In today’s episode, Jim Knight shares his years of wisdom and experience leading the field in instructional coaching. His pare down pointer is a reminder about the power of letting people make the decisions.
Jim Knight, Founder and Senior Partner of Instructional Coaching Group (ICG), is also a research associate at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. He has spent more than two decades studying professional learning and instructional coaching. Jim earned his PhD in Education from the University of Kansas and has won several university teaching, innovation, and service awards.
The pioneering work Jim and his colleagues have conducted has led to many innovations that are now central to professional development in schools.
Jim has written several books, most recently The Impact Cycle (2018), and The Definitive Guide to Instructional Coaching (2021). Knight has also authored articles on instructional coaching and professional learning in publications such as Educational Leadership.
Through ICG, Knight conducts coaching workshops, hosts the Facebook Live Program, “Coaching Conversations,” and provides consulting for coaching programs around the world.
Find out more about Jim and his work below.
Today's episode sponsor is Instructional Coaching Group.
They help educators learn and implement the 7 Success Factors for sustaining a great coaching program.Based on Jim Knight’s 20+ years of instructional coaching research. Be sure to learn more about their coaching conference here!
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In today's episode, Jim Knight shares his years of wisdom and experience leading the field and instructional coaching. His pare down pointer is a reminder about the power of letting people make the decisions.
Jim Knight founder and senior partner of instructional coaching group is also a research associate at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. He has spent more than two decades studying professional learning and instructional coaching. Jim earned his PhD in education from the University of Kansas, and has won several university teaching innovation and service awards. The pioneering work Jim and his colleagues have conducted has led to many innovations that are now central to professional development in schools. Jim has written several books most recently the impact cycle and the Definitive Guide to instructional coaching. Jim has also authored articles on instructional coaching and professional learning in publications such as educational leadership magazine, through ICG. Jim conducts coaching workshops host the Facebook Live program, coaching conversations, and provides consulting for coaching programs around the world. Welcome to today's episode of the minimalist educator today, we are excited to have with us Jim Knight who is an instructional coach extraordinaire. Welcome to the show, Jim.
It's great to be here. I'm excited to see what a minimal minimalist podcast rolls out to be so exciting.
Super short. We're done in a minute. Okay, that's really not a minute. But yeah. So we I know there's a lot of people in the educational space that know you kind of who you are now and the work that you do and instructional coaching. But if we can just back up a little bit, and can you tell us how you got into your role as a coach and what kind of drove you into that space? Sure.
I started out teaching community college special ed, essentially, I thought I was going to teach Shakespeare and the modern novel about I ended up working with young adults with learning disabilities and other disabilities. And I had no idea what to do, I didn't have the reason I got the course I had no experience teaching, so we'll give this to him. But we had a person there de la France, who is just a really wonderful friend and mentor. And she essentially was a coach. She trained me in this approach called the strategic strategic construction, easy to say, strategic instruction model developed at the University of Kansas. And it worked, the kids all stayed in the program. Five of them of the 10 went on to the next level, they wrote a letter to the president to save the course, of course, got an award, I got a full time job. And I had the feeling you get when you see students who historically haven't succeeded succeed. So then I went from Toronto where I was living to Kansas to become trained in this strategic construction model, I started to do professional development. And it was unsuccessful. I mean, people liked the workshops, and they gave me nice evaluations, they said they liked the stuff that couldn't wait to use it. But zero implementation that time. Sorry, the story is so long, especially since minimal, but at any rate, that time, Michael, Michael Fullan was at the University of Toronto, and I think he was the director of voisey at the time, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. And so I went to Michael, and he mentored me, and I studied a lot of his work, I pretty much read everything he'd written up until that point. And then I thought, well, how do we take all this stuff about change? And how do we turn it into something that we can actually do? Like, how do we use it not that we couldn't use his ideas, but how do we create a person who embodies all that stuff? So I went to Kansas, and I started to discover that everybody was having the same kind of problem. They weren't getting implementation. So we initially did a little explicit for my doctoral research. Part of it was the partnership approach where we initially did this thing called Learning consulting. And then it didn't like the term and learning consulting and we wrote a couple of GearUp grants with the university. That got us a lot of funding. And so we created a position called an instructional collaborator and I wrote an article for the journalist after that element at that time on instructional collaborators, I came back and I said, I think I'm gonna write, I'm gonna change the name to instructional coach, I wrote back and I say, can I say Coach instead of a collaborator. And so that became the first significant, I think, article about instructional coaches. And then a couple years later, the book instructional coaching came out. Now that book is pretty much obsolete, we've been changing and modifying things since then. And a number of other books have come out to sort of redefine, probably going to write it a revision of that book pretty soon. But instructional coaching, but that's how it all came to be. It was just, we weren't getting implementation, then we tried to figure out how to do it, we made a lot of mistakes. And bit by bit, we got better at what we did. And then we had something we could describe, and it came out in articles and books after that.
Very cool, it's interesting to hear that process. And I'm wondering if this is where kind of the instructional cycles come into place. Because Christina and I, in our book, we have written about this kind of natural process or cycle of things that we do in life, the way we learn the way we do things. And there's a lot of value in having cyclical work. So is that something that came into play to where you started to see some implementation? Or was that like a separate thing that was happening?
What coaching involves a cycle, I mean, it's a, but it wasn't when we started out, when we started out, we just thought, hey, we've got this teaching practice, let me teach you how to use it, provide follow up, and then you go get it. And but what we found was we needed to have goals, and we needed to process. And so using a cycle of our own design process, which we call lean design research, we kept iterating. And trying over and over again, the coaching cycle. And after 11 iterations spread across several years, we landed on this thing we call the impact cycle. And the idea basically, there's three parts stages, identify, learn and improve, you identify stage, you identify a clear picture of reality, you identify a goal. And you then you identify a pathway to the goal. And the goal is a student focused goal. And the goal is emotionally compelling to the teacher, the teacher really wants to hit it. And it's a change they want to see in their students. So we don't start with the strategy, we start with the goal, the changing kids, we start with kids is our way of putting it, then during the learning stage, we help them get ready to implement through clear descriptions and going in the classroom and modeling or watching another teacher looking at video. And then in the improvement stage, that's where we adapt what we did. Because teaching is complex work. It's not just let me tell you what to do when you do it, it's likely going to involve adaptations to make it work, adapting to the way the teacher teachers or the kids live, or the kids learn. And so the third party improved stage is where we make modifications till we hit the goal. That's the that's the cycle we follow. And we use the different kinds of design cycle to research that. So yeah, we're all about cycles.
Awesome. And that reminds me a lot of you know, when people talk about the art and science of teaching as well, you can't just come at it like a science with with strict procedures or protocols. There is that art side to it as well of going back and adapting and modifying.
Yeah, I don't know if it's art, science craft, there's definitely an art to it in the same way that a, like an improv comedian reads their colleagues and responds to them, you know, there's an improv element to it. But it's not technical, it's adaptive. And to me a technical solution. Ron Heifetz talks about this at Harvard. But a technical solution is it's like one size fits all. And let me tell you how to do it. And and you can do it. And there's an element of that sometimes, if somebody is trying to learn how to use some piece of software, they don't want you to say, Well, other times you've tried to learn software, what's worked for you, they just want you to show them how to do it, and you do that, you know, but more often than not, it's adaptive.
So when we think about the three points in that cycle, what are some of the key points of discussion that you have in those conversations?
And will the they're sort of steps within the stages. So the first thing is people need to get a clearer picture of what's happening. And most of us because of defense mechanisms, and perceptual errors, the vast majority of us whatever our position might be, we don't see reality very clearly. And and then that decreases our motivation, because we don't see the need for change. And it also means we might focus a lot of attention on the wrong things. So we start with that we do it in all kinds of ways. Video is a really big part of what we do, but if a teacher says look, I don't want to do I've got too many COVID calories, I don't want to go on video. Then we can interview the kids or we can do what's called a close watch, which is where the coach teaches the class and the teacher looks at each student tries to figure out how that kid yields what that kid needs, how they feel about the student and where their emotions come from maybe even draw a picture of each student might sound kind of goofy, but it's not that often you get a chance just to pause and look at each student. And that is another way in. Which gives me there's other things to having a classroom discussion about how the class is going. But all the things of all of them, I have to say, if I had to pick one, it would be video because video cuts through the perceptual errors and defense mechanisms. Then, in terms of conversation, go ahead. I was just gonna
say you've mentioned clarity a few times. And I think that's the starting point for rich work when you are coaching with people. And I didn't mean to cut you off. But you know, that was just in my head. So I want to hear you continue about the next few hours after that cycle. And to finish with Christine's question.
Well, I think I pause there, so you didn't, you're all good. But, um, but once we've got a clearer picture of reality than the kind of goal we set is really important, and has to be a powerful goal. It has to be one that's emotionally compelling for the teacher, not much is gonna happen if the teacher doesn't care about the goal. And then it has to be one that's student focused, we have little acronym peers, we figured they've got smart we can do our act and appears, we don't really believe in timely, we feel like timely makes sense when I'm the only variable. That to set a timely and goal for a classroom full of kids is like setting a timely goal for when the cable that he's going to come and fix your cable. I can I can do it for me, but I can't do it for other people. And then over time, we've developed a set of questions. And then really, I guess a simple way to put it is there's the beliefs that drive what you do. There's a conversational process, what we call the impact cycle that I've been describing. There's the skills that you need to have mostly about listening and questioning. And then the if we had a little Venn diagram here, the fourth circle would be strategic knowledge, what do I know about instruction? What do I know about gathering data? And those four things are kind of kind of the the touch points for the whole process.
One of those pieces, and I was looking in one of the latest educational leadership magazines, or one of your articles, and the title of it was something like the value of a shared vision and language. And so what kind of language? Or do you have some specific phrases or questions that you kind of are the ones that you always go to to ensure that when people are coming up with their goals, it's really clear for them what it is they're doing?
Yeah, I think we realized we had to develop some questions because well we did to do our research is we really recorded a coaches and then we saw what they were doing and we made modifications. So after after we watch the video, as we knew we had to change our questions turned out that as learning for was coming up, this is when it was called the national staff development council, but same conference. So I went to all the experts. I could find you Ellen Killian, Lucy West, Kathy toll, Steve Barclay. Bruce Wellman, was somebody I've met right before I went there went to a course offered by Susan Scott, this made a list of the questions they all recommended. And then we, the coaches went out and tried out the questions, and then that list continues to evolve. It's not robotically, I asked the same questions. I I say good questions are like intellectual fireworks, you know, ask a good question. There's, it's an explosion of ideas. But there is a kind of process, first of all, exploring reality so that we might say something like a scale question. So on a scale of one to 10, How close was that class to your ideal? Teacher said, Well, it's, I don't know, it's maybe a six. So okay, so why do you pick a six? And then we start to explore what they what they want to see their kids do differently? And they might say, Well, I think I should do something I should do a different kind of questioning. And I'd say, Well, if you did the different kinds of questioning what will be different for the kids? Let's talk about what that would look like. Do you want that to be your goal? How would you measure it? And then when you have to start once we've got the goal, then we have to start talking about the strategy and a question I learned from Michael Bungay. Stanier. Is you've probably thought a lot about this, what do you think he might do to hit that goal? And what else? And and often they'll say, Well, what your just exactly? We'd love to tell them that when it comes to them. It's a lot more powerful in when it comes from me. And, you know, that's kind of kind of the some of the key things. One question I really like it comes from John Campbell, which is as you look at these options, which one gives you the most energy which one gives you the most confidence? And I'm sure there's other questions tucked away but those are sort of the the core you know, the key things we talk about at the end Another process, I usually ask people another scale question on a scale of one to 10. How committed are you this goal? How important is it to? If they say it's like, I don't know, I thought I was committed, but I'm not. And I say, Well, what do we have to change to get a goal that you're really committed to?
I love that idea of, of, you know, rather than just telling people that you're, you're asking those questions and helping them get there themselves and how powerful that is. When Tammy and I've been talking about minimalism, we've come across a lot of different cultural references and words, and I apologize, I'm about to butcher a whole bunch of different languages. So sorry, everybody. So in Asia, there's the idea of IKI guy, and in Scandinavia, there's the Heuga. And here in the Netherlands, where I'm at the moment, there's also Gazelle ik, which is all around this idea of feeling comfortable and cozy, and how we want to our work in education to also feel like that as well Does, does that crossover with your work in coaching at all?
I think he guy does, you know, it comes down to four questions, if I can remember them. What are you good at? What do you enjoy doing? What does the world need? And? And can you get paid to do it? Essentially, those are the four questions. And to me, the work we do is, is it's mission driven, purpose driven work. And sometimes what a coach does is remind teachers, by treating them like professionals by asking them questions, as opposed to telling by communicating their faith in them, or belief in them, they remind people sometimes of their purpose, and when they start to get involved in a cycle that involves learning, they're excited. And then I think a coach is, the cool thing about being a coach is, every time you help a teacher, you help every other student that teachers ever going to teach. And so it's not hard to see the purpose behind the work. You know, you're transforming the learning and the well being of children, maybe for more than a decade or more decades, and hundreds of kids just with this one, one interaction so, so to me, anyone is probably going to be more successful if they can see the bigger purpose that drives what they're doing. It's not about me looking good. It's about making a difference in kids lives. You know, and all that research on it as someone I know the best. It says you need the people who live the longest, have a reason to get up in the morning. And I think when you're in education, whether you like it or not, the reason is going to be there in the morning, you know, you we have a reason. But sometimes it's just overwhelming. You know, I'd say another part that goes with this is the idea of research on hope. That comes from the University of Kansas, but it's pretty widely read recognize, and hope Rick Snyder and Shane Lopez have said it has used three components, something to hope for, and a pathway to the goal, an agency a belief that I can hit the goal. So if I know where I want to get to, and I can see a pathway, and I believe that pathway will take me there, I have hope. And I think in a very real way, what coaches do is they build hope, because they help people get clear on where they want to go. Then they help them identify the pathway. And then by meeting with them frequently, and sharing data on their success, they help build agency. And so to me, when you put together purpose, and hope it's a powerful combination.
I love that connection. At the sticking with our minimalism, we want to keep our episodes short. And we've already been talking about 15 minutes. So at the end of each episode, we ask our guests for a pair down pointer. And you've given lots of pieces, there's been a lot of sharing already happening. But we asked guests for like a tip a model or a strategy that can just kind of help them pare down in whatever their role is or whatever they're they need to think about in in what they're doing in their role in education.
Yeah, so I would say ultimately, everybody has to, you know, work through their own worldview and their education and how they see things but for me, at least, and for people who coach in a way that's kind of in alignment with what we do. I would say I asked myself the question who's making the decision here? And and the truth is, it's always the teacher or the you acknowledge it or not. I mean, the teachers really, but not just teachers, anybody is really good at nodding their head yes and doing nothing. So just because you tell somebody They should do it. They're not going to do it. And so I think I always try to share ideas tentatively. And I doesn't mean I don't share what I believe or what I think. But I honor the other person is a professional capable of making their own decisions. So I say, you know, is it alright with you if I share some options? And you tell me if you like any of these options, you know, if any of them make you feel confident, or I say is it alright, if you have add a couple things to the list? And then there's an approach called, this is not a minimalist response to your question. But there's an approach to therapy called motivational interviewing Adam Grant writes about it in his book, Think, again. And Miller and Rollnick, who wrote that, they basically say, There's no such thing as resistance, there's alignment, and alignment comes, when I help you identify what you want to do. And then I help you, and then I help you move towards that. And if I'm telling you what to do, it's going to be hard to like, resistance takes two people. And if we've identified something you really want to go after, then my job is really just about helping you accomplish your goals. It's not about me getting you to do anything, you know. So that happens, I think, when the other person makes the decision. And that means when I ask a question when I share an idea, as Miller and Rollnick, say, I don't take sides, I just say here's the idea, what do you think about how do you want to do? Because the truth is, they're gonna do what they're gonna do. Anyway, my knowledge reality, you know, that's, that's how I see it.
That's a listen. Thank you so much. We have really enjoyed listening to you today. And that getting to ask you a couple of questions. We'll definitely have in our show notes of a bunch of different places that people can find the work and the work that you've talked about today. So thank you so much for joining us today, Jim.
It's my pleasure.
Today's episode is brought to you by instructional coaching. instructional coaching helps educators learn and implement the seven success factors for sustaining a great coaching program. instructional coaching is based on Jim Knight 20 plus years of instructional coaching research.
Be sure to join Tammy and Christine and guests for more episodes of the minimalist educator podcast. They would love to hear about your journey with minimalism, connect with them at plans EPLS on Twitter or Instagram. Their music for the podcast has been written and performed by Gaia Moretti.