Reflections from My Connected Coaching eCourse #plpnetwork

I am in the midst of taking the Connected Coaching course through the Powerful Learning Practice organization. It has been a great experience so far. I would recommend their courses to anyone looking to become more connected.

One of our current assignments is to reflect upon the following Connected Coaching standards:

1. Persevere in exploring ideas and concepts, rethinking, revising, and continual repacking and unpacking as they build upon and assist in uncovering strengths of those they coach.

One of the most important concepts I have taken away from this experience is appreciative inquiry. I am constantly revisiting it. My goal is to reflect on my capacity to focus on the positive when working with other learners in online spaces. One of the best resources shared by Lani Ritter Hall (our teacher/guide/mentor) is this article, which contains the visual you see below.

An Appreciative Strength Based Approach - MentorMob


What I find so interesting is this framework describes the same steps that teachers should apply when using formative assessments to move students toward a learning goal. What does this mean? Just as school leaders must act as coaches with colleagues, teachers should replicate the coaching experience with their students. It’s about encouraging growth (Dweck) and a dynamic-learning mindset (Johnston).

2. Engage in discussions on difficult or messy topics from an appreciative inquiry perspective to increase confidence and self efficacy.

The idea of engaging in difficult discussions may seem like an oxymoron. Why look for an argument? The idea is that these touchy conversations are just the issues we need to address if we are to move forward in our learning. Our beliefs and practices will not be altered unless we truly reflect on their effectiveness and consider other possibilities. Having these conversations from an appreciate inquiry standpoint forces listeners to really consider others’ opinions and look for the positive in what they are saying.

3. Use activities to create a connection to the content and context, to oneself, and to those who are part of the learning community at school and online.

To address this standard, I have taken the leap into Google+ Communities. I was reluctant at first – I didn’t think I needed another social media to keep tabs on. What makes G+ Communities different is I can better organize my connections with colleagues based on interest and on the desired openness of our conversations. To create a “walled garden”, I can make a private Community. Posts are only visible to the members of our group. This has been a great tool to provide an online space for learners new to social media.

4. Collectively review and analyze with an open mind and without judgment all and many perspectives on coaching.

The ladder of inference has been a very useful mental model for keeping an open mind. Developed by Chris Agyris and often referenced by Peter Senge, the Ladder of Inference is about not jumping to conclusions. There are clear application possibilities of this model to professional learning communities, conferring with students, project-based learning, etc. In my context, it’s a critical skill if I am to be an active listener when coaching others both face-to-face and online. This visual is helpful in reminding me to hold my assumptions at bay:



Here is one example: It is so easy to make snap judgments about students when looking at assessment data and not considering all the possibilities. Why is a child not successful? Instead of assuming its just classroom instruction or lack of motivation on the part of the student, it is smart to consider the context of the situation, along with our preconceived biases, before arriving at conclusions regarding specific situations. Maybe we don’t have enough data to support our initial assumptions. The solution may be to go back and assess the child using a different tool to get a more comprehensive look of their skills. We need to trust our intuition, as long as it leads us on the path toward deeper understanding.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District ( Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD ( and Lead Literacy (

11 thoughts on “Reflections from My Connected Coaching eCourse #plpnetwork”

  1. Matt,
    I am most appreciative of your thoughtfulness in relation to each of the standards. And I’m delighted that you are finding potential in an appreciative inquiry approach.

    Your example of the power of awareness of the ladder of inquiry as it applies to young people resonates deeply with me. Years ago before I was aware of Agyris’ Ladder, I wrote a post entitled Beneath the Surface; although my post was not specifically about data, your point was my point then and to today.

    Thank you for reflecting so deeply,


  2. Matt, you are doing a great job at leading by example in the course. I thank you for taking the risk and often being the first to post. Your blog is another great example of how you are actively promoting the ideals of appreciative inquiry and connecting as a coach. I’m further impressed that you so succinctly summed up some big ideas from the course.


  3. As Lani and Laura stated, I appreciate your leadership in the course and your thoughtfulness. In this post I especially appreciate the graphics you inserted. I’ll be following your blog so I can continue to learn from you even after our class ends.


  4. In almost every leadership class I took, I realised that I am a leader of students and also a coach. The realisations made me a far better teacher. Some current classroom teachers are being trained as coaches. The course seems really helpful!

    Like Lauran, I hadn’t seen that graphic. It makes me wonder how it fits with some of Marzano’s work on classroom supervision (a term I dislike – much prefer a coaching model).


    1. Janet, you point out your preference for taking a coaching stance with staff instead of as an evaluator. So do I! I think we make such better progress when we focus on the positives.


  5. Matt,
    Your post is a testament to the thinking, revisiting and rethinking you have been doing about appreciative inquiry. I especially connected with your application of the ideas to students. Remembering to listen and re-consider all possibilities speaks so deeply to your belief in the possibilities that lie in front of us only waiting to be discovered.
    Thank you for sharing.


  6. Matt.
    I have enjoyed reading your reflection. You have captured so many powerful learnings from this course.
    When you talked about engaging in difficult discussions helping individuals ‘move forward in their learning’ it really resonated with me.
    What will give you the confidence as you go forth and engage in the ‘messy’ discussions?


    1. Thank you Fiona for the comment. I have enjoyed learning from you as well.

      Two things give me confidence when engaging in challenging discussions: reflection and reading. As I think back to past experiences and self-assess my actions, I am better able to approach future situations with a more seasoned approach. As for reading, pulling from research and experts gives my interactions weight and validity. I have even cited the sources that support professional expectations when I feel there may be some push back. With both reflection and reading, remembering to consider the context of my situation and focusing on the positive has helped immensely.


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