Fire fighting, Squash rackets, and more. In this episode, Andy, Robin and Adam are joined by Craig Parkinson once again to discuss coaching. What is the role of coaching? What are the differences between mentors and coaches? Plus, how many times can Andy mention the Greeks? Listen to find out!
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hi, I'm Robin Potter.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is the School of School Podcast.
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Welcome back to another episode of the School of School Podcast. I'm joined by our usual suspects, Adam and Andy. And today we have a special guest, Craig Parkinson. Now, Craig, you do have a bit of a bio, so if you don't mind, please introduce yourself.
I started my professional academic career as a secondary maths teacher. I came into education in my 30s, loved watching children make progress and light bulbs come on, but realised that as professionals we could do that as well. So it was a natural progression to move into the training world. So I've, for the last six years, been a Maths — No Problem! Trainer, training schools around the UK. For the last 11 years, I've worked with Professor Hattie and his team delivering the Visible Learning Plus work throughout the UK. And I also work as a Certified CliftonStrengths Coach with Gallup, looking at how we can focus on what's right about people rather than obsessing relentlessly about what's wrong with them.
Could you perhaps explain more about what a strengths coach is?
So Clifton Strengths is... Let's just go back a little bit before that. Before I became a coach, I wanted to find what I thought was the most valid and rigorous coaching programme that was out there. And the pandemic gave me that space to look for that. Gallup's CliftonStrengths coaching goes back about 60 years. Gallup a huge talent organisation, a international company. The database of clients that they've got is 95% of the Fortune 500 companies in the US use it.
One of my CliftonStrengths is one called Significance. I've been associated with high-quality things and with successful things. So I steer towards that. And what CliftonStrengths helps you do is find out what you're naturally good at, what you're naturally disposed towards. Because as adults, we've sort of gone through enough lived experiences to favour certain things. My number one CliftonStrengths theme is learner. I just love looking on the cutting edge of things and looking to the horizon thinking, so what else can we find out about this? I don't need to pass exams. I just love learning and being curious and CliftonStrengths allowed me the chance to discover what made me me, and then I can be more of it more often.
I wonder, I was just thinking when you were saying that. You know how sometimes someone might say to you, "Do you know what? You're a really empathetic person," or you're a this or you're a that. And because it's a positive thing, you think I'll grab that with both hands. Yeah, I am. Yeah, no, absolutely. Then for the next two weeks, I'll tell everyone, "Did I mentioned that I was really empathetic and a super deep..." Dah, dah, dah, dah, day, or whatever it is. Right?
Talk about me. I'm really empathetic.
No, no, no. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But I suppose what I'm getting at, is it accurate or is it one of those where it makes us feel good because the traits that... Do you ever do one of these things and it goes, right, you're a narcissist, you're a horrible person, you're a pathological liar. Do you know what I mean? Do you understand what I'm saying here? Is it accurate? That's what I'm asking.
Listen, I totally get it. I'll just come to the accuracy in a moment. There are 34 themes and what you do when you get your report, your eyes want to go to what's in your bottom five because naturally we want to see what we're rubbish at. That's what we do. We like to throw stones at ourselves a little bit too often. In my bottom five, I've got empathy. Now that doesn't mean that I'm not empathetic and I don't look at you and think, oh, so therefore I'm a really selfish person who doesn't care about anybody else. It just happens to be something that I don't do as naturally as all the other things.
With regards to the accuracy, I've coached a few hundred people now and every time they get their report, I always say to them, "Right, you read your report and see to what extent you think it's true and let somebody else who knows you read your report and see if they think it's true as well." Do you get the chance to see yourself as others see you? And there's not been one... I'll tell a lie. Only one person said he didn't represent them, but they downloaded the report of Don Clifton who's the pioneer of positive psychology. And they went, "I'm not futuristic." And I went, "And neither are you a 60-year-old American, you're a 30-year-old woman from Yorkshire." But everybody has said this really, really resonates with me.
That's interesting. Yeah, that's really interesting.
And I've had somebody who really knows psychometric testing look at this and they said that the author of the assessment is the world authority on psychometric testing. And the validity and stability of the assessment that you look at is really incredibly strong. I don't think there's anything out there that I could see that was such high quality.
Yeah, well, I didn't mean to give you a grilling. I was just curious. I was just curious. I though, I might become employed.
I'm low in harmony as well. No, it's okay. My harmony is in my bottom five. So I'll always stand up for a fight if there is one. I've got connectedness as my number five theme. Now connectedness means that I see the world as an ecosystem. So whilst I'm low in empathy, I'm really high on not wanting to rock the boat. I want to send positive waves out because I know that there's an ecosystem that I don't want to disrupt. So if I send positivity out into the universe, positivity will come back. If I send negativity out... That's how my connectedness works.
But that point about these things are learnable, but if you were to spend five days learning how to be better at your number one theme and compare that spending five days on spending how to be better at your bottom number 34 theme, you won't get nearer to excellence working on your weakness. You get nearer to excellence working on the things that you do well. And rather than trying to become fully-rounded individuals who are jack of all trades, master of none, which can't get all the scales up to 10 out to 10, we have to decide what to invest our time in. When people invest their efforts in the things that they naturally do well and really, really push those, then they tend to have greater levels of wellbeing, of satisfaction, of effectiveness. Whereas when you look at the other things, it just stops you not being good at something.
So how does this relate to the classroom?
Well, I think there's a split screen that we can talk about here. So when we're in the classroom as teachers, when we get pupils who are becoming more metacognitive, they don't need direction, they don't need to be told what to do, they don't need that task level feedback that comes from the instructional model of feedback. They need to be coached more. So where you've got somebody whose competence level is much higher, that you need to coach them, you need to help draw out of them what it is that's possible. Whereas when your competence level's low, then you don't coach. You just mentor, don't you? You just tell them what you're meant to do.
So in the classroom, coaching needs to be the thing that you offer to pupils when the level of competence is high enough for them to be able to do it. With adults, it's about saying, okay, I can coach somebody or mentor someone. If I mentor someone, I'm going to do more of the heavy lifting. I'm going to be getting more tired, because I'm going to tell them what to do and I'm also taking more of the responsibility. So the agency and such is with me. Whereas when I coach somebody, we might not get to the solution just as quickly, but they've got real ownership of it.
And then I think where we have professional agency and autonomy where that's... Because that's been shown, if you want a motivated profession, make sure that the profession has agency and autonomy. And the best way to give somebody agency and autonomy is in a coaching way. Because if you give them mentor way, it's just you keep carrying me and then I'll keep letting you, just like with the children in the classroom, you just tell me what to do and I'll do it. And that didactic contract that Russo talks about, where I, as the teacher, tell you what to do and you fulfil the contract by doing it, that's not a coaching transaction. Whereas when you coach somebody, you use educate in the sort of Latin-rooted word educere, which is not to fill in but to draw out of somebody.
I'm a bit stuck here, I have to think about this. I'm trying to understand. We use words like didactics. So didactic, for example, tends to be a dirty word in most instances in education, nowadays anyway. In the past that was kind of the model that we used. But then there are didactic natures in some of the things that we do, like mathematics, the structures of mathematics, it's quite didactic in nature. I remember hearing Tony Gardner talk about this, I think there's even a video on YouTube about it. The structures in mathematics are very didactic, that's to say that you have to learn this before you learn that. And that really shouldn't be left to chance because if you do, then the likelihood that the children have the correct learning journey as they go through something is really unlikely.
That's why discovery learning in general isn't necessarily the best model to apply for certain topics. Although it may work for some, it doesn't work for all topics. So this is where a teacher's professional judgement and the education systems and the publishers and everybody else need to be mindful and aware of where didactics play a role. Mentoring and coaching, again, sometimes you have to do direct instruction because there's just stuff that it's just you have to know this. It's just a fact and you have to know it and there's no thinking that will ever lead you to the right answer. What's a good example? The alphabet comes in a certain order. Why does the letter B come before C? Who knows? I don't know. There's some history. It probably started in Greece of course, but-
I was just waiting for that.
So that's like, how do you teach that? There's only one way to teach. It's kind of rote. It's didactic in nature. Coaching and mentoring... Coachings aren't going to get you there, right? The point is, is that all these different types of helping people get to where they need to be require sound judgement as to when to use what and understanding that that one method doesn't always work or isn't always the most efficient or the most effective in a particular scenario. And that sometimes you have to modify what you do based on the requirements of the task.
Okay, so what am I saying? I guess for me, coaching is, I think what Craig said is right. I think in order for someone to be coached effectively or to be a good recipient of coaching, they have to be ready. They have to be at a certain level and they have to... I think the trick for a teacher is knowing when do you coach, when do you mentor? When do you just tell it like it is? And I don't know.... So it's got my whole mind spinning about what is the role of coaching because it's different at different age groups. In secondary school, you should probably be doing more coaching than you are in, let's say, reception or it's a different type of coaching in reception, right? It's like trying to manipulate children not to fight over a toy or whatever. I don't know. Adam, you come on, you jump in here. You're being quiet.
No, I think one of the things that I think has to be said, and amongst all of this is both of these things require a massive skillset. And the best coaches are those that have learned those moments, when to coach, when to mentor, and what that coaching looks like. Because there are going to be times where... And there has to be that balance. There can't be one or the other. Because if I spend all day just saying to the children, "All right, so what do you think this is? And where do you think it goes? Can you find another way to do it?" And that's all I ever do. And they're sitting there going, "No, I don't know how to do another way." And I'll say, "All right, well, let's try again tomorrow and let's do it the next day and let's do it the next." They'll just give up.
So I think there has to be times... If the house is on fire and there's a bucket of petrol and there's a bucket of water, I don't want the firemen going, "Grab one of each and have a wee go. And you decide that in a future fire, what do you want?" You want someone to say to you, "Grab that bucket, throw it on there. Now let's consider why we use that afterwards." And I think that where I find both of these things go wrong is when there's not a sound enough judgement on when to use either of them.
I remember being told about the, oh god, I can't even remember what it was wrapped up. Let's just say, and I don't mean this how it sounds literally, but it was like the philosophy of teaching or something. But what this particularly course equated to was asking questions, well, why do you think that we use that shape paper? Why do we dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah? And I saw a lot of people do it really poorly, which meant it was just frustrating. But then on the flip side of it, I've seen a lot of people that don't give people a chance to think about something and they just tell them. And that's equally as frustrating because it's like, well, can you at least give me a chance? Don't make the cake for me. I want to make it, please. I'm sick of watching you making cakes. It sucks. I want to have a go. I want to crack the eggs. Let me do that.
So I think it's about balance and skillset and I think we can't downplay that that skillset gets increasingly better, which makes our judgement better. And there's a place for both. I think that's what I'd come to.
I think you're right in terms of a place for both. But one of the structures that you can use to see whether somebody's ready for coaching or not is when you look at the SOLO taxonomy, how you have quantity of knowledge on one half of it, how much do you know? And then quality of knowledge of how well do you know it? If somebody's only at the knowledge building phase, I don't think you really need to be working with metacognition necessarily at that point or coaching at that point because you don't have sufficient knowledge to be able to do anything with it.
But Piaget talks about giving people ample processing time. And Zoltan Dienes talks about don't rush to the big reveal for the pupils. Let them do an element of constructivism there to see if they can draw it out for themselves. And if not, then we either step in and say, right, competence level's at such a level. So we need to mentor at this point. I need to be more didactic. Or, at the moment we've got some good ideas there. Once we've got some good ideas and we've crossed over into the qualitative phase of learning, how well do you know it? What relations are you making with this schema that you've got in front of you? What hypotheses and conjectures do you now have? When you're at that phase, then you want to be using coaching. I think that's how I see it used best in the classroom.
But I think what you've just described though, that's a massive skillset though, isn't it?
Like if I was a brand new teacher coming into a classroom. I think what we have to acknowledge is sometimes I think we talk about the headlines, we talk about, ah, yeah, coaching is great for this. It really brings the pupils on massively. Let's do a half hour staff meeting and then go away and use coaching. But the reality is, is that the skillset that's involved in anything, like what's the common denominator with probably the best coaches in the world, it doesn't matter whether it's a sport or in any environment, they've got experience of doing it. No one has their first job at the very absolute pinnacle, but surely that skillset needs to be developed and we just need to be mindful of that. I think that's all I'm trying to say is that the application of it in the classroom, we need to understand what it looks like, when to use it and those things. And that takes a while to understand, to utilise effectively.
If I could pick up on the point about great coaches have been able to demonstrate the skillset that's required. I used to think that was true because I've been coached by the world's best squash coaches. They haven't been the world's best players themselves, but they've known the game. But I now coach people outside of education. I coach leaders of industry. I don't know anything about their industry, but I can coach them because they've got sufficient knowledge to be able to answer the powerful questions that I put towards them. So a great coach really can coach. You end up coaching the person, not the player in sport. When they get so good, it's not the technique. And with teachers, it's not the pedagogical choices that they're going for, you coach the person. But when you're a new starter, which is why teachers have mentors and not coaches, the mentors are there to try and keep the bandwidth of the teacher open so that they're able to function. Because we know as soon as the lesson starts, your bandwidth goes from fibre to dial up. It really shrinks very, very quickly, doesn't it?
I'm always wondering, can you be a great mentor and not necessarily a coach? Do they have to go hand in hand?
I think so. Yeah. Just from my own anecdote, because I ended up playing squash at a fairly decent level, and the club coaches sometimes are the ones who are the mentors. They tell you how to hold the racket and such. Then go to the next people to help you with strategy. They don't need to worry about can you hold the racket right because you're there for a different reason. So you go from mentoring into coaching, which is the strategic part, not how do you play this shot, but what shot options do you have available to you and which one might you use? And then you get to the world-class coaches and they're doing something totally different. They're not showing you how to hold the racket anymore. They're working in a very, very different way.
So I think there are some people who are phenomenal mentors who probably are best keeping as mentors. And there are some people who are phenomenal coaches who couldn't be mentors. For example, I would much rather coach somebody than mentor somebody because I love when people make connections between things. And I love it when people go, "I've created this thing." I like it when they have the heuristics, that eureka moment. You don't get that if you mentor somebody unless they go, "Oh, I get now why I do it." But if I can coach somebody who then goes, "I know exactly what I'm going to do now because I know what's on my 30-day horizon and I know which of my strengths I'm going to use in which sort of order to help me to get to that place. I'm going to use this from the toolkit and this and this."
The toolkit of strengths is, for me, I've got my learner, I've got my strategic, I've got input and intellection and connectedness. I know when to use communication, I know when to turn it off or I try to. But as teachers, were not very good at turning that bit off. So you have that intentionality and you then have autonomy as well. A lot of teachers and leaders that I speak to are saying, obviously with the pandemic, "My mojo has really, really disappeared." You can't mentor somebody back to having their mojo. They have to discover it for themselves. So coaching is the thing that helps.
I think on a personal level, when I think about the people who have had the most profound effect in my life, I think it will always be those people who would probably fall into a coaching element. There's one person I'm thinking of, he was a coach. Peter Sinclair, if you're out there listening, you've affected my teaching in such a wonderful way and hopefully that's impacted on kids. So thank you, Peter. But he was someone who I think had that skill of asking the right questions at the right time, which had a profound impact. And so whilst I'm sure we will remember some mentors that may have taught us something about functionality, I think that sort of poignant question asking that forms some of coaching can really lead us to places that can have quite a significant effect on us for a long time. And I think that when it's done well, those moments are pretty special.
I don't think you can be... If you're in any kind of leadership role whatsoever, classroom teacher is a leadership role really. I mean coaching, it's no longer a specialty, right? So Bill Campbell, Trillion Dollar Coach, there's a book written about him. He was a Silicon Valley coach. So coach for Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Eric Schmidt. So you're talking about like the three most influential companies of our lifetime, Google, Amazon, and Apple. The leaders of all these companies all had the same "coach", he was called the Trillion Dollar Coach. He sat on the board of all of those companies simultaneously, interestingly. He was the CEO of lots of companies. But anyway, his history, his background came from being a football coach and they called him The Coach. And his role was being the coach at all these companies. And he said, "Coaching is no longer a specialty." He said, "You can't be a good manager without being a good coach." I think the same is true for a teacher or any leadership role whatsoever. Anywhere where you have people under your influence, you need to be able to coach. Coach is a core skill.
So what's the difference between a coach and a mentor, I guess is part of the question that we're still kind of grappling with what Robin was pointing out? I mean, Craig, you were kind of defining a mentor as someone who's going to show you how to hold a racket while a coach is going to maybe work more on the person and the personality. Is that a fair definition? Do you agree with that definition, Robin? Or do you see a mentor as something different?
Oh, I'm sorry. I thought you were talking to Craig. I thought you were talking to Craig.
No. I said, "Robin, what do you think?"
I see them as either they can be one. I've certainly experienced having one person as both a coach and a mentor. But that's not to say that many of my coaches have been mentors for me. Yet-
So what's your definition of a mentor though? What's the difference between a mentor and a coach in your mind? Because I'm not sure that we're necessarily defining them in the same way.
Yeah. A mentor to me is someone that I look up to, I look to for not just motivation but inspiration, who engages me to be more curious.
Yeah. So you've got a different definition than Craig because Craig was implying, and for him anyway, a mentor is someone who is going to show you how to hold your squash rack while a coach is going to look at the person... It's almost like you guys have inverse-
Shall I summarise my position in a better way then? Mentor and coach are on the same continuum, but you can't be both at the same time. One is directive, the mentor's directive, they tell you what to do. They do more of the heavy lifting. The coach is non-directive. They listen, they reframe things, they put it back to you. They say, just like you did to us there, Andy, "Is that what you're saying?" Coaches get you to be more metacognitive. Mentors get you to be more cognitive.
This is a whole other... We're going to have another conversation on this, I can tell.
All right. Yes, we will.
I'll get my definitions straightened out for you too.
Can someone get the dictionary out?
I'll go with mentor very quickly. Odysseus' wise advisor was the mentor who told Odysseus in the Greek travels where to go.
I was about to say, you're making Andy's day here. Keep going, Craig.
Here we go.
Keep the tape rolling.
Always going back to your heritage.
Sorry, no, you have to say that again. In all that giggling, I lost your message. What did you say, Craig? You said about Odysseus... He was Greek, right, by the way just so-
Yeah. This is it. So from the Great Odyssey, the mentor is the wise advisor who tells somebody which door to go through. That's what the mentor does. Whereas the coach would say, "Which one do you think you should go through? Well, why not this one? What about if there was a..." One makes you act, the other one gets you to think before you act.
When in doubt always refer back to the ancient Greeks. That's what you're saying-
Oh, here we go again. Time to end this one. Craig, thanks so much. This has been awesome.
It's been a pleasure. Thank you.
Thank you for joining us on the School of School Podcast.
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