Leveraging Curiosity in Coaching
Updated: Apr 25, 2020
During a mindful practice with my colleagues last week, we were shown an animation from Headspace to introduce the concept of the beginner's mind. In it, the narrator explains how approaching meditation in this way is akin to how children approach the world, with a sense of curiosity, wonder, and delight. As the character in the animation tries things, some which work out and some which don't, each experience is met with smiles, and a willingness to bounce up and try more. Wrapping-up the comparison, the narrator states:
"Kids aren't thinking about the outcome, necessarily, they simply enjoy exploring for its own sake."
Aha - this where it comes undone for us adults - we think about the outcome. Is it truly possible to think about outcomes and enjoy exploring in coaching? What can I do to make space for curiosity and exploration, so that teachers can get even more out of coaching?
Invite teachers to generate questions before jumping to solutions. In taking an asset-based approach in coaching, I often ask teachers to access previous 'wins' as we begin to strategise. What about if I invited teachers to list-out questions before they drew on this experience? Being an expert can shut our minds off to possibilities. Taking the time to ask questions like a novice may illuminate new thinking which could enrich our tried-and-tested approaches.
Invite new thinking to the table. In Cognitive Coaching, flexibility (one of the five states of mind) is key to our ability to explore perspectives and alternatives. Posing questions to invite exploration of perspectives and alternatives can also be a relieving process for someone who is 'stuck' in a thinking-rut.
"How might your colleagues have viewed this data...why?" "What might others need from you?" "What might be some ways you could achieve this?" "Which strategies might you want to consider before you make a final decision?" During Cognitive Coaching training we learn that people who are high in flexibility are able to change their minds as they engage in multiple and simultaneous outcomes...and how liberating does that sound?
Play devil's advocate. What opposing views exist to our thinking? As well as illuminating perspectives and uncovering bias, playing devil's advocate can be a bit of fun, too. If working with a team, using this protocol by the Thinking Collaborative can be a great support in the process. It is particularly effective because the role of nay-sayer is a shared responsibility: each person at some point during the discussion must extend their thinking and explore alternatives to their own ideas or beliefs.
And the thing I need to do most?
Have fun. What if we pretended the stakes weren't so high - what would we do then? If we had more time, less resistance, more engagement...what approaches and strategies might be possible? Removing barriers - perceived or real - may be just what is needed to access something new and exciting and perhaps even doable.
As our group explored through mindfulness, being curious means being in the moment, dropping our critical mind, and seeing things with wonder and possibility. It removes the pressure to be, or defend, what is perceived as 'right'. It opens pathways to empathy and collaboration. And when teachers are given time to be curious - about themselves, about their students, about education - they feel empowered, and eager to act.
What better reason is needed to ensure it is a key part of coaching?