Written by Julie Higginbotham, Senior Case Coordinator, Mecklenburg County CDSA
OK, bear with me. I’m freaking out a little having a reflective moment about my upcoming journey of becoming a Master Coach so I can learn more about providing support around coaching interactions to other professionals to enhance their practices with children and families. For those of you who are new to this, check out Lisa Cloninger’s transformation From Jack Of All Trades to Master Coach. I’m a little surprised by how unsettled I feel because I eat, sleep, breathe, and live in this happy space that is coaching, and I love it. I really do. I’ve actually been anxiously waiting to see my name as part of an upcoming cohort who get to go through the Master Coach training and was excited when it happened. I mean, I spend a lot of time thinking about the big picture of early intervention through the Coach2Go blog, practicing what I know with the families I encounter, supporting new and more seasoned professionals in a variety of capacities, the list just keeps going. But now comes the next part that makes me worry that what I thought I got, I don’t really get. Breathe in, breathe out, stop overthinking, repeat. Those of you who know me, stop giggling. 🙂
Here’s the thing – I use the principles of coaching interactions in so many ways, both in my professional world and outside of it. When I’m at work, I try to be really intentional about how I approach everything I do. Writing these blogs is a really tedious process (that I love!) – you have no idea how many times I go over them to make sure that what I’m putting out there really does fall in line with these practices that we know to be the best way to support children and families. When I’m in visits with the families I get to see on an ongoing basis, I spend a lot of time talking about why I interact with them the way that I do and why I very firmly believe that it works, every time, with every family. As a clinical supervisor, it’s important that staff leave me feeling more confident and competent in their work, just like we need to do for families. Not only is it the right thing to do, it also hopefully sets an example that they can then pay forward to the families they serve.
Because every area of my life affects all of the others, I find myself using these same strategies everywhere else, too. My kids are dealing with a tough situation? Hmmm, let me find out more about where they are with it before I start doling out my advice. Now that they’re getting older, it’s actually pretty cool to talk them through what they want to do. They are smart little cookies, and they know they can ask me for more information when they need it. I’m having an interesting encounter with another adult? The situation isn’t just about me, so I need to find out more about his or her perspective before jumping to conclusions about how it should play out. Even in grad school, I’ve spent a lot of time digging up the research about how all of this works, and I’m using it to drive my thesis so I may be able to help other professionals figure it out, too. Seriously, this stuff follows me everywhere….and I’ve got it down pat…..
And then, the Reflective Questions game happened. It’s really a brilliant idea that takes a bunch of questions we might ask a family and aggravates me helps me think about which category each one falls in: awareness, analysis, alternative, or action. (Check out A Framework for Reflective Questioning When Using a Coaching Interaction Style – it has a great explanation of these four types of questions, and the last page has a great chart with examples!) The first time I played the game, I was pretty good at it – I used The Early Childhood Coaching Handbook as a reference and was able to work my way through the few that tripped me up a little. Not too shabby. Then, we played the game again, and well, let’s just say that I talked myself into deciding that almost every question fell into more than one category. Epic fail. To my credit, I may have been a little hangry….. Regardless, it’s just a game, no big deal, right? Wrong! This whole concept of categorizing questions is going to be part of the Master Coaching process since I’m going to have to log my conversations with other professionals and code my questions to see if I’m implementing the principles of coaching interactions the right way. Rather than getting worse and worse at it, I decided I would spare my sanity and not play the game anymore….probably won’t work out that way, but it made me feel better in the moment.
So, what did I do next? I self-disclosed to M’Lisa Sheldon at a recent training and told her that I’m falling apart thinking about how this might go for me. Being one of the gurus behind this process, she ever-so-kindly recognized my desire to do this right and joked that she’d keep me from overthinking by forcing encouraging me to make decisions instead of using all four categories at the same time. Funny, she really did say “force,” and even though she was laughing when she said it, I knew she meant it. 🙂 I left that conversation still questioning my capacities (and worrying that I’ll keep going downhill), but I felt better knowing that every Master Coach that I’ve spoken to has had a great experience, not only with M’Lisa and Dathan, but with growing in this process with the group as a whole.
And then, I had a visit with a family, and it was just awesome. We had a fantastic conversation about priorities for the family, talked about how supports are addressing those needs, and made a plan for how the family was going to advocate for themselves to make some changes they had been thinking about for a while. That’s when it hit me – I have so much to learn, but I’m not going in blind here. How often do we help families use the great things they already do with their children to help them see how much further they can take it? This is a huge opportunity for me to learn about more of the ins and outs of coaching interactions and give more insight to the things I already know how to do. It’s also going to help me figure out how to expand on the things that don’t come as easy to me so I can branch out even further to help other people learn how to do this wonderful thing we get to do – help families.