on my Connected Coaching experience, I can solidly use many of the protocols and activities in my own practice to assist in teacher growth.  I have been trained as a 7Habits trainer and a Cognitive Coach. Connected Coaching gave me new ways to think about coaching in all three pathmarkers: Trustbuilding, Questioning and Design Thinking.  As an administrator, I have opportunities to coach a variety of stakeholders at any given time and the more tools I have in my toolbox the better. This gives me better opportunity to choose the right tool for the right situation.


Although there are many new possibilities in using the Connected Coaching knowledge and skills, in this reflection I will discuss possibilities in two of the three major pathmarkers: Trustbuilding and Design Thinking. As I reflect on these pathmarkers, I share possibilities that have been generated due to significant “ah-ha” moments.  These possibilities are my own thoughts and will be brought to our design team.



Two things that continue to resonate for me in this pathmarker are: Building relationships using the Appreciative Inquiry approach and the power of story. A few weeks ago I shared some of my thinking about these here.  I continue to think about the possibilities…

Relationships built on trust have always been the number 1 foundational piece in every aspect of life–personal or professional. Some examples that are related to my previous coaching experience are: Effective reflective practice requires you to trust yourself first according to York-Barr, et al, effective coaching can not occur in Cognitive Coaching  unless rapport is established and, Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is based on the belief that one must master the Private Victory  (including self-trust) before one can operate in the Public Victory (trusting others). Here I also talk about how Monty Roberts describes the importance of relationships; no learning happens if there is no relationship:

“As with horse whisperers, we, too, want to “Join-Up” with teachers rather than to break them down.  We want teachers to work out of willingness, not out of fear.”

From: Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time by Tschannen-Moran & Tschannen-Moran.


Appreciative Inquiry 

The significance for me is how the Appreciative Inquiry Approach (video here and article here) within the Connected Coaching model can continue to powerfully build trust throughout the process. It has the potential to consistently build trust because of the way this approach makes the coachee feel. People feel empowered and motivated…not defeated.  Trust does not just happen over night and this approach constantly works at it and, at the same time, moves people forward. Tschannen-Moran & Tschannen-Moran state:

“ AI does not pretend there are no problems; it rather assumes that people will outgrow their problems the more they focus on their strengths, vitalities, aspirations, and possibilities.”


 Story Empathy

Don’t underestimate the power of story is still a significant “ah-ha” for me. Powerful stories bring about emotions and when people are emotionally moved in a positive way, they remember and can become motivated. 

“Stories can be the best way to package meaning and spur others on to achieve.”

(Hattersley, 1997)

From: Tales for coaching: using stories and metaphors with individuals & small groups By Margaret Parkin


When people are hesitant in relationships, stuck in their thinking or have challenges with change, then the power of story can positively find ways to overcome these challenges.


The AI approach and using the power of story within this model has brought about some possibilities for me to use in my practice:


  1. Rethink how we assist teachers with their professional growth plan:  

Although we currently use a coaching model to assist teachers in their reflection of their own classroom walk-through data, we still require goal setting based on what they think they need growth. It just seems defeating to always have to focus on what needs improving instead of focusing on building up what is going right.  We might be able to change not only our coaching conversations but also making sure processes align by using this design thinking template.


  1. Rethink interview questions within the evidence-based hiring proces:

Stop asking interview candidates their areas of growth!! Leave it at: “What are your strengths?”. We spend a half an hour talking about their strengths, successful experiences, etc. We look at their portfolio (which is a showcase of their best work) and we talk to references who describe best highlights. Yet, we still feel the need to ask what are their deficits.  It’s like we did not listen or see all the great strengths for the first 27 minutes!!


  1. Rethink how we look at our values and beliefs:

Digging deeper to examine our values and beliefs can help facilitate change.  Paradigms and paradigm shifts through the 7 Habits are summarized here.  The way we think, act and change is also explain here as the Ladder of Inference. Knowing how we think can help bring about change. The Appreciative Inquiry approach also assists in this examination in a positive way.


  1. Rethink how to move forward through the change process:

Requesting stories and reframing the positive in stories when people are stuck in their thinking or having challenges with change can bring about new energy.


  1. Rethink new possibilities on developing Habit 2 – Begin with the End in Mind:

The Connected Coaching model with the Appreciative Inquiry approach and design thinking has great opportunities to create the “end in mind” in an empowering way.


  1. Rethink the way we help kids:

As schools, are being forewarned that 40% of kids will have mental health challenges in the near future and then we are asked “how will you deal with it?”. I see potential to align the AI approach when working with our kids as well:  Strength-based Approach for kids.


Design Thinking

My “ah-ha” moment for me with design thinking is that we do it all the time. We may not be consciously aware of it and we might not have an official process to follow but teachers are always designing to meet the needs of students.  This structured process and the variety of activities that go along with it can really bring design to a new level! It’s an effective process for “learn to do by doing” (the 4-H motto is true!).  The process can help alleviate fear of failure and promote the “do something” and “just do it!” attitude!

The design thinking ‘big possibility’ for me right now is that our PLTs (professional learning teams) are design teams. Using the design thinking process will help staff to understand that our response to intervention within the Collaborative Response Model will be a prototype.  This process will help generate more ideas, develop prototypes and help them to realize it won’t be perfect the first time and that we will continue to build on it.


The past 8 weeks of learning in collaboration with new colleagues through Powerful Learning Practice has brought on many new possibilities foe me.  Now the work begins…


About Maureen Schlemko

Principal, literacy specialist, instructional leader and coach passionate about connected leading & learning and inspiring others!

Posted on July 30, 2014, in Embodying Visionary Leadership, Fostering Effective Relationships, Leadership, Leading a Learning Community, Providing Instructional Leadership and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Maureen,
    So appreciating the variety of resources you’ve linked to in your reflection. Feeling that you’ve pulled the best of what is for you so that you can create the best of what can be. That resonates with me.

    Your deep thinking and strength based perspective speak to me– I’d love to be a member of your staff. Your faculty and your students are so fortunate to have you as their instructional leader.

    I’m so glad our paths have crossed,

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