Friday 30 September 2016

Open Space and Graphic Recording

The inspirational new head of the HASS Faculty and Newcastle University has launched a Faculty-wide discussion about the values of the Faculty. She is pursuing this in various ways, and in conversation with her a while ago, we agreed that an Open Space event might be a valuable part of the process.

We held the event last week, at St James' Park (home of NUFC)  and around a hundred academics and professional support staff came along for the day.  As ever, I was slightly apprehensive at the start of the day: a hundred people and no agenda...  But as ever, people were full of ideas about the important questions to discuss, and quickly generated a large number of options.

Then there was the slightly messy business of constructing the agenda: people signing up for the questions they personally wished to discuss and then arranging the timings of the sessions so that as many as possible could get to all the topics they had chosen. Some people find this stage of the process uncomfortable,as it is somewhat chaotic and, finally, arbitrary. I always enjoy it: seeing order emerge from the chaos.  And in my experience, the group always manages to produce an agenda that works very well.

We had also invited John Ashton along - a graphic facilitator, recommended by Eleanor Beer, with whom I have worked before. John started with a blank sheet of paper, which mirrored our process of course, and over the day built up a comprehensive record of all the many discussions that had taken place. A number of participants were intrigued to watch this process, and the resultant poster (and electronic copies of it) will be very helpful both in reminding attendees and informing others who were unable to attend, of the range and key themes of the many rich discussion.

What I particularly enjoyed about the day was the huge, and unexpected, range of topics discussed: from how to have fun to how better to engage with the city and region.  But you can see the full range of the discussion in John's graphic poster, below. 

Friday 23 September 2016

Learning to finger whistle

I nearly called this post 'What I learned on my holidays,' but reflected that I had learned other things, too, and also that title sounded a little like a junior school essay.

But what I want to reflect on is how I learned to produce that shrill loud, piercing whistle that one produces with one's fingers between one's lips.

I have wanted to be able to do that whistle for years, in a vague kind of way; but never enough to take any actual steps to learn the skill. However, as my dog grows older, harder of hearing and more confused (and you can keep your jokes about dogs growing more like their masters to yourself) it has suddenly become a more pressing need. I love to walk her on the fells, and let her roam freely - but I do need to be able to call her back, and increasingly my old-style whistle just wasn't loud enough.

Mike (my son) can do it, of course, so I asked him to teach me. He told me what to do, (something like this) and demonstrated it; and then I tried - and nothing. 'Now it's just about practice,' he assured me.

So I kept practicing. And eventually, some semblance of a whistle emerged from between my fingers.  

I had thought that once I had found that sweet spot, I would be able to replicate it, and increase volume, pitch and so on by further trial and error. But it has proved to be a more complicated business than that. Four weeks on, and I am still finding that sometimes I put my fingers to my mouth, and no noise emerges. Further, I don't know what to do when that happens. I don't know what makes the noise that does (unreliably) emerge higher or lower pitched. In fact, I don't really have any understanding of the skill I am practicing.

But nonetheless, practice works. The frequency of getting no noise at all is reducing; and the frequency of getting a really good noise is increasing (I'm up to about 90% of the time, now).

Which raises the fascinating question, for those interested in learning: how does that work? Why does practice work, when I don't know what is making the difference?  Clearly, I am gaining feedback each time I practice: either sound emerges or it doesn't.  But my inability to recognise what is making the difference means that I can't (consciously) try to to it better next time. Yet, nonetheless, over time, the more I practice, the better I get.

It seems to me that this experience raises serious questions for our models of learning: I am approaching unconscious competence without going through conscious competence: is that even allowed? And does it make (for example) sports coaching redundant?  

 Maybe the best way to learn a forehand smash at tennis is just to try lots and lots of them, without a coach telling you what to do differently each time. Perhaps your body will learn the skill more quickly like that?  I'd like to think not: I prefer to believe that some guidance and instruction really do add value. But I'd be even more interested to know what evidence there is to believe that, and what theory can be built around these different routes to acquiring skill. 'Muscle memory' is a label for this - a potentially misleading one, as no memory resides in the muscles; but even when not misleading, it seems to me to describe rather than explain...

Thursday 15 September 2016

The Daring Way

Back in July, we had a great CPD session run by Jacqui Sjenitzer (about which I reflected here)
Jacqui has been in touch to tell us that she is planning to run two workshops -  the Daring Way programme - in Penrith, on 11/12 November and again on 20/21 January. The details are at the link below.
If you are interested in BrenĂ© Brown's work on Shame and Vulnerability, or keen to step up to the mark in your own professional or personal life, these could be a great starting point.

Friday 9 September 2016

Archetypes in Coaching Supervision

We had a very interesting exploration of archetypes in coaching supervision today.

The three archetypes we were exploring were Guardian, Teacher and Healer. Of course there are other archetypes one could identify and explore but we limited ourselves to these (which map well onto other coaching supervision models).

The Guardian is concerned with standards, ethical concerns, appropriateness of interventions in relation to the contract and so forth.

The Teacher is concerned with continuing development: what still needs to be learned, what theories or models might be helpful, and what development opportunities might be appropriate.

The Healer is concerned with offering emotional support and keeping the other safe.

All of these are appropriate concerns in coaching supervision (and coaching, of course); but it is useful to recognise to which one is more drawn, and which one neglects; or whether there are patterns such as starting with the intention of teaching, but then moving into healing (eg habitual rescuing).

And then the conversation got even more interesting as we discussed the shadows...

The shadow associated with the Guardian is the Omnipotent; thus one may feel he or she has the right (indeed the duty) to correct every perceived fault in others.

The shadow associated with the Teacher is the Omnisicient; thus one may feel he or she has  superior knowledge which has to be used to enlighten all.

The shadow associated with the Healer is the Panacea; thus one may feel he or she iss predestined to provide the perfect cure at any time.

Again, spotting preferences, habits and patterns is valuable.

I am not a great fan of Jung, and don't attach huge significance to his ideas about archetypes and shadows; but I found this a rich metaphor to provoke some different conversations and insights about both coaching and coaching supervision.