Since The Impact Cycle was published in 2018, my colleagues at the Instructional Coaching Group and I have been working to make the cycle easier and more powerful. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing those refinements. Today’s topic is “Dialogical Explanations.”
The Impact Cycle, which I’ve described most fully in my book The Impact Cycle: What Instructional Coaches Should Do to Foster Powerful Improvements in Teaching (Corwin, 2018), involves three stages:
- Identify, during which the teacher, in partnership with the coach, identifies (a) a clear picture of reality, (b) a goal, and (c) a strategy to implement to hit the goal
- Learn, during which the coach prepares a teacher to implement a strategy, usually by describing a strategy with a checklist (today’s topic) and providing some kind of model demonstrating how to use the strategy (this can happen in at least six ways)
- Improve, during which coach and teacher make adaptations until the teacher’s goal is met.
Recently, we have been refining the Describe Strategies step of the Learn stage of the Impact Cycle. Here is what we have been learning.
One of the most complex communication acts an instructional coach engages in involves balancing the tension between giving clear explanations of strategies while also promoting dialogical interactions. William Isaacs, author of a great book, Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together, sees this as an essential skill, and drawing on the thinking of Chris Argyris, he describes this as “balancing advocacy with inquiry.” Isaacs writes:
“At the core of producing a set of actions that can truly bring about change is what Argyris calls “balancing advocacy and inquiry.” Advocacy means speaking what you think, speaking for a point of view. Inquiry means looking into what you do not yet know, what you do not yet understand, or seeking to discover what others see and understand that may differ from your point of view.” (p.188)
While easier said than done, balancing advocacy (telling) and inquiry (asking) means stating clearly and confidently what we think and why we think it, while also encouraging others to say exactly what they think about what we have shared. Done well, dialogical explanations are open, free, energizing conversations in which everyone says what they think.
Coaches who strive to balance telling with asking when describing teaching strategies may want to try the following process for taking a dialogical approach.
First, when introducing a strategy to a teacher, a coach can explain that the purpose of the conversation is simply to describe the parts of the strategy, and record any modifications the teacher would like to make. Next, the coach can provide a quick overview of the strategy, and then give the teacher a chance to read the checklist describing the strategy. Before going into a deeper exploration of the strategy, the coach can then encourage the teacher to ask questions or share her thoughts about the checklist.
During most of the conversation, the coach can review each line of the checklist with the teacher, and repeat the listen, share, explore, modify process.
During the dialogical explanation, a coach must listen to the teacher’s contributions without judgment, share (in a dialogical way) any thoughts about the checklist she may have, explore with the teacher where those thoughts lead, and modify the checklist with any teacher-led suggestions. After these steps, a coach can review each line of the checklist with the teacher, and repeat the listen, share, explore, modify process.
One of the strengths of this dialogical explanation is that it should make the teacher’s thinking visible. When the teacher feels comfortable telling the coach how she might change a given strategy, the coach has a chance to discuss the implications of any modification. On the other hand, if a coach simply tells a teacher how a strategy must be taught, it takes away any opportunity for a reflective conversation and silences the teacher. Ironically, telling a teacher how a strategy must be taught can decrease fidelity to a practice.