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Case Study - Stella Maris Catholic School Point Cook




Transcript

Leigh Hatcher (presenter):
Hello, I'm Leigh Hatcher, with the GROWTH Coaching International Case Study podcast series. Some great stories of the difference that GCI is making in all sorts of schools, and school systems. I'm in conversation with Steve Harrison. For the last six years, he's been Principal of the Stella Maris Catholic Primary School at Point Cook in Victoria, Australia. Over his career, he's taught kindergarten, primary, and secondary classes. He's also been an education consultant. We spoke via Skype.

Steve Harrison:
We are 10 years old, now, 11 years old. We're what you would call an open plan, flexible space school, which really means we have very few dividing walls.
We've got minimum office space, so we're all very much in a shared, flexible space. 600 kids, 50-odd staff.
Leigh Hatcher:
Okay. You've been a teacher for about 30 years. With that kind of experience, what sparked your interest, Steve, in bringing coaching to your school?

Steve Harrison:
The few years before I became a principal, I was actually working as a consultant, and I got to visit and work in and work with many schools, and the thing that struck me was how schools seem to be stuck in this mediocrity and didn't seem to have the language, or some kind of structure to get around it. People were starting to play with coaching, and I had a little bit of exposure to it myself, and thought, "Oh, it was amazing." When you have that first coaching moment, if it's a good one, and it really touches you, and you say to yourself, "Oh yeah, I can see how learning really happens in that space."
Leigh Hatcher:
Yes, yes.

Steve Harrison:
That just struck me. I spent some time playing around with that, with the schools, but it ended up ... I couldn't get in deep enough to know whether I could really make it work, or how powerful it would be, because I didn't necessarily have control of the environment. That's what led me to think, "Right, I'm really keen to try and find a school that suits me, that would be open to having a go at this."
Leigh Hatcher:
This is probably a useful question; can I go back to your mediocrity comment? Why do you think up until then, it was so mediocre?

Steve Harrison:
This is probably a useful question; can I go back to your mediocrity comment? Why do you think up until then, it was so mediocre?

I think a lot of leaders get trapped into speaking first. Whereas if you can develop a coaching way of being, and you listen first, you might not even say anything, because the person's not telling you what you're listening for as the leader, or as a coach. You're working with that. All of a sudden, the movement is different. Let's go to the space where, perhaps, the conversation, as a leader working in the coaching space, you hear and you think, "Oh, that's not aligned with what we're trying to be here." You can talk that through. Then, if the alignment isn't there, then you almost come to a decision together where, "Oh, we don't have alignment here."
Leigh Hatcher:
Yes.

Steve Harrison:
They need coaching questions. "What do you want to do about that?" "Well, I think I'm going to have to consider other options." "All right, well I'll help you, let's work through that." You can have those conversations in seemingly a far more positive way.
Leigh Hatcher:
Yes. You had your first kind of exposure to this kind of program. You think, "Good." How did you go about initiating it? How'd the staff feel about it?

Steve Harrison:
Great question. Look, being new here, I was building a new leadership team, so I had a relatively inexperienced team. We were using some ... it's a great DVD by ... he's a conductor, and his name is Ben Zander, and he talks about the art of possibility. Something to live into, not to live up to. We branded ourselves coaches before we were coaches. We then sat there and went, "Okay, now what do we need to do to be the coaches that we wanted to be?" It's like giving yourself your A, we gave ourselves our A, and then we lived into it.
It was always a positive way of doing it. It wasn't ever a, "You need to be this." It was about, "Okay, can we live up to this? And what will it take to be it?" That culture grew, and so it's the same culture we still immerse ourselves in here. When new people participate, there's no failure, because you're having a go. It's like you're having a play, you're a learner, and you're saying, "I want to try this, and experiment with it." All of a sudden, because it's so powerful, because the learning, and the changing, it just touches you. The momentum then builds in itself. If you get the right skills, and emotional intelligence around it.
I'd set that up for my leaders, so that each of them would be coached by an experienced coach. I said to them, "I want you to be coached, and go through that, but watch and listen to the person and what they're doing and crafting around you." We'd all participated in that, we all sat there and went, "Oh yeah," and away we went.
Leigh Hatcher:
Let me ask you this, though. There's no shortage of coaching options and programs. Why'd you go with GCI?

Steve Harrison:
It was a great decision. Sometimes you make lucky decisions. Alone, the fact that it was lucky, but I knew to look for something that was relatively simple, and it had what I would call a framework, or a structure. Obviously, again, I go back to this difficulty in having these conversations. With conversations, sometimes, you find yourself in a hard spot, or you don't know what's coming next, or you're not sure what to say. What I loved about the acronym-


Leigh Hatcher:
The acronym being what?

Steve Harrison:
Being GROWTH, being G-R-O-W-T-H. Being goal, reality, option, will, tactics, habits, you know….


You draw on the associated questions with each of those sections. You might use it as a formula, and you tend to, a little bit, as your skills develop, but all of a sudden it then becomes dynamic. This is what I loved about it.
We've got ourselves to this stage now, in terms of our way of being, where you might just say to someone, "Well, what's on your mind?" They talk to you, and then we'll say to them, "So what's become clearer?" They'll tell you. Then you might say to them, "So do you need anything from me?" "Well, actually, no, I don't."
Leigh Hatcher:
Fantastic.

Steve Harrison:
Great question. Look, being new here, I was building a new leadership team, so I had a relatively inexperienced team. We were using some ... it's a great DVD by ... he's a conductor, and his name is Ben Zander, and he talks about the art of possibility. Something to live into, not to live up to. We branded ourselves coaches before we were coaches. We then sat there and went, "Okay, now what do we need to do to be the coaches that we wanted to be?" It's like giving yourself your A, we gave ourselves our A, and then we lived into it.
You can imagine how incredible that is. I suppose the other thing I'd throw in there is that we then committed to it. We wrote in our school and clerical documents, we set ourselves up with language that says, "We will use GROWTH coaching to build expert teachers to maximise learning." We put the words into our significant documents, so we're all accountable to it and we're all positive about that because we believed it.
Leigh Hatcher:
You're listening to the GROWTH Coaching International Case Study podcast series. I'm in conversation with Steve Harrison, Principal of the Stella Maris Catholic Primary School at Point Cook. Let's get practical. At three levels, what impact has he seen the coaching have on staff, student well-being, and student achievement?

Steve Harrison:
Great question. Look, being new here, I was building a new leadership team, so I had a relatively inexperienced team. We were using some ... it's a great DVD by ... he's a conductor, and his name is Ben Zander, and he talks about the art of possibility. Something to live into, not to live up to. We branded ourselves coaches before we were coaches. We then sat there and went, "Okay, now what do we need to do to be the coaches that we wanted to be?" It's like giving yourself your A, we gave ourselves our A, and then we lived into it.
You're listening to the GROWTH Coaching International Case Study podcast series. I'm in conversation with Steve Harrison, Principal of the Stella Maris Catholic Primary School at Point Cook. Let's get practical. At three levels, what impact has he seen the coaching have on staff, student well-being, and student achievement?
So I can sit with my whole team, and they're all talking, totally on depth, on task, about the learning intention of the success criteria of our meeting. That positive energy that comes out of a group like that, where it's either empowered, they're allowed to have their own opinion, they're developing this incredible richness of how you communicate with people, and they're becoming better teachers.
Leigh Hatcher:
Yeah. What about students? Well-being, student achievement?

Steve Harrison:
I think, in terms of students ... and its part of our vision of where we're going. It builds up their positive thinking. Solution-focused idea, the future-focused idea, when you're talking to kids on so many contexts 'cause they're still developing, is really, really powerful. Because, instead of them dwelling on what's going wrong, you can talk to them about, "Okay, what do you want it to be like? Where are you now, relative to that?" They scale themselves.
I'll give you an example. We had a grade four boy transitioning into year five, and we hadn't set up the conditions right. It was a struggle for him in his first couple of transition visits, and he was unhappy with this. I sat down with him, had a chat to him, and then I sat down with half a dozen kids around him and we had a coaching conversation together. He talked about what he would like it to be like and the options to make it that way, and the whole group joined into it. They scaled where they thought they were right now in being able to do that, and they discussed, "Well, what's the reality? What's the hard part for us in this?" We had this amazing conversation where they decided that, in the next four weeks, they would work on these things together, so that the transition for all of them was better, but especially for this little fellow who was struggling.
Leigh Hatcher:
Fantastic.

Steve Harrison:
Yep. All I did then was go back and chat to him. I'd go back and say, "How's it going?" "Oh, great." “Are you still OK” "Yeah, I am." "Do you need to sit down with me?" "No, we're okay at the moment." I say to him, "Beautiful." Of course I want to find out a bit more than that, so I sit down and I can ask them the questions and they'll say, "We've got this, it's happening, we're in control of it." I said, "What about this bit?" "Okay, Oh, yeah." We can roll on for another goal, if we need to. It's huge. If I give you an example of where we're heading in our region ... We're an open-plan school. If you think what that's like ... We've got 600 kids who need to know how to work in a self-directed or a self-managed fashion.
Leigh Hatcher:
Yes.

Steve Harrison:
The next part of vision, or what we call our coaching roadmap, is to have our kids coaching each other for self-directed learning. If you think about how that plays out, we're now teachers sitting there and, instead of teaching going, "Hey, you, why aren't you working?" It would be, "Oh, so-and-so, why don't you sit down with your coaching buddy, because it doesn't look like to me like you're clear on what you're doing with your self-directed learning." A positive approach in the way the communication ... It supports them. It's a game changer in terms of the interactions and the ownership of the positive conversations.
Leigh Hatcher:
I keep hearing from lots of people, how transferable this is. Beyond the school, beyond the education context. Has that been your experience?

Steve Harrison:
Absolutely. I actually have no doubt about that. I think you need a focus. To set up coaching, you gotta have a focus for your coaching. We have a focus on developing expert teachers and for maximising student learning. Now, in a business context, it would be coaching for a particular outcome. It'll challenge you to listen. You've gotta be prepared as a leader, regardless of your organisation, to listen, and then you've gotta prepare to act on what you're hearing, because I love sitting down and doing review meetings with my staff. I'll say to the leadership team, "Okay. I need to run review meetings, because I'll feel like I've lost touch with exactly what the pulse is of our organisation."
Organisation having coaching conversations, because I use a coaching conversation model in our review meetings, I hear what people think, what they're doing about it, where they're struggling. Then instead of me spending a whole lot of time doing what I think that I need to do, as leader, I can do what I know that I need to do as leader.
Leigh Hatcher:
Yes, yes.

Steve Harrison:
That's any context, right? When we started it, I started it very simply. We started it with a goal, by, I am, so that. We would build that together, and from there we grew all of the things you needed to do to be able to that properly.
In any context, you schedule it. You've gotta be deliberate about it, because you've gotta develop the capacity of your people to be successful with it. You might need to work with them on their emotional intelligence, character strengths, positive psychology, those kind of thinkings that help to bring them into the coaching space with success. Any leader wants to focus on the behaviours they want. In coaching, that's what you do. You're talking about what might happen and you sitting there, "Oh, yeah, wow that sounds incredible. That's going to add amazingly to our organisation." Run with it. Make that happen. How're you gonna do that? When might you do it? When are you gonna start? Do you need any help in doing it?
Leigh Hatcher:
Great stuff.

Steve Harrison:
Them doing all of the work, and you crafting and bringing your coaching expertise, but your leadership expertise to complement the partnership. You build a culture around your expected behaviours, instead of dealing with what you don't want.
Leigh Hatcher:
You've become quite a champion for the GCI approach, not only in this conversation, but also hooking in a range of other schools.

Steve Harrison:
I suppose you can ... Once I get going-
Leigh Hatcher:
He's a believer!

Steve Harrison:
I become so passionate about it. I suppose it's like anything. Again, I go back to the breadth of experience that I had before I really started to depth this. I know the challenges and that's why I'm so confident in it. It's fun. I get up in the morning, I come to work. I love to have conversations with my people with this kind of depth, because you're adding value every day. You're motivating them.
I send my people off for training. We've got five or six accredited coaches, now, on our staff. We've got eight or nine other people that have done phase one to three. They go away and they come back, and we all pull apart the depth of what it is. You come back and it improves all of you through the conversations you've had, the readings they give you and stuff. I'm not wanting to sound like I'm selling this.
Leigh Hatcher:
No, no, no, no. It's just a genuine story, and an inspiring one. Any teacher I hear who's looking forward to turning up to school at the beginning of the day, that's gold. Any notes of caution about coaching, Steve?

Steve Harrison:
All I can talk to is a couple of other things that came up for us. First of all, philosophically, I believe life happens in the grey areas, right? If you're too black and white, I think you've gotta be careful, because you get your different personalities who get trapped in that. The training talks about coaching, and you do need to continue to work as your team about what that means to you.
We throw words around like, "instructional coach," but we also throw things around like, "How do you identify what conversation needs to happen right now?" For instance, "Do you want me to take my coaching hat off?" Or, "Can I take my coaching hat off now 'cause I'd like to give you some advice." Or we might have a teacher say, "Look, can I have a coaching conversation? Can you coach me on this, Steve?" Or they might say, "Can you just put your leader's hat on and give me something here?" I might say then, "Well, look, I'm gonna give you some options. Tell me which one sounds useful for you."
You're always trying to hook them into, "What do they want to take and use from it, so that they own it?" A cautionary note is in that space now where do you ask permission for this? Your people evolve and they let you know where this works. "What does it feel like at the moment? Do you want some coaching from me? Or do you need me to be something else for you?"
Leigh Hatcher:
Any thoughts on what's next where you'd like to see the impact? You've seen with GCI coaching head next?

Steve Harrison:
My vision has always been to get this to students and have them doing it. My people's capacity to now do it together is effective. Now I think they can be effective with their kids, and they are. We're using feedback, we're using goal setting with our kids, and they're starting to use demonstration questions. Again, I think like in any business and, again, what am I targeting? I'm targeting this need for incredible self-directed moments, or self-managed moments in an open-space school, so I want my kids coaching each other about that.
Leigh Hatcher:
Fantastic.

Steve Harrison:
We've got student leaders and, again, we're targeting learning in Maths. I want peer mentor to student leaders coaching other students in Maths, do they can use this conversation not in a, "I'm a teller," but, "Where are you in your Maths? What do you need help with? What might that look like? What do you need from ... " A different way of helping the learning happen. In education, now, there's a lot of teachers watching and working and observing and modelling for other teachers. Again, the hard part is the conversation wrapped around that. We've got a lot of formal and informal things in place, but we're going to allocate a portion of our year, about a term, and we're gonna formalise the pre and the post-briefings, and we're gonna formalise the protocols using the GROWTH questions in twos and threes, to target right down in the learning area, goals, and behaviours that we believe are expert behaviours. You have people participating lots of different ways, so it's creating another structure of which you can build the successful outcome for, in our case, expert teaching.
Leigh Hatcher:
Steve Harrison, yours is an inspirational story. The way it's making a difference in your own teaching in that of your staff and, now your students. As I said, what an inspiration. Thank you so much, indeed, for taking us through your great experience. My only regret is people haven't been able to see you as we've been speaking on Skype, because he's such an enthusiast in his body language. It's been great to talk.

Steve Harrison:
Thanks, Leigh.

Leigh Hatcher:
You've been listening to the GROWTH Coaching International Case Study podcast series. Check out some of our other inspiring podcasts, just like Steve's in this series there at www.growthcoaching.com.au.



References:
Benjamin Zander and Rosamund Stone Zander, The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life

Suggested You Tube videos:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCy8K68JP7g
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6Pk6VNThAk

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