Helping people across the threshold from leadership to mentorship is our specialty at Roy Group. We were honoured late last year to work with teachers and administrators from Handsworth Secondary and Carson Graham Secondary schools in School District 44 (North Vancouver) in doing just that.
In the wake of the group’s participation in The Leader’s Discipline™, Handsworth Vice-Principal Mark Barrett wrote a reflection of his experience. (We’ve condensed it, redacted a few things that might give away the Roy Group secret sauce, and republished it below.) Mark, thanks for sharing your voice.
If you are an alumnus of one of our programs, we invite you to submit your reflections and stories of your leadership journey. We are all on this road together, and there’s richness in learning from each other’s lived experiences.
Until next time, remember: You are the work. And there’s no finer investment.
The Leader’s Discipline™ — by Mark Barrett
This month I had the privilege of participating in a professional development opportunity with a coaching and leadership organization called Roy Group. Twenty-one participants, including teachers and administrators, from Handsworth and Carson Graham Secondary gathered over an immersive three days to engage an experience called The Leader’s Discipline™. This work was facilitated by Roy Group founder, Ian Chisholm, as well as Carson Graham Principal, Ian Kennedy.
Much of what we were to discover later was shrouded in a bit of mystery, but the few instructions we did receive beforehand included to clear our calendar for the event, to plan to leave our cell phone off and emails unattended, and finally to make sure we came prepared to discuss a professional problem of practice. Oh, and to dress for activity!
We began with a Wednesday evening dinner that brought the groups from both schools to break bread and build relationships in anticipation of Thursday and Friday. Each participant introduced themselves and talked a little bit about their learning intentions for the experience. Ian Chisholm, or Chiz, as we called him, spoke a bit about his professional journey as well, and how it brought him to work with us today. A few of the aforementioned instructions were provided and we all left looking forward to the next day.
On Thursday morning we met at the North Shore Tennis Club. Although having lived in North Van for most of my life, I’d never actually been inside the facility, so it was neat to see. To begin the day we were each given a notebook, pen, and a series of custom stickers that included quotes, concepts and key ideas we would be working with throughout the day.
The first idea we played with was what it means to be a ‘mentor’; that a mentor is name you don’t give yourself – it needs to be given to you. Our first activity, without giving away the details, was designed to illustrate how being an engaged and attentive listener is such an important skill. And that way we conduct ourselves has real effect on those we interact with.
It was from this activity that I knew what we were learning was going to be absolutely applicable to my daily work; much of my day comprises brief five-minute interactions with colleagues, parents and students. And my ability to be dialled in for each of those conversations has a significant impact on my effectiveness as support in my school. How you conduct yourself is so important. We learned that conduct is where everything inside of you meets everything outside of you, and that the way you choose to conduct yourself creates an atmosphere in others.
With colleagues in the school, it’s important that the atmosphere I’m creating is one of safety… but not comfort. Particularly with all the changes happening in education, it’s more important than ever that educational leaders are encouraging movement from comfort through discomfort – but from a place of safety. High-performance professionals who are heavily engaged in their work are not comfortable.
Through our second activity we started to explore what meaningful feedback looks like. This is where we also began to examine coaching as a vehicle for feedback, mentorship and, ultimately, leadership.
In the afternoon this understanding was further refined. For the purposes of the first afternoon activity, we participants were arranged in trios, with a coachee (player), coach, and supercoach who would provide feedback to the coach on their performance. Coaches used something called The Question Funnel with their players — a series of questions designed to increase awareness and focus attention. Meanwhile, the supercoaches, who were observing the work of the coaches with the coaches, followed The Feedback Model. This model employs three simple but powerful questions that guide the conversation.
Once the coach had the opportunity to provide reflections of their own, then the supercoach was able to offer their thoughts. The ideas we had established earlier about quality feedback needing to be more informative than encouraging were also reinforced through this activity. We each had an opportunity to try all three roles, and from this activity I learned that as a coach/mentor it’s important to be highly attentive, to allow the student to define their own goals, and to remember that learning is a reflective process that works best when people feel safe.
For homework, we were challenged to carve out an authentic and meaningful pause: to take a break from the day, and to make a conscious effort to relax at some point between when we ended our Thursday and began our Friday. (Unfortunately for the Handsworth participants this also happened to be our Parent-Teacher Interview evening. But needless to say, we did our best!)
On Friday we moved locations from the tennis courts to a seminar room at a local rec centre. The focus for Friday was to take the theory and concepts we had learned, and bring them to bear on a real problem of practice we were dealing with. Essentially it was to bridge the theory with the real world and to make it explicitly applicable.
Our first activity was to form new trios of coachee, coach, and supercoach, but this time we weren’t refining tennis skills, but rather coaching our colleagues through real work issues. Ian and Chiz provided us with an exemplar to start, and then we broke out in to different spaces to work. It was a wonderful opportunity to practice using these new tools we had just been equipped with, in a real-world situation.
Another tool which was added to our belt to work through these issues was the GROW model. Each of the four categories includes a series of questions to be used to drill down into a problem and help work towards a possible resolution.
As a coachee, it was insightful to have a coach who could take my issue in unanticipated directions with their questions. It forced me to examine it from a new perspective. I also noted that I didn’t need my coach to have all the answers – the coach is not going to be the source of the solution; they are just there to facilitate my own reflection and to take it in different directions.
As we wound down the experience and debriefed some of our takeaways, we discussed how leaders don’t create followers, they create other leaders. And that good coaching is really about having the right conversation before, and having the right conversation after.
We were challenged to identify ten topics we hope to be coached on, and by whom, and to write them down. Lastly, we set some tangible goals for ourselves, moving forward, and committed to practicing our new coaching and leadership skills in some way. For me, I’m pleased to say I’ve already brought these lessons to bear on my own practice by using The Feedback Model in conducting performance reviews. I also feel better equipped than ever to navigate some of the complex relationships and difficult conversations I regularly encounter in my role.
This was a wonderful professional development experience, and I would highly recommend it for anyone in a position of leadership, or who works in a highly relational industry. It was great to have the chance to work with the team from Carson Graham as well. I’m looking forward to integrating these skills even more into my daily work, as I know they’ll serve me well. Thanks to Ian Chisholm, Ian Kennedy and the Handsworth and Carson Graham teams.
Fall 2019 update:
Mark writes: We’ve been integrating the language and skills honed during that experience throughout our school. “What’s working? What’s tricky? What would you do differently?” have become staples in our conversations with staff and students.