Coaching Letter #174
Happy New Year! I hope that you got to spend time with people you love, and that you also had time to rest, think, and rejuvenate. Thank you for subscribing to The Coaching Letter—you rock. Can I ask a favor?—this would be a great time for you to forward the Coaching Letter to someone you think would enjoy it and suggest that they subscribe; here's the link. We have, as usual, a lot going on, and with the break I had a lot of time to read and listen to books and podcasts, so this Coaching Letter is a little bit of everything, but mostly about New Year's resolutions…
First, The Learning Professional is soliciting manuscripts for an issue on Accelerating Learning. You can read exactly what they’re looking for on their website; scroll down to June 2023. Given the amazing successes reported by many districts that employed our Accelerating Learning Framework, I would like to submit an article and include examples of those successes. So if you are one of those districts and would be willing to be interviewed for the article, could you please get in touch? The deadline is February 1, so don’t delay!
We are hosting Peter Liljedahl in early April for several days; I know many of you were hoping to see him, as we have had a slew of emails about his visit, but I am both excited and sorry to tell you that most of the slots are already spoken for. The session that we are about to start registering for is for superintendents on the morning of April 6; this session is offered courtesy of our good friends at CAPSS, and we are grateful to them for their support. And whether or not you are able to see Professor Liljedahl in person, we are hosting an online book study of Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics for anyone interested; we decided to run three sessions for elementary and another three sessions for secondary; there is no charge to sign up, just read the book and come for all three sessions if you can: here’s the flyer with the info and the link to register.
And while I’m advertising, please check out our latest coaching offerings here. Our book about coaching, Making Coaching Matter, will be out this spring (woo hoo!), and attendees at the Leadership Coaching workshop in Litchfield in July will all get a copy.
I don’t know if it’s because it’s the New Year or because the wisdom of thinking of results as the byproduct of process is finally taking hold, but the newsletters I subscribe to and Twitter and Instagram accounts I follow are full of advice and resources about habits. And while it does appear to be the case that most people give up on their New Year resolutions by February or March, it also appears to be true that significant dates—like January 1 but also the first of any month, birthdays, and so on—inspire additional motivation in people. In other words, you shouldn’t NOT set New Year’s resolutions just because most people give up on theirs. You, it must be said, are not most people.
My interest in habits is manifold: I have my own goals that I’d like to reach in the form of habits I’d like to maintain; as a coach I’m very interested in supporting individuals in becoming who they want to be; and as a consultant on strategy and strategic planning I’m on a permanent quest to help leaders see that their goals are only as good as the processes in place to create them. As the saying goes, every system is perfectly designed to create the results it gets. I wrote about this at length in Coaching Letter #169 which, I have to say, is one of my favorites: goals are important, but they are only achievable because there is a process in place to reach them. Likewise, resolutions are important, but they are only achievable because there are habits in place to enact them.
And there is research on what supports folks in their quest for self-improvement, which, just to repeat, has everything to do with practices, routines, and habits. Here’s what I’ve read or listened to lately that I thought was useful.
Atomic Habits by James Clear. I avoided this book for a long time (I don’t know why, something about the author got under my skin a bit), but my friend Tosh made me read it, and it is in fact really helpful. There is lots of practical advice about forming habits, how to stack them and bundle them, and how to think of them as very small decisions. The most useful part to me was how he talks about identity; about how we behave in line with how we see ourselves, our values, and what we are proud of; if I see myself as a runner, or a writer, or a good listener, then I will have no problem running, writing, or listening because I am proud of those identities and I am very invested in nurturing them. Clear is also very eloquent, and convincing, on the topic of how small actions, repeated consistently over time, compound to create impressive results. Process = outcome. Have I mentioned that you should read Coaching Letter #169?
I’ve written before (CL #171) about the first episode of Hidden Brain about mindsets. But the second one is particularly helpful because it shows the link between how we think and how we behave. For example, hotel housekeeping staff do a lot of physical labor—that may seem too obvious to bother stating, but the women who participated in a study of how mindset affects behavior didn’t seem to realize that their work qualified as exercise, with many of them reporting that they got NO physical exercise at all. As part of the study, one group of these hotel staff were informed that their housekeeping work actually meant that they were getting more than the recommended amount of exercise, and they behaved differently as a result: they started thinking of themselves as healthy, and so they behaved as healthy people do, for example by eating better. This is a great illustration of James Clear’s point about identity: you behave in accord with your beliefs about yourself.
I just also want to make the point that education as a field seems to have been talking a lot about feelings in the last few years, and I don’t want to diminish the importance of that conversation. But it seems to me that we under-estimate and under-emphasize the importance of how we think on how we feel and how we behave. It’s called reframing: thinking differently about something changes the way you feel. Feeling and thinking are not two separate processes, despite how we typically talk about them. They are inextricably linked.
Katy Milkman is the source of much useful stuff. She is the author of the book How to Change, which is well worth reading. She is a guest on Maya Shankar’s podcast, A Slight Change of Plans, and that episode is like a greatest hits version of the book, so well worth listening to. She has also written a recent Twitter thread on New Year’s resolutions that’s worth checking out.
Finally, I listened to David Goggins’ second book, Never Finished. I have Tosh to thank for this one, too. I don’t really think of myself as the kind of person who would be inspired by videos of a SEAL dispensing advice about mental strength while doing push-ups shirtless, yet here we are… I’m pretty sure I would have balked on at least two runs in the rain over break, and would definitely not have run up scores of flights of stairs, if I hadn’t had Goggins’ voice in my head saying “if it doesn’t suck, we don’t do it.” And he too is eloquent on the topic of process and outcome: just show up; you can do more than you think you can; the most important step you take is the next one.
I spent a lot of time on planes and trains over break, so I got a lot of reading done. The two other books that I read are wonderful; I highly recommend them and know that I’ll be writing about them more. I know that there are people who read The Coaching Letter who take my reading recommendations seriously, so I will go ahead and flag these as must-reads: Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz and Belonging by Geoff Cohen.
New Year is a big deal in my cultural tradition, and in that spirit I wish you all the very best; lang may your lum reek. Yours, Isobel
Isobel Stevenson, PhD PCC
Author of The Coaching Letter
Author with Jennie Weiner of The Strategy Playbook for Educational Leaders: Principles and Processes Routledge, 2021
Author with Sarah Woulfin & Kerry Lord of Making Coaching Matter: Leading Continuous Improvement in Schools Teachers College Press, forthcoming