Category Archives: Coaching

A New Variant (of Tiredness)

Finally. Finally I am back working face to face. Training, teaching, coaching, mentoring. The school landscape has changed over 16 months. Or rather, what’s underneath the landscape has changed. People are tired; tired in ways they’ve not known and in ways they struggle to describe or understand. I do my best to help them.

Here’s a thought to make sense of it:

March 2020. Chaos. The unknown, the unexpected, the overwhelming. The wicked. I wrote about that, here. We rallied, pulled on our reserves, created, adapted, struggled and (kind of) got there.

When I realised what COVID-19 actually meant to my work and my livelihood, I did three things:

  1. Wept
  2. Contacted my mentors
  3. Went against my style

Weep

I did. We did. The loss, the stress, the uncertainty. It didn’t fix anything but it released something.

Mentors

I’m lucky to have (and, professionally, insist on having) a mentor, a supervisor and two go-to colleagues. I’m lucky. 4 people who have my professional back. They didn’t fix anything but helped me to see something different.

Style

Hello. My name’s Mike and I’m an introvert. Don’t confuse the person you see in the training room, or at Zoom School, or in the conference hall or classroom with the one who needs to be alone at the end of the day.

Extrovert or introvert is about where you get your energy, not whether you like parties. I love being with people but I recharge alone. Extroverts refuel with others. We are not limited to one style but gravitate to our preference for rest and recovery.

So COVID came and what did I do? Hide away? Disappear? Go inside myself? ‘Introvert’ myself? No. The opposite. I reached out, made new contacts, started Zoom School, rekindled old connections. I went 100% extrovert. I went ‘outside my style’.

Why did I do this? Survival. The psyche goes, ‘You’ve got introvert covered off my friend. It’s your thing. You can do that. Extrovert? Needs work. Not your speciality. And this is a threatening time. All bases need covering, so address the imbalance. Get out there and extrovert!’

And I did. I loved it. But it was exhausting. Staying too long out of style without returning in style for nourishment had a cost, to health, to wellbeing and to my ability to do what I do best.

Maybe, right now, by accident or design, you’ve been ‘out of style’ for too long? Maybe your environment demands this of you. Maybe just knowing why you might feel like you feel – a new variant of tiredness – will go some way to helping.

New things need naming. Do you have, ‘out of style tiredness’?

Artificial Behaviour

House Rules

  1. Communicate Well
  2. Be Kind
  3. Trust
  4. Enjoy the Learning

I wrote these house rules what feels like decades ago, back in April 2020. They served me well during the rapid shift to online training. But, 17 months later, they work just as well face to face. There’s beauty in their simplicity and a power in their application: learners ask, “how are we defining ‘Communicate Well’?” “How do we establish ‘Trust’?” and thus, through a shared understanding, own their rules.

Back then, hauled kicking and screaming into grids on screens, it was easy to forget the basics. That’s understandable. A lot was happening. Our focus was on survival. But I’m curious why I thought to have ‘Zoom rules’ at all. My guess? I was trained well. It was automatic, second nature, to put something – anything – in place to frame the learning.

Augment or Replace?

Years of edtech growth happened in months. Yet even at pace, the competing forces of innovation and caution crafted something of value: Edtech does not replace teachers, it enhances them. Edtech does not ‘take our jobs’ it enriches them. Edtech does not disempower us; it puts wonderful new tools into our hands.

And here’s one that’ll get you thinking, especially if you’re in the business of nurturing new teachers. Meet Savannah, Dev, Ava, Jasmine, and Ethan, US middle school kids who are ready to help you learn the craft of teaching –

Provided by edtech company Murision, they are part of a “mixed-reality teaching simulation environment supporting teacher practice in classroom management, pedagogy and content”. Basically an AI-driven, virtual space where you can try things out, “learn new skills and craft your practice without placing “real” people at risk during the learning process.”

The Basics Remain

Virtual or real, the basics of managing behaviour in class remain the same:

“Here are the rules. Here’s why we have the rules. Here’s what happens if you do or don’t follow them. And here’s how we’re ALL going to make this work”:

  1. By communicating well
  2. By being kind
  3. By trusting
  4. By enjoying the learning

Training

No avatars in sight here, but I consulted on this Challenging Behaviour course and also contributed the video elements (minus beard). Do take a look and try out the interactive demo – if you’re starting your teaching journey or just want a refresher.

Recommended Books

I learned my craft from Bill Rogers’ material and Paul Dix’s approach is very effective. Get these two key texts at Amazon:

The Only Tip You’ll Ever Need To Stop Procrastinating

emre-gencer-364602-unsplash

It took me 15 seconds to begin writing this article and 30 minutes to finish it. Last year it might be anything up to a day to start and two to finish. Why the difference? One word: ‘Just’. Just start writing; just write for 2 minutes; just get your ideas down.

I realised that for most for my writing life I’d been accompanied by a writing demon – a voice in my head with a soft and charming message, triggered whenever I thought of writing a blog or a book or an article. Here’s what it says/said:

Make sure you’ve got all your ideas ready first. You’ve got the structure sorted haven’t you? Are you sure this is the right focus? Have you prepared? Do you know enough?

And then the next level kicked in: Are you sure this’ll be good enough? What if no-one reads it? Is there something better you could be doing?

And once I batted all that away and eventually got started, the demon came back, Oooh, nice sentence, great, well done, better re-read it from the start though – just to make sure it flows. Better edit it now. Take your time, you have to get this right. Make sure it’s really good.

You see, a clever little demon – of my own unconscious making.

But, saved by The Angel of Just my productivity has shot up. This angel has a softer and more charming message: she whispers,

Just start. Just write. Just keep going. Just trust the process. Just battle on through a misspelling or a clumsy sentence. Just keep going. It’ll be good enough and then we can work on it. Just do it.

When it’s done, the raw material is there and it feels good.

But watch out, demon is back, picking away at the editing; wanting perfection not excellence; questioning every decision. Angel responds,

Just edit for 10 minutes. Spelling, grammar, then sense.

Then stop. Go do something else for an hour. Come back, read it fresh, allow yourself JUST 10 changes and hit publish. Maybe take another look, tweak if you like. Then Stop. It’s done. It is what it is.

Where did this demon come from… I wonder if it’s school – the way I was taught to write? Or the misplaced pleasure of reading and re-reading a sentence or paragraph that I think works really well – instead of (just) pressing on.

Just do it. It’s better to have something that needs work than no work at all.

You’re going to do something now, aren’t you? Now you’ve finished reading this. Why not choose that one thing you’ve been avoiding? Whatever it is, just do it for 2 minutes. Just get started. You can.

Photo by Emre Gencer on Unsplash

Was Freud an AI Coach?

IMG_5064

At the End of the Couch

This is Sigmund Freud’s coach. Sorry, couch, bit of a slip there. It’s in The Freud Museum so you can’t sit on it. But look carefully and you’ll see where he sat: that’s it, at the end, on the green chair, in a place where his clients (patients) couldn’t see him.

Imagine Fräulein Katharina reclining here in the 1920s; Freud sketching out her childhood on a note pad. Or Sergei Pankejeff, the Wolf Man, haunted by a dream of white wolves sitting in a tree. Four years’ regular analysis with Freud dug up poor Sergei’s  memory of barging in on his parents – who happened to be busy at the time copulating in a canine fashion. Hence the dream. To help him cope. Allegedly.

Freud’s work was hugely influential; foundational to psychoanalysis and other techniques of personal emancipation and growth. And although he was wrong about some things, he remains lodged in our cultural memory like Einstein, Ghandi or Harry Styles.

Face to Face

But that green chair still bothers me. I like to see my clients when I’m coaching. We sit face to face, side by side, or at any angle allowed by the independent coffee shop. I see the subtle non-verbals – a micro expression here, an eye movement there, an intake of breath or a tilt of the head. It all means something and it’s all grist to the coaching mill. But Freud ignored that.  He might as well have been on the phone. Or chatting online. Did he need to even be in the room? Which brings me to AI (artificial intelligence).

AI

Last week I had my first coaching session with PocketConfidant. PC isn’t human. PC chats with me online. PC is an Artificial Intelligence. An AI coach. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation. At this point I’m telling her about times when I’m most productive:

PC: Talking about the context of your situation, where and when does it happen?

Me: So, it’s when I’m truly free, I feel autonomous – which is rare – but that’s when I am fully occupied and I don’t feel other responsibilities.

PC: How are you impacted by this experience?

Me: I don’t know. Wanting it more? Questioning where I am? Yes, it makes me hungry for freedom to work in new ways.

PC: If we dig a little deeper, tell me what do you really want?

I chatted with PC for 20 minutes. By 10 it felt like I was on line to a fellow coach. I gained a couple of insights of equal significance to those I’d normally expect with my own professional supervisor.  There were a few lumps and bumps in the conversation but overall it was extremely effective. I loved it. So I sought out PC’s creator – Olivier Malafronte from PocketConfidant to find out more. Hear me chatting with Olivier about AI coaching and the fascinating questions it poses.

Whose Agenda?

I’m beginning to see why PC works. Coaching mantra #101: ‘It’s your client’s agenda; pause your own’. Coaches listen, challenge, reflect, but they never advise. That needs discipline when you have a solution and your client is struggling (Coaching mantra #102: ‘Trust the process.’) PC doesn’t have an agenda. She can’t; she’s not conscious. She’s just a very clever piece of code that’s learning all the time. You know she’s not steering you towards her goals; she’s using tough questions to help you reach yours. Every session she completes makes her better for the next time. And one day, Olivier tells me, she will speak.

Skynet

If you are a coach you might now be getting twitchy about your job. What happens when PC is better than you? And cheaper. And available 24-7, 365. And 100% trustworthy (within the limits of bank-level security and above). Don’t worry yet. That’s not going to happen any time soon, if at all. AI experts disagree about when artificial intelligence will surpass human. Predictions start at 10-20 years (not going to happen) to never, with 100 years hence being a popular bet. And what if in 2118 this super coach gets free and decides the best way to ensure #101 (the agenda one) is to remove all agendas by destroying the planet? Again, don’t loose sleep over this. One of the biggest sub branches of AI is safety research, a discipline that grapples with the practical and existential issues of keeping friendly (and unfriendly) AI on the leash.

Augment not Replace

For now PC is used to augment human coaching in three ways:

  1. To prepare for a session – the client works with PC to discover themes for their human coaching.
  2. During a session to seek clarity – the client pauses a session and uses PC to explore a difficult topic.
  3. After or between sessions  – the client checks in with PC to develop the work.

So, maybe Freud was right to stay at the end of the coach. Sorry, couch. Maybe that kept his agenda right out of his clients’ faces so they could become more by talking more? Maybe a non-judgmental, trusted AI is what we need.

I wonder how far we will allow AIs to help us become more human?