Exploring Coaching Cultures and Asking the “Right” Questions

I haven’t blogged yet.  As a first-year coach, I feel embarrassed about this.  But somehow this year has had a pace all it’s own, and as often as I think “that would be a great blog”, I still haven’t managed to come up for air and hit post!

It’s rainy today, and Mother Nature has made it an awesome, guilt-free, get your inside stuff done, kind of day.   it’s been a lot of Spotify, snacks and my laptop. The last song I listened to was “Closer to Fine”, Indigo Girls circa 1989, (yes, I’m showing my age here, but at least the 90’s fashion is back in style!) Between hockey practice (x3), walking our new pup in the rain, picking up costumes for an upcoming production of Matilda and writing what seems like endless report card comments, I have been thinking about where I’m at in the Cohort process and feel the urge to weigh-in. 

This year I am focusing on teacher wellness.  I posed the question, “How might we structure PD time to reach individual goals, team goals, and school-wide innovation that is supported by coaching, mentoring & design thinking with a bias towards action?”. At the second F2F I heard about how this model is working at other CIS schools.  I had an insightful conversation with @nblair and was overwhelmed by her generosity in sharing the plan and template she has implemented at Rosedale Day School. 

After the conference, I wrote a proposal for my admin asking for permission to pursue learning about the coaching model and how it may affect a change in the way PD is approached at our own school, with the hopes of promoting teacher wellness and empowerment.  I want to engage in learning with my colleagues and peers about project-based, action research, similar to the amazing Cohort21 model created by @jmedved @gnichols, and see if there is a place for this at my school. It would be wonderful to foster innovation and design thinking across our grades.  Cohort21 its framework and positive community give each of us the opportunity to say “yes”, to becoming problem-solvers and using our questions to make a change in each of our schools.

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to participate in Coaching Training through CIS Ontario at Ridley College School, and the vision of Cohort21 Alum @ddesvignes @ddoucet & @acaplan. It was amazing to be there to experience first hand an Action Plan, actually in action.  I was grateful for the inspiring, informative and eye-opening insight that day regarding the wave of “Coaching” that is happening in CIS Ontario schools. =

This day opened up a wealth of resources one of which is Change Your Questions, Change Your Life, by Marliee Adams. (I highly recommend this read) Not to mention a series of Coaching Conversations for the 2019-20 school year with fellow CIS Ontario educators lead by Heather Clayton Consulting.

This week’s Coaching Conversation Session focused on values and how when we ask powerful questions, we have the ability to unlock the truth that can be hidden and find our true potential. When we find the answers to our questions we can clarify our values and how our awareness of these values will help us frame our intention and impact.  Heather has given us the opportunity to be reflective of how time spent understanding ourselves is one of the most powerful and empowering acts that we can do to help us “show-up” in the world and find alignment in our lives. 

So, back to Indigo Girls, the trigger for this post. I spent endless hours listening to this song earlier in my life.  Now I listen with new ears, and what is old is new again. So many questions about the next steps remain, but I’m enjoying the journey and starting the year so grateful for another lap around the sun, and more of an opportunity to learn, grow and find some answers. 

I’m looking forward to seeing everyone at the next F2F. 

Also, I want to send a big thanks and shout-out to @gvogt facilitator extraordinaire, whose advice always helps to clarify and inspire! 

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading, and if you’ve got time on this rainy day, feel free to have a listen. 

Indigo Girls – Closer to Fine – YouTube



I’m tryin’ to tell you somethin’ ’bout my life

Maybe give me insight between black and white

And the best thing you’ve ever done for me

Is to help me take my life less seriously

It’s only life after all, yeah

Well darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable

And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear

I wrap my fear around me like a blanket

I sailed my ship of safety ’til I sank it

I’m crawling on your shores

And I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains

I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains

There’s more than one answer to these questions

Pointing me in a crooked line

And the less I seek my source for some definitive

The closer I am to fine, yeah

The closer I am to fine, yeah

And I went to see the doctor of philosophy

With a poster of Rasputin and a beard down to his knee

He never did marry or see a B-Grade movie

He graded my performance, he said he could see through me

I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind

Got my paper and I was free

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains

I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains

There’s more than one answer to these questions

Pointing me in a crooked line

And the less I seek my source for some definitive

The closer I am to fine, yeah

The closer I am to fine, yeah

I stopped by the bar at three A.M.

To seek solace in a bottle, or possibly a friend

And I woke up with a headache like my head against a board

Twice as cloudy as I’d been the night before

And I went in seeking clarity

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains

I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains

We go to the doctor, we go to the mountains

We look to the children, we drink from the fountain

Yeah, we go to the Bible, we go through the workout

We read up on revival, we stand up for the lookout

There’s more than one answer to these questions

Pointing me in a crooked line

And the less I seek my source for some definitive

The closer I am to fine

The closer I am to fine

The closer I am to fine, yeah

Source: LyricFind

Songwriters: Amy Elizabeth Ray / Emily Ann Saliers


Closer to Fine lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group



Design Thinking for Career Clarity and Self Innovation

Recently, I sent my Head of School a note of thanks letting her know how grateful I am to have been given the opportunity to experience Cohort 21.  In it, I expressed how it has deepened my understanding of professional learning communities and sparked one of the most transformative years of my teaching practice.  In essence, I found Cohort at the exact moment that I needed it the most.

When I started Cohort, I was exhausted.  I thought I was exhausted from being busy, but in fact, it was my mindset.  A mindset rooted in desperately seeking approval from people in positions of formal leadership.  Trying to prove my worth and my value-added, time and time again. I realized that I was trying, in vain, to please the wrong people.  All these years, I have let “busy” keep me from being an authentic leader for my students, because I was afraid of not knowing all of the answers.  I was too focused on gaining subject knowledge, trying to achieve visible organization in a field that is by nature messy, and aiming to get all of the details of an assignment “right”, never fully able to “catch up” or feel at ease in my role.  

Through the Cohort 21 process, I have thought long and hard about my why?  What has kept me in teaching and how I envision my future in the profession.  How will I create a legacy that goes beyond my classroom? I realized that my goal for all of my students is to empower them to find their own voice and to make positive change in the world.  I am deeply committed to helping young women to identify their skills and unique qualities and to understand how they can utilize their strengths and challenges for their own good, and for the good of others. I also want to make learning fun, to maximize student engagement and to make sure that each student is open to the perspectives of others, and that they feel heard, seen and valued for their own unique perspectives.  In essence, using visual art to develop a greater sense of empathy, and understanding of the human condition.

Through career coaching, I realized that if I aligned my true self, with my work self, I would no longer feel exhausted from trying to fit into someone else’s expectations or at least my perception of those expectations. I could stop feeling frustrated in an “ideal” that I knew I may never become.  I have given up chasing that unknown. I have stopped feeling the need to live trying to receive a stamp of approval that I now recognize needs to come from within. I have developed a sense of gratitude for the things that I have, for the people in my life, and for my supportive community. And I will stop waiting for others to realize my potential.  

I’ve been told that I have a sense of alarm.  And now I recognize, it’s true. Those alarm bells have been keeping me running on a wheel, year after year.  Before now, I had not stopped to recognize that the most valuable part of my work, was already there. The place where I would find my joy was drowning in antiquated ideas of a system of education that is deeply in need of change. I was challenging myself to fit into a mold I wasn’t innately in tune with. I was moving further away from embracing the very things that have always made me excited to be a teacher — the learning for learning’s sake.  

It is deeply important to me to help students find their voice and to use their creativity to produce work that is student-driven vs. teacher driven.  Being progressive and helping to ignite curiosity, research, experimentation and the creation of meaningful artwork by my students. I feel like I have finally found the balance between the tension of helping students fill up their toolbox through formative, micro-studio experiences and then progressing to their final summative pieces.  Through the Cohort 21 process, my action plan has evolved into proposing and creating a new course in design thinking for Grade 12’s next year. It will be a Visual Arts Photography credit, that will utilize design thinking and students will use their tool kit for photography to document their process. Knowing my students better, connecting with my learning community, and being more of my authentic self, I have recognized that my students have always been my greatest gift for motivation.  That when I listen, when I let them guide me and I learn alongside them, I will, in turn, be the best teacher that I can be.

Last night,  I took a break from writing this and read, Rachel Hollis’s words about how her journey has been everything.  She writes, “Nothing that lasts is accomplished quickly. Nobody’s entire legacy is based on a single moment, but rather the collection of one’s experiences.  If you’re lucky, your legacy will be a lifetime in the making (Hollis 67).

The most amazing part of the Cohort 21 journey is not that I had the opportunity to participate, but that it made me realize how timing is everything. Although I am very grateful and would have been at any point in my career, I fully believe that the timing was meant to be.  As a creative thinker, I am constantly questioning, if I’m in the right place? Am I focused on the right thing? Should I even be teaching? Is this really what I wanted to do? This is a long way from the loft in NYC I dreamed about living in, working as a photographer, when I was “thinking big” in high school. I get that this may now read as a teacher writing a mid-life crisis, Jerry Maguire-style document, but I really feel like the stars have aligned this year.  Now, “busier” than ever, I am full of energy. I am kinder to myself. I take time to play with my children. I have slowed down in my classroom, and make a point of connecting with each of my students every day. I have tried to really listen to what they need, and respond with reflective and responsive pedagogy, and not devalue my ability to teach or drive home content that was more about box checking that valuable work. The one pressure that has been most vital is understanding that the work I have been doing all these years is valuable.  That the joy I get from my role as a mentor does not mean that I am not also an effective teacher.

As with any good journey, and to reference Garth and Justin’s slide deck from our first F2F, this is the end of the beginning, and I’m so grateful to the many years of work that it has taken to get to this place.


Click here to see my slide deck


Thinking about networking. Visual Arts teachers unite!

Creating a network of Visual Arts teachers within CIS schools has been the focus of my Action Plan (Part 1).  I realized right away that I have already created a platform to open the discussion by founding the CIS Student Visual Arts Festival in 2017 with @drutherford.  When we created the CISVAF, we were focused on the student experience and on designing an opportunity for students to be inspired, collaborate, connect and share their learning, while working with professional artists in workshops around a specific theme. This festival has been the bulk of my 10x (@sethgodin) work for the past 3+years.

This past year, I have been collaborating with Matt Wyatt at SAC to help support the organization of the 3rd annual CISVAF for 2019 that is set to run this week!  This experience, as well as the opportunity of being inspired by #Cohort21 (which I will be eternally grateful for), has reminded me that I have been seeking a deeper connection with Visual Arts educators in CIS Ontario.  The goal of creating this network is personally significant; a quest to end my solo experience and begin a network of support, encouragement, and inspiration for other educators that might be feeling disconnected and in need of some cheerleading!

In speaking with @drutherford (Future Design School and Cohort alum) about this action plan, she brilliantly condensed my long-winded thoughts into: “HMW leverage the CIS Ontario community to drive innovation in visual arts?” – when you need help, ask a pro! Right, @lmcbeth!  I am thrilled that Diane will be running a Future Design workshop for Visual Arts teachers based on this HMW at this year’s festival.  Afterward, we will follow with a networking opportunity.  @jroberts @ahughes @dmonson @lbelanger @lwest ~ I’d LOVE your input and to hear your ideas about how to make this experience great!  I’m hoping we can connect at the next F2F as well.

I’m including the below images, as I am proud of my girls for finishing the collaborate artwork from the CISVAF 2018 this week.  The smaller 4 x 4 individual artworks are based on the theme, “Gender: Defined and Redefined” and together represent the CIS schools that attended.   At the festival this week, we are looking forward to sharing the 48″ x 48″ resin coated panel that it has evolved into.  How awesome for the student leaders who organized the event for the past two years to see and experience how the festival has evolved at SAC.  We can’t wait!

Safer Path to Exhaustion

In June, when I filled out my Cohort 21 information, I reflected on a possible theme.  It was that time of year when the totality of the year’s workload had me feeling burnt out. I promised myself that this year, I would not repeat the cycle of previous school years and instead use my “sphere of influence” to make better choices about creating space and time for myself and my students.  I was committed to change for this 2018-19 school year; committed to finding the “time” for myself that has been eluding me for the past 12 years as I try to balance the demands of raising my young family with working full time.


Summer came and went, and when I returned to school, I was refreshed, energized and ready to tackle a new year.  With the newfound support and inspiration of the Cohort 21 experience, I considered “How Might We” questions that I hoped would help me to stay focused on the theme of health and wellness and maintaining balance; to be my best self in the classroom.  My intention was to meet the needs of my students, who increasingly feel overwhelmed, stressed and distracted throughout their days, while modeling the behaviour that I was asking of them.


My initial “How Might We” question was:

  1. “HMW: Connect Visual Arts teachers within CIS to create a community that can problem-solve and that works together to support and encourage each other?”  Initially, I was interested in looking at a Design Thinking Model that would help us collectively plan for new assessment standards for CIS Visual Arts teachers that focus more on the process and less product.

My question has since evolved into:

  1. “HMW: Help students find a sense of empowerment through process and production in the Visual Arts?”  With a focus on student passions, interests, goals, while developing a design thinking template for a summative assessment.

It’s now mid-December, and we are all looking forward to the winter break. Ready for some time to unwind and recharge.  It seems a fitting time to step back and re-evaluate if I am on track towards achieving my goal; that promise to myself back in June.  I realize that the simple answer, is no.


Reading Seth Godin’s blog this morning left me thinking.  He claims that, “In order to make that forward leap, you need to trust yourself.  To create space. To have the discipline to say no to distractions or even to projects that put you back into the 1x mode.  The reason that there are so few 10x contributors isn’t that we lack innate talent. It’s that our systems and our self-talk seduce us into believing that repeating 1x work to exhaustion is a safer path” (https://seths.blog/).

This makes me stop and think about how quickly we let 1x work fill our days.  It is what we know. It feels safe. As teachers, we can likely all connect with the idea of 1x work.  So I ask, how might we build time into our day for the 10x work of innovation and creative thinking? How do we give ourselves permission to slow down enough? What words do we need to use to convince ourselves for this self-talk?  


For those of you who are achieving this better system that he speaks of, how did you start?  

What is the first step off of the safer path?

Enquiring minds want to know.


The Heart of Teaching

Growing up, I was raised with the expression, “it’s a long way from your heart.”  It was my parents’ way of saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. With two parents as health care professionals, it was difficult to get attention for anything that wasn’t going to make you bleed out on the floor. Gruesome as this may sound, I am grateful for the grit, resilience, and determination that this approach has helped me take in my life. It was a fall down, pick yourself up, and dust yourself off approach to failure. Keep putting one foot in front of the other.

What I find interesting as I take time to reflect today, is that being raised with an “it’s a long way from your heart” approach led me to a career that’s all heart.  Each day I try to understand the heart of the issues with my students; I aim to gain a greater understanding of the reasons why people do what they do, and I respond in my actions with my own heart.  My heart is in this teaching role. It’s there, equally matched with my head and my desire to learn. But it’s my heart that guides me every day. When I’m hurting or struggling, or trying to find a better way, I remind myself to just keep putting one foot in front of the other.