“The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating. The paths to it are not found but made, and the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination.” –John Schaar

So it is with Connected Coaching. Our grand destination, so to speak, a transformation of professional learning, increasing confidence and self-efficacy of educators worldwide. Our path– coaching in online spaces through an appreciative inquiry lens.

From the outset, Dean and I have viewed coaching in online spaces as a wayfinding process– a process lacking linearity, and often requiring the need to loopback, to detour, to revisit. As we developed the model, we identified pathmarkers we believed could guide the way of coaches — a process clearly characterized by lack of prescription. From exploring the model with Marsha, Brenda, John, Mark, Zoe and Chad — the 6 bright, passionate, accomplished educators who joined our pilot–  to coaching in communities, I’ve come to understand and appreciate more fully both the great potential of and complex nuances inherent in such a model. Realizing, recognizing, inferring online when to step back, when to revisit, finding the right moment to interject the right question requires countless decisions by those coaching. Through our own collaborative appreciative inquiry into coaching, our own wayfinding, our pilot team of coaches (Dean and I included) have been engaged in an exciting ongoing development of expertise. Our challenges continue to be leveraging the uniqueness of online spaces– lacking eye contact, visual body language cues, unable to adopt many face to face strategies for active listening– we experiment with remixing current face to face protocols, with images, with audio, and with video to build trust, to develop rapport, to speak into the hearts of the team members we serve.

As important to our model has been the appreciative inquiry approach that underlies all our actions as connected coaches. We see our coaching with our community members as mediating their thinking– helping them realize and clarify for themselves their own potential–not through telling but through questions and affirmations that help those we coach discover and uncover their own strengths, helping members to realize the potential of those strengths to effect change– much as Zander notes here:

We have embraced what I view as a refreshing and powerful shift in paradigms– from the current deficit, “fix it” which seems to permeate all we see and do to one of appreciation for the unique strengths of each person. I join others who believe that from this approach momentum for change builds and can flourish. Even now at this stage of our pilot, we see evidence of excitement and camaraderie with a number of teams we are coaching and sense momentum for change building as the positive principle of appreciate inquiry suggests–

“Momentum for change requires large amounts of positive affect and social bonding – things like hope, excitement, inspiration, caring, camaraderie, sense of urgent purpose, and sheer joy in creating something meaningful together. What we have found is that the more positive the question we ask in our work the more long lasting and successful the change effort. It does not help, we have found, to begin our inquiries from the standpoint of the world as a problem to be solved. We are more effective the longer we can retain the spirit of inquiry of the everlasting beginner. The major thing we do that makes the difference is to craft and seed, in better and more catalytic ways, the unconditional positive question.” —Positive Principle, AI

Have we changed as we’ve forged paths of connected coaching?

I– usually but not always an optimist, I’ve become totally convinced that an appreciative inquiry approach is far more powerful and has greater potential to build momentum for change than others. I’ve reached deep inside as I’ve responded to discussions in our online space to find that my lifelong passion for learning about learning has been exceeded now by my passion for learning about coaching.

And our team– as we’ve grown to know each other personally and professionally through our work, has become a community of practice. The conversations around coaching practice have grown deeper. We’ve had some difficult discussions and grown from them. Given other learning opportunities, many of us have chosen to join in because “if some of you are there, I’m in”. We’ve committed to a path of continually developing our expertise. And our lives are the richer for our collaborations together.

Our path may alter a bit; that there will be loopbacks and revisits as we reflect upon and refine our practice is a given. This path to connected coaching holds more than great promise and will benefit from repeated traversing. We are not finished–

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Lani Ritter Hall

Lani is Community Leader for Powerful Learning Practice. She also serves as the “Newbie Maven”, helping along and nurturing newbies to the PLP experience, as well as facilitator for the Connected Coaches. Lani brings more than 35 years of teaching experiences in urban, sub urban, and independent schools at the middle/secondary level in the U.S and Canada to this work. A national board certified teacher, she and her students began collaborating globally in the late 1980’s. Lani has created and facilitated professional development around technology infusion into learning for over twenty years and served in a leadership role for the K12Online Conference for 2 years. She is co-author of The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age.

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