It Takes a Village: a Reflection

My Twitter friend Aaron Davis (@mrkrndvs) is a highly regarded connected educator, blogger extraordinaire, eLearning expert, thinker, writer and collaborator. He often uses the phrase “it takes a village” as a typically humble response to the gratitude or further dialogue he receives from others when he has shared something through his blog or on twitter. Aaron has blogged about this several times and often chooses to illustrate what he takes from the phrase by simply sharing other peoples comments on his blog posts. To mark his 300th blog post, he chose to invite those who have commented on his blog posts to respond with a short reflection or comment on what it means to us to be part of the village.

Please read Aaron’s full post A Village Takes Many Things – a fascinating and thought provoking collection of responses to a phrase that seems to resonate strongly with many of us. #ittakesavillage

I don’t often write “off the cuff” (I know I should) but in this instance I responded to the question more or less in the moment. I’ve copied my own response below.

It Takes Dialogue

I think that this phrase speaks to the complexity of teaching. None of us have all of the answers to the myriad of professional dilemmas that we grapple with, on a number of levels, every day. By connecting online, I’d like to think that we are each sharing our thinking and ideas and drawing on those of others for the benefit of our students. The complexity of teaching stems from the fact that every one of our students are unique, as are the interactions in every one of our classrooms. What works for me might not work for you but what works for me might just nudge your thinking towards something else that works in your context. Reciprocally, by distilling my thoughts into 140 characters, or being discerning about links and resources I share, and sending them out to the world, I invite feedback and dialogue. This shapes and influences the next stage of my own thinking and understanding. We are not going to put the [education] world to rights but we are doing our own small bit for the greater good.

I often ponder how the many years of relative isolation in my early career (I started teaching in 1992) might have been different. How my learning might have been accelerated by exposure to voices beyond the walls of my school and local area. What I do know is that, until my engagement with Twitter (and subsequent graduation to blogging), the breadth of my professional conversations was quite limited. I had my own department within my school supplemented by occasional face to face contact with a wider network of people (most often working in the same subject area as me). These external voices were part of local associations, national bodies and the very occasional conference. All too often though, these fora were about sharing resources and socialising (no problem with that) rather than discussing their application in context. It was not until I had the privilege of working in Initial Teacher Education that I came into more regular contact with a wider range of perspectives on education and some global voices. But even then, dialogue was still limited by hierarchies, opportunities and physical constraints on time and space.

I remember my anxiety at putting out my first tweets. I was cautioned by some peers against sharing too much. Someone might steal your ideas and materials! Thankfully I didn’t see it that way. I reached out to connect and learn.

Now I can’t imagine not being a connected educator. I’m very grateful to be part of the global education village.

And a final footnote: I’m now living and working on the opposite side of the world from where my career began but more connected than ever!



The Know-how Continuum

Whitmore Quote

The recent #educoachOC chat on Twitter explored the key differences and similarities between coaching and mentoring as strategies to support teacher learning. I might tease out a few of the issues covered in the chat in future posts but for now I’ll concentrate on the issue of advice giving in a coaching or mentoring context.

There was a lot of discussion around the giving of advice versus not giving advice, and the expectations of both parties when entering into a coaching or mentoring relationship.

I liked Mary Jones‘ use of internal v external expertise and Kerron Worsdell‘s “revelation/epiphany” response. A mentoring relationship (not necessarily with the coach) could be an appropriate form of “external” learning that emerges in response to a need identified within a coaching cycle.



Sam Boswell shared the image below. It’s clear that the ownership and responsibility of the coachee increase as we move to the right.


This brought to mind something that was introduced to me during my coaching accreditation training and that I’ve referred to many times since when trying to explain the coaching process.

The Know-how Continuum

The know-how continuum can be a helpful way of thinking about how we frame our coaching questions in order for the coachee to generate options for moving forward. Ideally we want to stay, as long as possible, with the coachee’s own context, experiences and successes. Having fully explored this line of enquiry, or if it turns out not to be fruitful territory, we might move along to another – someone else who they know is good at this or has faced similar challenges or is in a similar context to the coachee. Finally, the last stop on the know-how continuum is the coach. The coach will almost certainly have ideas of their own to help the teacher move towards their goal. However, that’s just what they are – the coach’s ideas – and who’s to say that they are the best ideas? At this point, seeing the coachee struggling to find enough options, the coach might ask “would you like some suggestions?“. Caution and restraint are required on the part of the coach at this stage. A “yes please” response is not a license to immediately flip into full directive mode!

Whitmore advice & blame

The aim is to keep responsibility and ownership with the coachee. Introducing a suggestion with something like “What I’ve seen work in the past is….“, to some degree, puts the idea out there in neutral territory without the coach claiming ownership of it. This is very different from “Well, what I think you should do is…“. For (teacher) coaches (or perhaps just humans in general!) this can be a difficult thing to do. As Whitmore puts it:

It may be harder to give up instructing than it is to learn to coach

In my own experience as a teacher-coach, maintaining faith in the capacity of the coachee, and resisting telling, have at times been the most challenging aspects of the role. The faith is in their ability (supported by the coaching process) to reflect, think deeply, commit and act. It is not necessarily about surfacing specific knowledge or skill (although it may be there). Effective coaching helps the coachee to realise that they have the capacity to find a way to solve the problem or address their need. It is not always about knowing the answer there and then – “know-how” in this context can be knowing how to find their own answers.

So how does this sit with you? What’s your experience as a coach or coachee? What questions would you ask at different points on the know-how continuum? How do designated Instructional Coaches (more common in the US) manage to keep responsibility and ownership with the coachee when operating in a more directive way around specific instructional strategies?

Further Reading:

Mark McKergow discusses the “know-how continuum” as a Solutions Focussed approach in these two great articles:

Manager as coach – gathering know-how for improved performance 

Manager as coach – introducing the coach’s know-how Part 2

Thanks to Jason Pascoe (@jpgci) for sharing these.


Whitmore, J. (2009). Coaching for performance: GROWing human potential and purpose, the principles and practice of coaching and leadership (4th ed.). London, England: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

Finding my voice

Finding my voice

I have had several key moments in my career when someone has nudged me towards a new opportunity or identified a strength or quality that I hadn’t necessarily seen in myself at that time. That someone has been a colleague, adviser, line-manager, boss, and sometimes a friend too. I am grateful to these people for giving me encouragement and the opportunity to contribute, lead and influence at a range of levels beyond the walls of my own classroom. I hope that I do the same for others. I now see that all of these experiences continue to help me form my views and develop some kind of wisdom that can be brought to bear on whatever the educational issue at hand may be. I still suffer occasional bouts of imposter syndrome (more here) but I think I’ve found my voice.

Too much to Tweet

Most of these experiences were before we had the technological tools to allow us to effectively connect very far beyond the geographic boundaries of our local area. Now, through the wonder of Twitter, these geographic and institutional constraints on dialogue have disappeared. Having lurked for months and consumed the generous contributions of others, I finally jumped into the Twitterverse in May 2013 with my first tweets during the 3rd National Coaching Conference for Educators. My journey as a connected educator started that day. From there I decided to start sharing what I found during the development of my school’s coaching model as well as my own learning in this area. I’ve now been through all of the phases of twitter evolution and my worldwide PLN continues to grow. Through participation in chats alongside a myriad of generous educators (big shout-out to the great people at #educoach and #satchatoc) I now feel more connected and supported, and at times energised and affirmed, than at any other stage in my career. As the connections and conversations have deepened I have started to feel that, although I still love Twitter for what it is, there’s sometimes just too much to Tweet!

Maybe I’m not just blethering and havering

The process of sharing my opinions and entering into dialogue with others (in 140 characters) has led to connections with many fantastic people, several of whom I’ve been privileged to meet in person and expand the conversations using our real voices! The power of voice has also come to the fore in an interesting way through a bit of dabbling in Voxer initiated by the fabulous @stringer_andrea with a group of trusted PLN friends. The extra dimension that this has brought to conversations has been fascinating. I can really ramble on there!

@mesterman, me & @cpaterso (@stringer_andrea on other end of camera!)

Meeting @mesterman (left) and @cpaterso (right) – @stringer_andrea on other end of camera!

I have been very humbled and honoured by the endorsement and encouragement that I’ve received from people whose views and talents I respect and admire. I’ll inevitably miss someone but the key people that you have to blame for this blog are:

  • Jon Andrews @jca_1975
  • Donelle Batty @dbatty1
  • Corinne Campbell @corisel
  • Aaron Davis @mrkrndvs
  • Cameron Paterson @cpaterso
  • Edna Sackson @whatedsaid
  • Andrea Stringer @stringer_andrea

The final indication that others think I have something worthwhile to share, and actually do make sense some of the time, was the invitation from Corinne Campbell (@corisel) to host the @edutweetoz account late last year. I had been connected to Corinne on Twitter and Voxer for a while and was very flattered when she suggested that I do a stint on the account. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, made lots of new connections, shared loads and learned loads.

Sharing my learning journey

So my plan is to continue sharing my learning journey here. I’ll be writing about coaching, professional learning, leadership, professionalism, and anything else that’s on my mind. I hope that what I share is of use to others in some way but if it’s not then I’ll be happy just to reflect and capture my thoughts for myself. I’ll put it out there and see what happens…. Thanks for reading!