This week, Monday and Tuesday have seen the chapters pull together around the resurrection theme.
Riccardo is telling stories from his life, Anthony (JC) is keeping him alive by asking open-ended questions. The final scene with Khaled (Ambass) has yet to be written.
What is also a mystery is what will happen to Riccardo in the final scene. After some coaching, the details are becoming clearer. The work will be done on Thursday and Friday.
So, you may be looking at a whole book by the weekend.
Here's the book AS IT IS right now. Just for reading!
Written and composed as it was experienced and imagined by Martin Richards.
The purpose of the book is to explore the question “What happens when you put a certified coach into a school?”
The author, Martin Richards, is a qualified teacher, an experienced trainer and a certified coach who has an overwhelming curiosity. More than anything he wants to find out what his own life might have been like had more of his teachers used a more coach-like approach in the way they worked. He has taken it upon himself to investigate, to find out as best he can, the answer to the above question.
A secondary purpose of the book is to demonstrate the value and challenges of coaching teachers, this being a side-effect of the exploration of the above question. The more you look for the effects of using a coaching approach, the more clear they become.
The hero of the story is preparing to die. He feels he has lived long enough and is ready to move on. He has done what he came here to do and is ready for the next stage of his evolution. The caterpillar has done its job, it is time for the butterfly to emerge. Chrysalis time awaits.
We are standing in the foothills of a granite mountainside, facing west. It is the beginning of the year, the full grip of winter, and the temperature is exceptionally icy. There is snow and ice everywhere. The recent weeks have been horrendous, with snow blizzards and exceptionally heavy snowfall for days at the time. Today is quiet a day when the weather seems to be taking a break to reflect on what it has done.
It is late afternoon and already dark. The sun will set an hour and the temperature will drop quickly as the dark of the night takes over.
The hero of the story has prepared himself well for such weather. He has chosen the clothes to wear for his funeral, his last act on this earth, his last curtain call. He is dressed in warm clothing, wearing a knitted multi-coloured scarf, a Russian hat, a dark brown overcoat, woollen trousers and stout boots. His chrysalis clothes.
He looks for somewhere to sit down and chooses a sheltered place against a rocky outcrop where he has watched the setting sun at this time of the year. The sun is now a pale orb slowly drifting towards the horizon, like a lost balloon, moving in from the left, painting pink the undersides of the grey snow clouds.
It is time to prepare. He uses a woollen blanket to bind his legs together and wraps that another blanket around his head and shoulders and locks it around his arms tucking in second blanket into into the first fully wrapping him for his journey into chrysalis time.
As part of his preparation he has made and drunk some tea. It's a special tea made from herbs. He hopes that the tea will have its magic effect and the hallucinations from the final stages of dying from the cold will be pleasant. Hallucinations are just part of the process, nothing to worry about.
Stages of dying from the cold
Your hands and feet get very cold
your heart and breathing speed up
Your skin becomes white
You have to pee
You cannot move
Your hands and feet turn blue
Your heartbeat and breathing slow down
You hallucinate, you dream
Primal urge to strip off clothing as skin begins to burn
Primal urge to burrow into the ground
You lose consciousness
Your body shuts down
His name is Riccardo.
Ricardo has been on a life-long mission to bring about an evolutionary change in the way people are educated - towards collaboratively discovering the purpose and passion of each child and to maintain a space where that passion and purpose can flourish.
Riccardo’s main tools of his trade, at least on the surface, are the words he uses and the movements he makes with his eyes, hands and body. Beneath the surface are his carefully monitored thoughts, and generous heart; and his unwavering belief in the spiritual nature of every single person he meets.
The sun finally sets and the remaining rays of sunlight shine on the underside of the wintry grey clouds turning them cotton candy pink. Riccardo imagines that he can taste what he sees. He takes off his gloves and reaches out to the clouds and tucks into a hearty meal of cotton candy, feeling the rush of sugar and the excitement of one of those rides at an amusement park.
Riccardo licks his fingers. His hands are bone white. He puts his gloves back on.
As he does so, Riccardo smiles as he hears what he believes to be music - the band Caravan are playing the track the Land of Grey and Pink. He finds this so amusing that he shakes with laughter. He is in fact is shivering from the freezing cold, he laughs so much that he wets himself.
Riccardo sighs, he cannot move. Feels no need to move. Cannot stop moving. Riccardo looks at his shaking hands. He knows the end is close. At these temperatures it can only take a few hours he hopes.
A security guard appears, dressed in a dark blue uniform. He walks briskly over and stands guard beside Riccardo's dying body as if to protect it from harm until it is found by his loved ones. Riccardo is amused by this hallucination, but has no idea what it means, yet.
“You know me?” whispers the security guard looking over his shoulder.
“Maybe I do?” said Riccardo, trying to recall the face.
“I know you old man.” The security guard declares, and smiles, his eyes flashing. He stands to attention.
At first the security guard seems to be part of a dying dream until Riccardo recognises the look in his sharp eyes. This guard is an adult whom he had met as a teenager, the one who was headed towards a tough life of crime and probably prison. He was just sixteen at the time and was already known to the police. Riccardo recalled that they had had a deep and meaningful conversation. A long time ago.
“Why are you here?” queried Riccardo
“To keep you safe through your transformation.” Replies the security guard
“You know about it?” Asked Riccardo somewhat surprised.
“I know about it. I know about all of it. I have followed you all my life. Ever since we met.”
“That was a long time ago, a lifetime. You were different then.”
“I was young. And foolish. Very foolish.”
“You were doing your best,” Riccardo tells the security guard, recalling the time when they had shared the process of naming what was important to him and finding a way to make it become a reality. The dream seemed to become more real by the minute. Perhaps this is not a hallucination, thinks Riccardo.
“Always the optimist,” the security guard says, turning towards Riccardo. “It was a magical transformation, and you made it happen so easily. So few words. I remember them all.”
“Ah, the words on the cards”, said Riccardo remembering how he had used them to guide the transformation. He waved his hands, dealing cards. “It’s cold,” he concluded.
“I will light a fire”, says the security guard, leaning forwards and looking around for something that would burn.
“What was your name? I never asked you at the time.” Riccardo is now convinced that this dream is more real than the clouds he had eaten or the band he had heard playing.
“Anthony. But you can call me Ant.” The security guard replied with pride.
Anthony turns aside, reaches under the nearest snow drift and pulls out armfuls of branches that had been broken off pine trees by the storms. He gathers some of the logs together around a bush of heather. He lights the heather. The oil in the heather burns brightly and soon the logs begin to hiss and steam. Paying equal attention to Riccardo and the burning bush, he brings them both to life.
Anthony kneels a little closer to Riccardo who seemed to be fading in and out. He puts his dark blue jacket across Riccardo’s thin bony shoulders and shakes him gently. “Old man. Do you remember when you learned how to do magical transformations with teenagers?” Anthony asked, hoping that the question would bring Riccardo back from his terminal dreaming.
Riccardo’s eyes flicker as he awakes slowly. “There was a time when I struggled to do that,” he almost whispered, “and then I learned,” his voice rising, “Trial and error. Or as I like to say, trial and success. Focus on what works. Let that be your guide”, he admonishes the invisible audience, with increasing vigour.
Pleased to have been able to keep Riccardo alive a little longer, Anthony is encouraged to explore further. “Was I the first teenager you pulled out of the fire?” he enquired.
The fire crackles as another log falls into the hot ashes, sending up a show of yellow sparks in mention of its name.
“By the time we met, I’d had hundreds of hours of learning, from giving talks. To teenagers who were like you, in the fire, not in the midst of a choosing a criminal lifestyle; but nevertheless, in the middle of something hot.”
“This was when you were teaching in schools?” asks Anthony, his voice rising in question, in almost disbelief.
“No, teaching was way too limited, too much focus the syllabus. I used to teach Maths you know.” Riccardo pauses. Anthony didn’t know, and this is not where he wants the conversation to go, so he moves ahead. “No, this was many years later, from giving talks to college students.”
“You got paid to give talks at college?”
“No. You don’t understand. It wasn’t for the money.” Riccardo pauses again. How could he explain to Anthony that he gave the talks for no money?
“It was after I had been running my company for 25 years. A quarter century doing almost the same thing, chasing assignments, chasing money, doing it well. I was getting to the end of that kind of work, losing interest, and turning 50 was giving me an excuse to make a big change. I wanted to do something that had more meaning than getting paid for doing business communication training over and over again.”
“So you turned down paid work?” Anthony asks almost horrified.
“Not to begin with. I was still working full time, and I wanted to inspire teenagers. Later, there were some days when I had to choose one over the other.”
“And you chose to do paid work?” Anthony asks with hope in his voice.
“No, I chose to inspire teenagers. It made me feel good. Very good.” Riccardo savours the goodness as it flows from his belly, rising to his heart, bringing the warmth of a job well done. He smiles broadly.
“What about money?” Anthony asks.
“I learned to live just as well, on less of it. The company had plenty of money in the bank at the time so it was easy to feel relaxed about it. I always had what I needed and still had a great time talking at the colleges. I learned so much. So much.” Riccardo gazes into the fire, it is burning brightly again.
For his 50th birthday, Riccardo had sent himself out on a mission. He would give 100 inspirational talks at local colleges, for free. He had made the promise to himself directly after he had been accepted to be a speaker for Tango, a local not-for-the-money social change agency. Riccardo had promised himself that he would become Tango’s highest ranked and the most frequently requested speaker. After all, if Tango was going to hold the door to local colleges open, Riccardo could at least stand tall, and do the best job he could.
Riccardo liked challenges. They helped him grow.
“It is always a challenge to give a talk to a group of unknown teenagers. Every teacher feels nervous the day before they meet a new class of teenage students. Indeed they can feel nervous on the same day they meet them, which may or may not serve them in a good way”, Riccardo reflected.
One thing Riccardo was sure of was that teenagers did not care what he knew, until they knew that he cared.
It was a catchy phrase he had heard somewhere, and it was a simple way to remind himself that no matter how intelligent he might be, and no matter what amazing things he may have done in his life, teenagers don't give a shit until they know that you're not full of it.
The very first thing to do in any encounter with teenagers was to clearly demonstrate that you care. Once that has been established, a line of communication is open and further negotiation can take place.
And there has to be negotiation. Since Riccardo was a visitor to the college, and had neither rights nor obligations towards the teachers or students, he would have to negotiate every single step of the way.
And the best way to negotiate was to know what results he wanted to achieve, and at the same time be acutely attentive to the results the students and teachers wanted to achieve.
For the inspirational talks, in most cases, there had been some kind of statement in the invitation from the teacher which hinted at the kind of results that were hoped for.
However, Riccardo knew not to blindly follow what may have been written in an email or said on the telephone before the day of the talk. No, he would pay acute attention to what was happening in the room and allow his intuition to inform him about what results were truly being asked for.
The first inspirational talks were something of an experiment. Riccardo tried out the traditional talk and slides, with the talk being very well-prepared in advance. The talks worked well, but not well enough for Riccardo. He was well aware of the famous quotation by William Arthur Ward.
The mediocre teacher tells,
The good teacher explains,
The superior teacher demonstrates,
The great teacher inspires.
Riccardo wanted to be the one to inspire the students, or at least demonstrate something interesting and useful to them. So he chose never to tell them anything whenever he could ask them a question instead, and to avoid giving an explanation himself when other alternatives could be found.
Riccardo’s next talks were more inspirational. The slides became fewer, had less text and more pictures. The well-prepared talks were abandoned sooner each time. The title of the talks became more vague, allowing for in the minute interpretation. Yes, things were shaping up nicely.
Riccardo knew that his talks were becoming more engaging and inspirational because of the feedback he was getting during and after his talks.
The people who had conceived of Tango had the foresight to insist on the teacher and students giving their speakers feedback. The feedback was organised, collected and collated by Tango. There were questions about the contents and the delivery of the lecture. Some questions could be answered on a scale, others could be answered with a sentence or two.
Riccardo loved getting the written feedback, not least because it was overwhelmingly positive. Riccardo knew from the interactions during the talks that he was doing a good job. But wow, having the proof in his hands pleased his ego tremendously.
Riccardo learned to use his ego as a servant on his mission to inspire thousands of teenagers in his 100 inspirational talks.
For some people the ego is a selfish creature who takes over a person, steering their life towards over-indulgence. As true as it may be, it is not the whole truth. The ego is a passionate being who loves to be centre stage, in the limelight and receiving applause. If the ego could be used in a positive and constructive way then why not do so? As long as it is done in a way that is caring, assertive and with vulnerability, surely the ego can have its day? Riccardo had decided to find out.
With the teenagers, making the first connections was a delicate combination of openness, authority and authenticity.
Riccardo had learned that adopting a caring approach would give the best connection and results. He would seize upon the earliest opportunity to show that he cared about the people in the room. They were important to him he was there for them not the other way round.
Being vulnerable meant being willing to share personal details, something which Riccardo developed a taste for after telling a few of his life stories from when he was a teenager, making the same choices as the people in the room. Somehow in the retelling of the stories Riccardo became a teenager again, and at the same time was himself with all his years of experience being able to understand himself as a teenager, and even able to give himself some well-timed advice.
Being assertive, meant looking for what was wanting to happen, and naming it. Riccardo worked partly with the title of the talk which had been given to him in the correspondence, and mostly with whatever the student showed interesting on the day. Sometimes the interest was communicated in words, and on other times it was communicated in silence or in body language, or just a feeling in the room. Riccardo learned early on to listen to his intuition and rely on it more and more.
When it came to negotiating the contents of the talk, Riccardo had learned to just ask, and be prepared to work with whatever came up. It sounds simple, but it takes self control to not talk from your own perspective, or follow the notes you wrote yesterday, last week or last year. No, it took courage to be fully in this moment, and ask what they wanted to learn about the subject at hand.
Apart from showing that he cared, Riccardo knew that the second most important aspect to focus on was managing the group’s internal relationships. Noticing who the informal leaders were, and getting the on-board with Riccardo being the temporary leader of the group. If that was not achieved, the whole group may well follow the informal leader’s actions and ignore, challenge, or disrupt.
Structuring the talk, was done in the moment, based on what had come up, the time allowed and whatever ‘felt’ right. Riccardo relied on his intuition, which became more acute and more reliable over time.
Riccardo knew that using positivity and humour gave the best results. So he told stories that had those qualities. To begin with these stories had been carefully rehearsed. Over time they became more natural, chosen more in line with what was happening in the room, and with what the students needed to hear.
As for getting engagement, Riccardo used role play. Characters in the stories Riccardo was telling could be played by the students. Even if they didn’t know the right words to say. Riccardo used whatever came up, with humour and positivity. Role play, or guided improvisation as it might bette be called, stet the room on fire. It never failed to ignite the most reluctant teenagers. Everyone wanted to be chosen to play a part.
Bringing the talk to a close was always a matter of elegant timing. Sometimes Riccardo stopped short of the allotted time, just because it felt right. More often he went over time. Nobody ever got upset about that. At the end of the talk, Riccardo asked for the students reflections on what they had experienced, what they had learned, what they wanted to say about the inspirational talk. Often the learning was greatest during the reflections.
Getting the best possible conditions for feedback was a matter of saying how it affected him, his ego, to read their written positive feedback. The organisers, Tango, had done a good job in arranging the logistics of the feedback.
The fire crackles in applause as Anthony tosses on a branch of heather he has been holding all the while Riccardo has been reminiscing.
“I recall one time,” Riccardo muses, “when there were but five students in the audience. We had got to the end of the talk and I wanted to ask for feedback. I told them I was an applause junkie?”
“A what?” Anthony asks, slightly startled.
“A junkie. You see it was my ego who was on stage, and it wanted to hear that it had done a good job. So it asked for applause, affectionate applause, just to feel good.”
“And what happened?”
“Oh, they delivered. Even though there were just five of them, they gleefully gave a long round of applause. They seemed to understand my need for acknowledgement.”
The fire hisses. Anthony turns to see that all the logs had burned through. All that was left is a heap of glowing embers.
“All done?” Riccardo asks.
“Not yet old man. It’s time to put some more logs on the fire. I’m sure you have plenty more to say.” Anthony cajoles.
“That may be so, but I am tired”, pleads Riccardo.
Anthony searches for his next question. He piled an armful of logs onto the fire. The damp ones hissed as they landed on the hot embers. The drier ones burst into flames.
“Do you remember when you learned how to get magical transformations with teachers?” Anthony enquired.
Riccardo was looking into the flames, his eyes reflecting the passion that burned within him.
“Oh yes, I remember,” he grins.
Audience Attitude Makes a Difference
The fire has now settled down. Smoke is coming from the pile of logs at the centre of the fire. They both watch as logs heat up, billow steam, then catch fire and smoke mixes with the steam. The transformation from wood to heat fascinates them and takes their minds off the bitter cold air.
“Will you share one of the times when you created a magical transformation with teachers?” Asks Anthony.
Talking about magical transformations is keeping Riccardo warm despite the sub-zero temperature. Anthony’s questions reconnect Riccardo with the passion he has for bringing about change. Despite the fact that Riccardo’s body is declining in strength, his voice is not. Indeed it sounds richer and purer for each story he tells.
Ant has built up the fire and has a new pile of logs ready to burn. This was going to be a long night. Riccardo has not moved at all since he sat down. He is no longer shaking.
The sun has set and the stars are beginning to become visible. Venus and Mars appear against the purple sky. They seem to have arrived to witness the ongoing transformation, to add their energies to Riccardo as he sat in his cocoon, dreaming of what has been, and what may come next.
“There were so many times”, reflects Riccardo. “There was one that involved the teacher, indirectly. My focus at the time was mainly on the students. There was an e-mail. It read, ‘Would you come to one of my lessons and talk about giving presentations?’ This was the way in which I received invitations from teachers at a local colleges via Tango.
Riccardo had made his way to the college by public transport as usual. The teacher had met Riccardo at the staffroom where she offered him a cup of coffee. Riccardo asked for water, lots of water.
As the teacher walked Riccardo to the classroom she shared with him the concerns that she had about her students not being willing to give presentations to the rest of the class. She told him that it was important for the students’ language development to be able to give a lecture, a talk, a presentation of some kind. It was part of the curriculum that the students were expected to stand up and talk in front of an audience. It was part of their grades, and could not be ignored.
Riccardo asked about the class as a whole, "What are they like to teach? ", The teacher replied with one word "Sullen", she said.
So what's going on here? What is it like for this teacher to give a presentation to the class? How did the students feel when listening to their teacher?
When they arrive the classroom the students were ready in the room, mostly seated in their places. The teacher asked for quiet and presented Riccardo to the class. Riccardo stepped centre stage.
“My name is Riccardo. I am a business communication consultant. In my work, I give presentations, and I train other people to give presentations.”
Riccardo scanned the room for the informal leaders. There were several candidates. Their facial expression and body language were strong indicators that they felt comfortable with their classmates.
“Presentations are my ‘thing’. I’m here to share with you what I know about presentations. What would you like to know?”
No student spoke. Not out loud. Their silence spoke volumes about their lack of willingness to ask for what they wanted, or needed. The looks they gave him left Riccardo with a mixture of fear and dread in the pit of his stomach.
The students are afraid to speak out loud, thought Riccardo. It's time to bring that fear into the light. There's no point telling them to not be afraid, there is no point telling them that being afraid is a strong disadvantage in their lives. I will have to make the point in another way. Turning the concept ‘fear’ inside out and finding ‘courage’ Riccardo knew that he needed to tell them to be courageous, that being courageous is a strong advantage in life. Yes, that would be the positive way ahead. But telling them wouldn't help, it will be much better to demonstrate, to inspire them and encourage them to be courageous. So I will look for the courage in the informal leaders, thought Riccardo.
“The best way for me to share with you what I know about giving presentations is to give a presentation”, Riccardo laughed and added lightly “and even better would be for you to give the presentations.” So what I'm looking for is somebody to volunteer to give a presentation for a couple of minutes so that we can get started. In fact, I'm looking for three people. Who are the strongest people in the room?”
It took a while, and it really helped to have asked for the strongest students.
The students looked around at each other, their eyes pointing in the direction of several students students who began to stand up, and make eye contact with Riccardo.
“Great we have three volunteers, come to the front of the room and I will give you your instructions.”
Riccardo brought the volunteers to the front of the room and turned them to face their classmates. “Hi what's your name?” he asked the first of them. “And how does it feel to be standing here?” Riccardo turned to all three volunteers. “All I want you to do is give a very short talk about what you were doing yesterday, or last week, for two minutes no more. Can you do that? Then we will give you some feedback to make your presentation even better!”
“Now here's what I want the three of you to do. Go outside and prepare your two minute talk. Oh and by the way I want you to talk with each other and decide who the strongest one is. That will be the person who is to come in first when I asked for somebody to come in. Did you understand?”
They understood, and grinned at the challenge of deciding who was the strongest. At the back of their minds they were thinking about the two minute talk they were going to give. At the front of their minds was the question of who was the strongest. They left the room. The door closed.
“Okay now listen”, said Riccardo in a conspiratorial tone to the rest of the students. “We going to play a game.”
The students hushed and leaned forwards intrigued by the game they were going to play. It was obviously going to be a bit naughty, hopefully exciting, and probably more interesting than listening to a lecture on giving presentations.
Riccardo set up the game continuing the conspiratorial tone. “Whoever comes in first we are not going to like them. We're going to ignore them, we're going to be a bit rude to them, but not in an obvious way. You know what I mean? You know how to be a bit rude without being too obvious, right?”
“Whoever comes in first is the strongest of the three, they can take it, they can take us being rude for two minutes. But, if they catch us being rude, we lose the game. The trick is to be rude without being caught. Are you ready?”
Riccardo invited the first person to come in, and cleared the stage for them to give their presentation. Riccardo stood to one side, facing this students and nodded. "Okay you've got two minutes, away you go"
The first volunteer started to speak, and managed to keep going for about 30 seconds before losing momentum. "Please continue," said Riccardo, "for two minutes please."
The first volunteer made a brave effort to continue speaking, looking at their classmates for support, and not getting it.
After one minute, Riccardo interrupted and said “You are done, you're finished, we have had enough. We have to tell you something. We have been playing a game with you, we have been very rude. Did you notice?
The volunteer’s facial expression commuted between anger and relief as he explained how it felt about being ignored by his classmates.
The lesson was being given by the strongest person in the room, the young person who had volunteered to give a two minute presentation to an audience who had been rude and ignored them. Their emotional outburst landed like a ton of bricks on their classmates.
“I could not have made the point more clearly myself” thought Riccardo.
“Do you want to continue the game?” Riccardo asked. They did! “This time whoever comes in, there are two of them remember, we are going to love them, we are going to listen to every word they say, we're going to be so encouraging, and we're not going to get caught doing it. The game is to encourage them without them noticing that we are doing it. Are you ready?”
Riccardo invited the second volunteer in, and showed them to the front of the room and said okay you've got two minutes, away you go.
The second volunteer started talking about their weekend, smiled grandly and continued the story for a full two minutes. Riccardo interrupted and said okay, you are done we have heard enough. As the second volunteer took their place with the other classmates, Riccardo added “We have something to tell you, we've been playing a game with you. Did you notice?”
No the second volunteer had not noted that we were playing a game. “How did it feel to give the presentation?” asked Riccardo.
“It felt great, everyone was listening.” The other students laughed. The second volunteer looked a little puzzled.
“Tell me more” encouraged Riccardo.
“It felt like whatever I said everyone was interested, I felt strong.”
“I will tell you the game we were playing after we have played with the third volunteer. Please join in and then we can talk about it afterwards.”
Riccardo started the third game. “This time we will do half and half. For the first minute you can choose to be rude, to ignore; or you can choose to show love, to listen. Then in the second minute you swap, if you were rude now you listen, if you were listening now you're rude. And to win the game, we have to do this without getting caught. Ready?”
They were ready.
Riccardo invited in the third and final volunteer, and showed them to the front of the room and invited them to give their presentation for two minutes.
The third volunteer spoke for a while, looking at their classmates from time to time and after one minute noticed something was different and stopped speaking. “Please continue” said Riccardo, “for two minutes please.”
“There is something going on” the volunteer said.
“Then I have to tell you that we have been playing a game with you.”
“I knew that” they said, “some of you were looking at me at the beginning and then you wouldn't look at me. It made me very confused. It was impossible to carry on talking. What were you doing?”
Riccardo lead the students in a debrief of the three games and how the behaviour of the class affected the feelings of the speaker, and how that had affected the speakers willingness to continue speaking.
“So what have you learned about giving presentations”, Riccardo asked the students, passing the question to the teacher.
Ant tosses a log onto the fire and lets out a yell as sparks fly up to his eyes.
“I meant a magical transformation with teachers!” Ant shouts. “Didn’t you spend some years coaching teachers? I thought I read about that somewhere. I’d love to hear about that.”
“That was in the early days “Riccardo returns. It was the first time I realised that I was working with two audiences at the same time. “After the students had left, I managed to find time to speak with the teacher. Our conversation covered key questions like, What guidelines would you like to have in place when listening to a classmate give a presentation? What guidelines would you like to have when you are giving a presentation to your classmates? What guidelines would you like to have in place when listening to your teacher give a presentation? What would serve you best?”
“Sounds like coaching to me”, Ant says approvingly, “Lots of ‘what’s”.
“I was just getting into using the magical transformational power of open questions with teachers.” Riccardo concludes.
Ant builds up the fire, getting ready for Riccardo’s next story which he hopes will be about coaching teachers. Ant longs to hear how Riccardo uses the magical process with adults. He uses some coaching techniques in his work as a security guard. Just asking open questions quickly reveals what’s going on in any situation. No need for muscle when words will do a better job. Just ask a question and observe the reactions and responses. He was always good at that.
Two Teachers Strategies
Together Ant and Riccardo look up at the stars. Tonight they seem extraordinarily friendly. They twinkle as they dance in the frosty air. Venus and Mars shine down their beautiful energies, strength coming from both of them to support Riccardo in his transformation. Behind some clouds they catch a glimpse of the new moon coming up over the horizon. The sliver of light looks like a small cut in the blackness of the night sky.
“Are you ready to share some of the times when you created a magical transformation with teachers” enquires Ant.
“I suppose I am” replies Riccardo. He can no longer feel his body. He has no idea whether is still alive or already dead. The scene that’s playing out in front of him could easily be a hallucination. And yet it seems real. The stars twinkle, the fire has settled into a crackling bowl of flames. The night seems to be waiting.
“Sometimes it was easy. Ridiculously easy. All I needed to do was observe the transformation taking place. It was as though it was waiting to happen.” reflected Riccardo.
“My work was to observe teachers teach, then coach them on what they wanted to change to get better results.” he states, “Simplicity itself.”
In the initial stages of the observation and coaching assignment, Riccardo had met and spoken with the two teachers about how he would observe their lesson. Yes, in this classroom there were two teachers. That's a bit unusual. The reason for it, in this case, was that all of the students in this class had recently moved to this country and had yet to develop their speaking and writing skills in the local language. Part of the support that the school offered was to have two teachers in the room, one to teach and one to support the students, then the teachers would swap roles so that they could share workload fairly between them.
Riccardo observed the class from the teachers' requested perspective of, "How are we communicating with the students, are we getting across to them, what can we do better?" It was good to have the teachers’ chosen perspective in mind. It created focus for the transformation.
The teachers took it turns to read aloud from the textbook and expected the students to follow in their copy of the book.
The observation tool that Riccardo used included the following headings:
Read the book
Write (on board)
To one student
To all students
Riccardo noticed that what was happening in this class during the observation was that the students were at times unruly, challenging, and occasionally rude, and at other times collaborative, playful, and supportive of each other. Riccardo’s observation linked the different behaviours to which teacher was at the front of the room. It was tempting to point out one teacher as good and the other as bad, but he knew that was not a useful thing to do.
For teacher A the following happens: every time a student interrupts, the teacher starts reading from the beginning again, and sounds a little more frustrated. The students quickly play the game of winding up the teacher, and she gets wound up.
For teacher B, the following happens: whenever a student interrupts, she smiles and continues reading in a calm voice not allowing the interruption to disturb the flow of the story. Students quickly play the game of helping each other keep up with the reading.
In the coaching session, Riccardo invited each teacher to share their strategy for their part of the lesson. As they shared, they heard how similar and different they were.
Teacher A revealed their strategy as "the students will learn when they are listening, my job is to get them to listen."
Teacher B revealed their strategy as "when the students feel they are learning they will listen, my job is to help them feel they are learning."
Riccardo invited the teachers to borrow their partner's strategy and to 'try it on for size' in the next lesson.
When teacher A used teacher B's strategy, the students initially tried to play their usual game, noticed it wasn't working and then changed their behaviour.
When teacher B used teacher A's strategy, the students laughed at their new found power over the teacher, and then went back to their normal behaviour with teacher B, of helping each other to keep up with the reading.
“HA!” Riccardo laughs out loud, scaring Ant for a second, thinking he was shouting in pain.
“It was fun to see the teachers realise how much their thoughts about their students affected the results they were getting. And how quickly the students had learned to play two different games in the same lesson. And how quickly those games evolved when the teachers swapped strategies.”
Ant grunted his agreement and relief.
“So simple,” Riccardo mused, “so simple.”
It was now past midnight. Ant was holding on to the hope that the dawn will bring about a metamorphosis. This was the longest night he had known. Yet, he had chosen this task, to guard his old coach, until the end. Or the beginning. He knew not which.
The moon was rising further into the night sky, and painting the clouds as it did so, painting chalk on charcoal. For the longest moment the patterns in the sky are matched by the patterns in the ashes and snow. Sky and land blur. Reality and imagination blur.
After a long pause Ant begins to wonder what he could ask next, to keep Riccardo alive, for as long as he wanted to remain alive.
“Did you notice any teachers who used coaching?” he asked.
“Oh yes. There were. They were using coaching but in an amateur way. Getting great results though.”
Ant waits a few seconds wondering if he should ask another question. He doesn’t need to wait long, there’s still life in the old man yet.
Riccardo wriggles inside his cocoon, adjusting his body. He has been sitting here for hours, waiting for death, waiting for a transformation. He was getting a little impatient. He was numb. Nevertheless, he could still speak.
“From the very start, I have held the belief that teachers coach. They listen actively and ask open-ended questions. It’s just that more of their time is spent on assessments and judging students.” Riccardo began.
“So how did you see how coaching was applied by a teacher?” prompts Ant.
“There was the student and assistant fight” offers Riccardo.
“Interesting…” Ant adds and waits.
One of Riccardo’s assignments was at a secondary school. One that had been inspected and found wanting. All the teachers had been offered the opportunity of being coached.
In this classroom there were about 25 students, one teacher and an assistant for one particular student, who sat at the back of the room.
The teacher had asked Riccardo to be an extra pair of eyes, to see what goes on behind her back. She told him “I expect the students to work on their assignments without me having to stand over them. Can you see if they are engaged in their walk when I am not standing next to them?”
Riccardo had drawn a plan of the classroom showing the students sitting at the desks and would write yes or no every five minutes depending on whether the students were working on their assignment or not. He made 10 copies of this plan to be used during the one hour lesson.
The teacher started the lesson by reviewing the instructions from the previous lesson, and invited the students to continue with their work up until a certain time before the end of the lesson. The teacher then walked around the room lightly engaging with the students but not tackling any discipline issues or providing answers to their content questions, except saying, "Look at your notes from the last lesson."
After a few minutes, to allow the students to settle into the assignment, Riccardo took out the first sheet to note which groups of students were working, and which were not. That took him about three minutes. Riccardo repeated the procedure five minutes later, and was about to start the third when he noticed there was a disturbance from the back of the room.
Turning to the source of the noise Riccardo saw that the assistant and his young student were having a..., a wrestling match, maybe that's the best description. The student was apparently trying to hit the assistant, and the assistant was defending himself by holding on to the student's wrists.
The teacher walked up to this wrestling couple, and Riccardo became very interested to hear what she was going to say, and to see what she was going to do, to resolve the tense situation.
The teacher asked the student, "How happy are you with the work you've done so far? ". The student immediately refocused his attention on the work in front of him, and said "Well not really". The teacher then invited the student to continue until he was satisfied, and aim to finish before the end of the lesson. The teacher then walked away without engaging the student or the assistant in any more conversation.
“That must have felt good to see the teacher applying a simple open-ended question. So powerful.” Summarises Ant, poking at the fire.
“Actually, I felt challenged by that”, Riccardo sighed. It left me with the feeling that I wanted to go back to the classroom, as a teacher and use coaching with the students. And then I realised that I was doing a good enough job working with the teachers. As a teacher, I couldn’t be in every classroom. As a coach, I could be in many classrooms at the same time.”
“Did you always succeed?” questions Ant
“No” Riccardo states blankly. “Not always.”
Give up and continue
The moon smiles from behind the clouds, it is moving from one cloud to the next playing hide and seek. Venus and Mars have become a little clearer, and have not moved at all. The sky is now an oily black ink on which the stars twinkle, reminding us of the infinite universe. It is perfect.
“Sometimes though, you have to be satisfied with good enough,” sighs Riccardo again, his breath forming a plume of steam from his mouth. It was cold tonight.
Ant is scared that Riccardo just blew out his last breath. And it’s not even daybreak yet. There are hours to go before dawn and the hoped-for transformation.
“Sharing your failures is a good thing too,” he offers.
Riccardo drew in a long deep breath. Will it be his last? He closes his eyes and begins to relate one of his failures.
It was in another secondary school. This class had 12 students, although only six of them had turned up today, some of them for the first time in weeks. It was getting very near the end of the students' final year at school and their grades would be set at the end of the month based on their previous performance in class and tests, the last one of which would be in two weeks time.
The teacher’s question for Riccardo was "What can I do with them, it's too late really to make any difference!". The teacher asked Riccardo to note how motivated the students were, and how that changed during the lesson time.
The teacher and Riccardo made a chart with 4 levels
They discussed some typical signs of engagement that the teacher would like to see. It took some effort to not fall back into discussion of the lack of motivation.
During the lesson, the teacher sat at the front of the room and called out the register noting which students were not attending this lesson, and lamenting their chances of passing the course.
The teacher handed out a three-page worksheet to each student for this 90-minute lesson. The students groaned, and said they couldn't do this kind of question.
The students were allowed to go up to the front of the class one by one to get help with the questions as they wished. Most of them chose to remain in their seats, and rest their heads on the desk. A couple of students started picking a fight with each other using some well-chosen words. The teacher stopped this, with some well-chosen words! After an hour, some of the students got up and left the room, they didn't come back. The teacher did not respond to their absence.
At the end of the lesson, the students left the room, most leaving their worksheets incomplete on their desks. The teacher picked up the worksheets and wrote the students' names where appropriate, filing the sheets for later marking. These worksheets would go towards the students final grade.
In the coaching follow up, much time was spent by the teacher describing the difficulties that these students face in coming to school at all, in understanding the subject, and understanding the consequences of having a bad grade.
Riccardo asked "When did the students give up?", referring to the students who did not come to the lesson today. They shared the signs that the students had shown as they were giving up during the term.
Provocatively, Riccardo asked "How close are you to giving up?"
This teacher is not going to give up, not with the profession anyway. He told Riccardo that he has to do things differently next time, he cannot have this situation again with the students so de-motivated.
They brainstormed 10 different things that he would do differently if he had the chance again, and turned those into plans of wanted to do differently with the next group next term.
“I was close to giving up myself,” Riccardo spat out the words.
“But you didn’t!” interjects Ant.
“No. If he would not give up, on his students, and his ability to become a better teacher, then who was I to give up on him, or on coaching?”
Riccardo gazes up at the moon, now a curved slit in the sky and wonders if it might not be a door opening to the next world. He reaches out to touch it, but his arm does not move; except in his imagination. His imaginary arm reaches to the moon and he puts a finger into the slit of light and wiggles it open. Stars fall through the slit like rain, turning to snow as they make their way earth-wards to the frozen mountain.
“It’s snowing says” Ant, “better put some more wood on the fire.”
He gathers more branches and pulls up a couple of heather bushes; and arranges them around the embers of the fire. He dumps one bush in the middle of the embers and it bursts into energetic flame. He places one branch across the fire and it begins to steam and smoke.
Riccardo begins to cough.
“Sorry”, apologises Ant and wafts the smoke away from Riccardo.
“Fine job I am doing of protecting you. Almost choked you to death there.” Worried Ant turns to face Riccardo and asks “Was that your only failure?”
“Ahh, no.” Replies Riccardo enigmatically. “There were more.”
They laugh, and wait for the next story to come.
Reading aloud from the book
“There was one other time,” begins Riccardo
“Yes,” encourages Ant.
“Not everyone is ready for coaching, even if they sign up for it.”
“They don’t always know what it is they are signing up for” adds Ant.
“True. But it felt like a defeat. I like to win, you know.” Riccardo states.
“Where was this?” Ant encourages.
Ant leans forwards and gently sweeps snow off Riccardo’s head and shoulders, taking the opportunity of looking more closely into his eyes. Is he still there? He hasn’t moved for hours. Yet he is still talking. Or is Ant imagining that?
Riccardo look Ant straight in the eyes.
“I’m still here.”
“Shit you scared me for a second. I thought you had gone.”
“Not yet, not yet.”
“So tell me about the defeat.”
It was at a primary school. The teachers question was "What can I do to get across to the children?"
She shared with Riccardo some of the incidents that have challenged the flow of learning in the classroom over the past months, and Riccardo heard her many years experience of teaching being brought to bear on a situation that is new for this teacher. In this class there are several children who had distinctive and challenging behaviours, learning difficulties, and collaboration issues. There had been information from doctors, therapists and counsellors as well as the teachers and parents of these students.
When he asked the teacher about her motivation behind the observation question she told him she wanted to be the best teacher and she could be and she never expected to be so challenged so close to the end of her career as a teacher.
Riccardo asked how good a teacher she is, and how she knows.
They did a little research and discovered 10 descriptions of a good teacher. They also found useful quotes about the teacher as inspiration.
The teacher told Riccardo that sometimes good enough is as good as it gets. That did not go down well.
Riccardo asked her how she felt to become a teacher at the beginning of her career and she told him of her deep desire to be an inspiration and role model for young people.
They paused for a moment in the emotion of being an inspirational teacher. Riccardo asked “How well do you live that today?” The teacher told him what she did to inspire the students to know about things that are important.
For this observation the teacher had asked "Am I getting across to the students?" In particular she wanted Riccardo to note if the students comments, interruptions and answers are relevant to the topic. She was concerned about not getting through the syllabus due to there being too many irrelevant interruptions.
They made an observation list
Comment on topic / off topic
Answer (asked by teacher)
At the start of the lesson the teacher greeted the students as they came in one by one, she knew every one by name and what they had been up to during the week and in particular during this break time. The students sat in pairs in rows and the teacher stood at the front of the class with the textbook open. The teacher introduced the topic and set today's work in context of the term's work at this grade level. She invited selected students to read a paragraph aloud, as the rest of the class listened in silence. From time to time the teacher shushed interruptions from students who had made comments on what was said and how it was said.
Between each paragraph the teacher added her comments linking this topic to earlier topics and even other subjects that she taught with this class. From time to time she asked a question to elicit the students' experiences, but seldom got a relevant response.
In the following coaching session, they reviewed the notes which confirmed that many of the students' comments were spontaneous and irrelevant and the teacher's eliciting questions were poorly answered, if at all. This information was not helping the teacher.
On the board, Riccardo wrote the headings Strategy and Response, and made quick notes about the teacher's current strategy and the students' current response. Riccardo then asked the teacher what response she would like to have if only she knew the strategy to get there, and she described the responses she wanted to have from the students. Riccardo crossed out the students current response and wrote in the desired response. Riccardo crossed out the teacher’s current strategy and invited her to think of the opposite, something different, something out of the box, something out of a book, something that she’s never done before. That did not go down well.
The teachers frustration was tangible.
She insisted that the strategy was fine, and the students needed to grow up!
Riccardo asked how willing she was to try out other strategies without knowing whether or not they work. And at this point, she was not willing.
They discussed what is likely to happen if she continued with her current strategy and this class. She wanted to change the class!
Riccardo asked how possible it was to change the class, or change to another class, or change her strategy. The teacher decided to continue with this class, with the same strategy and to end the coaching. She felt the coaching was not giving her anything useful.
Riccardo’s body slumps forwards. Ant catches him just before his face lands in the fire.
“I’m burning,” screams Riccardo. “I’m on fire!” Riccardo struggles to beat down the flames. His arms hardly move, his feet hardly move, yet in his imagination he is rolling on the ground in flames, flailing at the pain.”
“It’s OK, It’s OK, old man. You are not burning. You are not on fire.” Ant puts his arms around Riccardo’s waist and drags him up straight, in a sitting position like before. Running his hands across Riccardo’s shoulders, arms, back and legs. He looks into Riccardo’s eyes. The eyes are filled with fear and tears.
“Am I burning?” Riccardo asks.
“No, you are safe. Safe. I am here to protect you. Until the end.”
More talk, less control
Venus and Mars agree that this transformation is going perfectly. Riccardo is doing all that is needed to transform - he is letting out his stories, he is letting go of them. The stars flash their approval, and return to their migration across the sky.
A log falls into the fire. I was ready to burn. Sparks fly up to greet the night with a fizz and crackle. All is well with the fire. Ant is breathing slowly, mindful of the breaths he is taking.
“Sometimes the teachers coach themselves,” Riccardo breaks the silence.
Both he and Ant have been silent, waiting for the pain to subside. It seems like an hour has passed since Riccardo felt he was burning.
“Are you ready to share another story?” Ant asks tentatively.
“What else are we going to do?” jokes Riccardo.
“OK So where are you now?” invites Ant.
“It’s another secondary school.” Riccardo opens the story.
In this class there are 12 students, there are usually 15. It's a small language class.
The teacher had asked Riccardo to observe, and has said that she would like the students to be more active, and engaged in the lesson. The teacher has commented that she feels tired at the end of the lessons from working so hard from getting the students to be more active and involved.
They agreed on the following minute by minute survey of who's talking:
Who's talking, teacher or student (name if known)
In the follow-up coaching session, looking at Riccardo’s notes, they noticed that the teacher was speaking for more than 80% of the time. On reading the names of the students who spoke, the teacher noticed also that some students don't speak at all, unless directly invited; whilst others spoke a lot, often spontaneously.
The teacher described her lesson as being like verbal tennis where she is playing against the class, engaging them one at the time. They made use of this description to describe what the teacher would like to have in her classroom. She described the most desirable lesson as like tennis matches between the students with the herself as the umpire.
How much do you like being in control?
Control is important, it’s part of the teacher’s job.
What difference do you make between being in control and being in charge?
The teacher still had the need to be in control, but was prepared to try a different way, one that would leave more space for the students to be in charge of their conversations. They came up with the idea of forming pairs and triads of students in which there was only one student speaking spontaneously and one student who needed to be invited and possibly one other student, so that there was a good balance and dynamic in each grouping. The teacher prepared cards with dialogue questions and responses in the foreign language for the students to practice in their pairs and triads.
In the next lesson the teacher, amongst other things, introduced the dialogues but did not use them much.
In the following lesson, the teacher greeted the students then invited them to form pairs and triads according to her instructions. The students used the questions and responses on the cards, they talked with each other! The teacher walked around the room observing and listening to them, occasionally correcting pronunciation, and occasionally encouraging certain students to dare to speak aloud.
In the coaching session afterwards, the teacher noted that she was gradually moving back into her old role of being the person who prompted the conversations in the classroom, and that she felt she could rely even more on the students to work in their pairs and triads.
The teacher identified how it was that she was falling back into her old role, and what she would do to prevent that, and open up learning opportunities for the students.
“She was well on her way to coaching herself,” reflected Riccardo
The Moon is beginning to set, grinning its farewell from behind a cloud. The stars twinkle their approval.
The fire is burning low. Ant adds more logs.
Ant is wondering what to ask next then he remembers one of the more powerful questions he has been asked in his life, It always gets him going so he tries it out on Riccardo. “What were some of your greatest successes?” he asks.
Riccardo laughs out loud, nods and smiles at Ant for the obvious elicitation. “There’s always one of those! Success stories, I have so many.” he states. “I always secretly hoped that teachers would become coaches. It would have been amazing to see what happens when a teacher has learned coaching techniques and adopts the coaching mindset - and then applies all that in a classroom setting.” Riccardo savours the image he had created.
“There was one teacher who became a coach.”
Wake up call
“Sometimes you meet one teacher who makes all the effort, all the failures worthwhile.” says Riccardo.
“I’m sure it happens a lot to you” encourages Ant.
“I remember the first one.” adds Riccardo.
“He gave me a hard time at the start. He said he didn’t have time. That he had been volunteered for coaching, and he didn’t really see the point. Thought he was a good teacher.”
“I persuaded him to meet for just the first hour, then decide about the coaching. I started to describe what coaching was. He spoke for 20 minutes without looking at me, or engaging. I just listened. Then he lowered his guard. I asked what he thought coaching was about. He had the idea it was more like therapy. So I put him right, laid out the concepts and purpose of coaching and asked for commitment to the whole program. He agreed.”
“Just like that. What happened next?” asks Ant helpfully.
The teacher had asked Riccardo to observe how he interacts with the students, uses the text book, the course goals, and his own experience to create a good learning experience for the students. The teacher's observation question was "What can I do better?"
This class had just over 25 really well-behaved students. Riccardo observed that the students seemed very comfortable with this teacher, they smiled as they come into the classroom and went quietly to their places, and came quickly to attention as the teacher faced them to start the lesson.
His first thoughts were "Discipline is not the issue here, I wonder what is?"
Most of the students were following in the textbook as the teacher read the important text aloud and added comments from his own experience. Now and then the teacher reminded the students of the course goals and related them to the chapters in the book. The teacher told the students that he was confident that they would pass the course if they listened to him, followed in the book, and remembered what was being said and discussed during the lessons.
In the follow-up coaching the teacher reflected on what he did, and usually does, in these lessons and said that he hopes the students would do well in the test that was coming up at the end of the month. They discussed how the summative assessments would affect the children's grades, and what the formative assessments had been, and would be, during the term. The teacher sounded very confident that he has designed the delivery of the contents and the testing of knowledge to the best of his ability.
Riccardo asked the teacher his own observation question, "What could be better?" At which there was a pause, a long pause. Riccardo decided to challenge the teacher's confidence in his method, since it is the only thing on the table.
“This will either confirm his confidence or bring about some learning”, he thought.
At this time Riccardo was unsure which would occur. He asked "How sure are you that the students are learning from your lessons?". The teacher was intrigued by the question, looked around the room for a long time and then said "I don't know, I really don't know. It shows up first on the test results."
Riccardo asked the teacher's own observation question, “What can you do better?”
They devised a strategy for quickly testing the students' learning from the lesson. They planned a slip test, to ask every student five simple questions at the end of the lesson to check how much they had learned. This would not be part of the students' assessment, it was part of the teacher's self-assessment, is what the teacher would tell his students.
The next lesson, the teacher carried out the slip test, and asked each student to write the answers to five simple factual questions that were covered in the lecture.
A week later, during the next coaching, the teacher shared the results of the slip test. It was clear that the students have learned next to nothing from the lecture. The results were lower than if the students had guessed the answers. The teacher told Riccardo that this was the best and the worst thing that has ever happened to him as a teacher. He now knew that his lectures were much less useful than he believed. He would have to change what he believed about lecturing and try something radically different.
Riccardo and the teacher conjectured that these diligent students learned the contents of the course on their own, in between the lessons! The teacher wanted to serve the students better to make the lessons a deeper learning experience for them.
Together they totally redesigned the lesson structure to be more based on the students discussing the contents of the book, the course goals, and their own experiences, in small groups during the lesson time. The text book will be used for preparation as homework before each lesson. Since this was a new strategy, mostly for the teacher, they planned a progressive shift from 100% lecturing to 100% group discussion over a period of four weeks. The teacher planned to carry out slip tests at the end of every lesson to check the learning, sometimes with questions prepared before the lesson, sometimes with questions prepared during the lesson.
“That was the teacher who became a coach.” Concluded Riccardo. “He went on a coach training course, and started doing his 100 practice hours with volunteer coachees. The last I heard was that he had plans to return to the education system to coach his teacher colleagues.” Riccardo smiled with satisfaction at the memory of what he had experienced.
The sun is beginning to rise, the sky has the first flush of dawn across the east. The fire is glowing ruby red. Riccardo is glowing. The world is silent in respect. The stars are beginning to fade to the east. Venus and Mars remain to shine their understanding of what is transpiring below.
Anthony knows his work is almost done. Surely the dawn will bring about the transformation they both are longing for. He feels brave enough to make a request. It is part of the reason he wanted to stand guard over his old coach.
“Tell my story now”, pleads Anthony.
“The long version or the short one?” Riccardo jokes.
“The long one. We have time.”
The Juvenile Criminal
“As you know, school counsellors and special educators put a lot of effort into their work and are very professional when doing so. However on occasions, a coach can provide a different framework and strategy that can lead to the desired results” began Riccardo. Anthony nodded.
“In this story there is one main character - we shall call him Anthony - he is 15 years old and has attended a minimum amount of school. He has avoided coming to school on most days and when he is in school he is seldom in class instead he roams the corridors and gets into a lot of trouble.” Riccardo continued. Anthony grinned. He liked hearing about himself in third person.
“It should be noted that Anthony's father is absent and he is in the care of his mother who is struggling to bring up this young man whilst keeping him out of trouble.
Anthony is known to the police since he has been involved in petty crime since a very young age, shoplifting, taking and selling things from friends. Now he is stealing, breaking into people’s homes taking and selling what he finds there. He has joined a local gang and is in the process of becoming a full member by carrying out deeds of great daring including robbery, mugging people and carrying illegal drugs.” Noted Riccardo. Anthony lowered his head and shook it slowly from side to side.
Ricardo has been at G-Town School for some weeks now. During this time, Riccardo had heard about Anthony and his escapades. He had heard that Anthony had left one lesson to carry out a drugs transaction in the school playground whilst the teacher was torn between the needs of the other students in the class and the needs of this young man. A similar dilemma of choice that was facing the boy’s mother, all his other teachers, the school counsellor, and even the police who could see where Anthony was headed – prison. All the adults were wondering how to best prevent Anthony from ending up in prison.
When he came into the room Riccardo saw that he was a very ordinary boy except for the fact that his eyes were everywhere. He moved his head much like a bird and seem to be looking for something, or looking out for something, Riccardo wasn't sure. Anthony had a lot of energy and it felt as though the room became both brighter and hotter as he walked in. He looked Riccardo up and down not knowing quite why he was there but not actually asking the question.
The counsellor presented Riccardo as a coach, a life coach. At this opening Riccardo decided to make his first attempts to connect with Anthony. “I work with people who are making a decision, who want it to be the best decision for their life. I don't give advice I just listen and ask questions and listen again.”
Anthony looked around the room, in silence.
“Is it okay with you that I'm here today? The counsellor has asked me to come in and give some support. We both want the best for you, but it's you who decides what the best is, and who can help you, or not. Is it okay that I am a coach here for you today?”
The boy shrugged. “It’s okay I suppose.”
During this attempt to connect with him Riccardo tried to keep eye contact, but Anthony looked away most all of the time
But is he paying attention? asked the voice in my head. Yes he is listening, he is using his ears, not his eyes.
“So what's the choice we are making today?” Riccardo asked.
“College”, the counsellor replied. Anthony laughed. “Or a job”, added the counsellor. “As long as it's not prison”, he added with a warning tone.
“How good a choice is prison?”, Riccardo asked. “What's good about it?” he asked with full curiosity.
“That's where he will end up if he doesn't change his ways”, threatened the counsellor.
Now looking at Anthony, Riccardo asked “How does that sound to you?”
He replied “No good, but I don't care.”
The door is open said the voice in my mind, he cares. What does he care about? I will find out I replied silently.
Riccardo asked, “What do you care about? What is important to you?”
Anthony looked at him, and answered, ”Nothing”.
“Sometimes it can be difficult to find the words to say what's important, especially when it's important. May I make a suggestion?”, offered Riccardo.
“I'm guessing, and it's only a guess, that respect is important to you. How important is respect to you?”
“You got to have respect, you gotta get peoples respect. That's important.”
“What else?”, Riccardo asked and waited.
“Being strong you got to be strong or people don't respect you, that’s is important.”
“What else?”, Riccardo asked and waited.
“I don't know,” Anthony pulled away.
You're losing him, you're making him work too hard, you're making him work for you. Make him work for himself. Demonstrate the value of knowing what's important.
“These questions can be hard work I know. Let's see if the counsellor can answer some of these questions.” Riccardo directed his gaze at the counsellor and prepared to ask the same questions. The counsellor shifted in his seat, he seemed uncomfortable.
“Oh, before I ask any questions, perhaps I should ask you how important is it for you to know what is important to you?”
The counsellor laughed. “If I knew what was important, really important, I could focus on that and do nothing else. I'd get a lot of things done, nothing would get in my way, I'd be really you know successful.”
“How clear are you right now on what's important, I mean as a percentage, we are both mathematicians after all.” We both laughed.
“Well maybe 60% he said no make that 70%. Okay 70%”
Riccardo asked, how do you feel about that?
“I feel like it should be 80% or 90 I mean I'm in my 40s now I should know what I'm doing.” The counsellor paused, reflective and became quiet.
Riccardo turned to Anthony. “What I do as a coach is ask questions and listen and ask questions. I ask questions about how happy people are with the choices they are making, I ask questions that help people to hear what they are saying to themselves, And I help them to see other choices they could make. I don't make the choices, that's up to them it's their life and they can live it as they wish. There is no right or wrong answers to the questions. My ask you some more?”
“Sure, go ahead.”
“What if you knew what was important to you, how would it help you make choices in your life?”
“I know what's important to me! Respect, and strength and power and money and having a good time and doing what you want.”
“What else?”, Riccardo asked and waited.
“What do you mean?”, Anthony asked. “Isn't that enough?”
“Sure it might be, and there might be more things, and some of the things might be more important than the others. Would you like to look at that?”
“What do you mean look at that?”
“It can be difficult to juggle theses things,” Riccardo said and juggled with his hands, “to hear what's important more than what you've already said. I have some suggestions. Would it be okay if I show them to you, they're on pieces of paper, and they're in my pocket, I always bring them with me. People tell me that it makes answering the questions a lot easier. If you like I can show them to you.”
“If you want.”
Words on paper said the voice in my head you have moved from the spoken words to written words. Clever
Riccardo pulled out the first card, It had the word money written on it. Riccardo asked “And how important is money to you?”
“Really important I want a lot of money millions,” he laughed and Riccardo gave him the card as though he was giving him millions of money. Anthony held the card in his right hand.
Riccardo pulled the next card and out of the deck, it said family. Riccardo asked “How important his family to you?”, showing him the card.
He winced. “Not at all, not at all, I don't give a damn.”
Riccardo held onto the card, and reflected back to him “You are very loud when you say you don't give a damn.”
“Yeah well I don't have a dad and my mum is weak. Family is not important to me. I'm never going to have children I don't want them!”
Riccardo put the card face down to one side, and pulled out the next card. It said trust. Riccardo asked “How important is trust to you?”
Anthony paused for thought. “I don't trust anyone”, he said.
“Does that make trust important or not important to you?” Riccardo asked.
“It's not important. But it is.”
Riccardo kept the card, and prepared to go on to the next card in the deck.
“Can I have that?”, Anthony asked.
“If it's important to you.”
“Yes give it to me.”
They both paused to savour the moment, to understand what just happened.
Riccardo asked, “What just happened Anthony?”
“I don't know”, Anthony replied. “What are the other cards?”
You are holding onto control, maybe it's time to let go said the thought in my head. I will let go I replied
“What's the best way of doing this Anthony? Shall I go through the cards one by one or will you have all of them and choose what's important to you or what?”
“Give them to me”
Riccardo gave Anthony the cards, and pulled back a little to give him some space. Riccardo exchanged glances with the counsellor to check in on what was to happen next. He nodded and smiled as if in acknowledgement of what had just happened both for him and for Anthony.
Ant believes Riccardo just passed away
The Ambassador arrives
Moment of transformation
16-year olds 'on strike'
Coach refocuses their energy on their needs and dreams
Miracle in M-dale
When teachers have tried and tested everything they know to motivate their students and are still not happy with the results, it can be right for them to call on assistance from outside the classroom. Usually, schools have access to psychologists and therapists and counsellors and other professionals who can come in, observe and give advice. On occasions the teachers call on a coach to give yet another perspective on what could be changed in order to make life better for all concerned.
As a coach the approach is not to analyse and solve the problem from the outside but to step into the situation and facilitate the solution together with those concerned. It is a coach’s belief that inside every problem there is the solution trying to get out, and it is their job to make the process easier, quicker and more enjoyable.
In the middle of the muddle there is a quiet space where the coach can stand and redirect the flow of energy towards something better.
Riccardo’s first contact with M-Dale school was from a teacher who asked him to come in and give an inspiring talk to the teenagers who were going to leave school at the end of the academic year. By that time, Riccardo had already held over a hundred similar talks, where the focus had been on the students taking a bold step into working life or higher academic life, or facing the trials of being unemployed during a time of recession.
What is new here? Asked the voice in my head. I will find out I replied.
Riccardo asked the teacher why she wanted him to come and give a talk. When the teacher described the situation she was concerned about, it became clear that the students were not reaching for their academic potential and risk limiting their employment options. Riccardo understood that the teachers connected with this class were deeply concerned about the long-term welfare of their students, as well as struggling with the day-to-day resistance that these students were giving them regarding study.
We should tell you that most of the students in this class were recent immigrants to the country and had not yet mastered the local language, and they were being taught all the school subjects through the medium of this foreign language.
Take a moment to imagine yourself in that situation of being graded on academic studies that were delivered to you in a language that is foreign to you, and in competition with native speakers, and with a time limit.
It was clear that the intention of all the teachers involved that Riccardo’s inspiring speech was intended to give the students a hearty and heartfelt push towards trying a little harder before it was too late and their academic time at this school was over, their grades were set, and their employment opportunities thus defined.
Imagine for a moment that you are going into a classroom of twenty or so 16-year-olds most of whom are at the point of giving up after several years of struggling against an education system that seems unfair to them, with the upcoming result that they will be receiving academic results they do not deserve, and an employment future they do not want nor deserve. What would you say to them to inspire them to gather up their energy to attempt the impossible and have yet another go in a system that seems to be set against them? What would you tell them?
The approach, as coach, is to step over the problem and have a closer and clearer look at the kind of life the students wanted to have. Then, when they are fully engaged with the thrill and excitement of what could possibly become true the coach would ask what they felt they needed to do in order to get there.
Of course, part of the answer would be to reach within themselves to find the energy courage and determination to face up to the system that is rigged against them and anyway do their best and leave at the end of term with their heads held high with grades that they have worked for and are proud of. Riccardo would at all costs avoid telling them what to do because every single teacher, parent, adult, and potential employers had already told them exactly what to do and why. Riccardo would put all of his energy into asking questions, open ended questions, that would support them in the process of reaching within themselves and finding the courage and energy that they will need to make the next decision.
So what questions could I ask? What do I need to remember?
As Riccardo journeyed to the school on the day of the inspirational talk he remembered that the first and most important task was to gain the students' confidence and permission to guide them, to be their coach. On arrival, the teachers took it in turns to tell him some of the background to why they had invited me to the school. They told him about the students' history, the fact that many of them had arrived in this country only two or three years ago and had struggled with this new education system from the very start. Some teachers told him of the more recent conflicts within the classroom when some of the students had began to opt out of lessons and learning and were fighting their classmates verbally and physically, classmates who would perhaps have a better chance of success if there was a calm environment in the in the classroom.
You are drowning! Said a little voice in my head. Help me to swim I requested.
Riccardo asked the teachers to stop telling him so much. He did not need to know everything, in fact he was beginning to drown in their reality which was limiting the potential for seeing solutions.
The teachers took Riccardo to the classroom and asked him how he would would like to arrange the chairs and tables. He asked for the tables to be moved aside and for the chairs to be set in a horseshoe so that every student could see every other student. He would stand at the front of the classroom near the whiteboard. He invited the teachers to sit at the back of the room to observe the process as well as be available should any particular students have any particular needs.
At this time the students were beginning to gather in the hallway and were knocking on the door to come in. Riccardo asked the teachers to allow me to let the students in when he was ready. He told the teachers that it would take him a short time to gain the confidence and trust of the students before he moved onto the inspirational talk. He told them it will take about seven minutes. He told them to expect a shift of energy in the room.
The teachers seemed surprised at this and moved to their positions at the back of the room with a look of wonder and anticipation on their faces. It was important to have created that sense in the room because that's what the students would pick up on when they came in.
So now we have told you one of the techniques that we use when coaching a group of people, whether they are teachers or teenagers. We make a bold statement that generates a sense of expectation, wonder, awe, anticipation. Advertising!
A quiet voice inside me asked what will you do if the students don't accept you as their coach? Show me what I have to do, I replied silently.
Riccardo walked towards the door grabbed the handle and opened it inwards, took a step outside and still holding on to the handle held it closed behind him whilst he looked up the length of the corridor paused and then looked down the length of the corridor.
Riccardo’s purpose was to allow the students to get a look at him before he interacted with them. Out of the corner of his eye he was taking note of which students were looking at him, which ones were looking him up and down.
When Riccardo knew which students to speak with first he turned and faced the nearest of them and told them his name.
This ritual was aimed at identifying the strongest members of the group and allowing them to approve of him before we entered the room classroom together.
Riccardo opened the door behind him and positioned his foot so that it allowed the door to open just wide enough so that one student could enter at the time whilst he was standing in the opening. As the first student approached him, he put up his hand for a handshake and said welcome my name is Riccardo. The dominant students came forward first and by way of handshake gave him their approval and their name and a smile. One by one Riccardo presented himself to the students as they came to the door way winning with each over with a smile and a handshake and learning their name.
Are you in touch with the flow? asked the little voice inside my head. Where do I need to put my focus? I asked in return.
Riccardo noticed that there was more activity inside the room than outside so he opened the door more fully put his attention on forming the room as he wished it to be. Individually, He encouraged the students to take a seat without rearranging them back into their usual rows, telling them that this day was going to be a different day, and it might be the most important day of their lives, and we would soon find out.
Are you ready to start? asked the voice in my head. I soon will be I replied.
Riccardo stood at the front of the room in front of the whiteboard and scanned across the faces that were turned towards him, nodding in recognition of those who had given him their names and a handshake. After a moment or two there was hush and Riccardo made his introduction to the class as a whole.
Riccardo emptied his mind of thoughts, infused the room with love from his heart and reached down into his belly for the deepest most resonant voice he could find.
My name is Riccardo and I am a coach I am here today to be with you, to share my experience of working life and life in general, and maybe make a difference to your lives. This could be the most important day of your life, we don't know yet, we shall see. At the end of this hour, you can tell me.
Riccardo looked at the teachers, and said seven minutes right? And they agreed. This ritual allowed the students to know that Riccardo was aligned with the teachers and they approved of him leading this one hour session.
The stage was set, the walls providing confidentiality and comfort, the floor wide open for whatever was to happen next.
Riccardo told the students that he had come to this country as an immigrant 30 years ago, started his own company, started a family and was now living a happy and comfortable life. Riccardo told them that he hoped his experience of working life and life in general would be useful to them and promised to tell them stories that were fun to listen to, and each of the stories had a learning point to them. Riccardo ended his presentation with a request I need your help he said in choosing which stories to tell you. What are you most interested in work or family? Riccardo indicated with his arms that left meant work and right meant family and invited them to point to the direction they wanted him to go.
This ritual gave the students voting rights regarding what this hour would contain. They were beginning to collaboratively create something of their own.
They choose family. Riccardo told them the story about his daughter.
Whilst telling them the story about my daughter Riccardo continuously scanned the room to get a sense of which students were following his story, which ones were interested, and if any of them were showing signs of detachment, disinterest or boredom. Riccardo noticed two students who seemed to have very low energy.
What are you going to do with this asked the voice in my head. I will go and see I replied.
As an activity, Riccardo invited the students to speak in pairs about how important family was for them and slowly make his way around the outside of the horseshoe to where one student that he had identified as having low energy was sitting. Riccardo knelt down beside him. He was looking at the floor his hands on his lap, his eyes seemingly fixated on his hands. Riccardo asked if he was okay. He looked at him and said yes but his eyes said no. Riccardo asked how he was feeling. He paused before replying sad I feel sad I miss my family. My mother my father and my brothers are all left behind, and I am here for education. I must get an education to get a job then I can bring them here.
Riccardo noted that all the other students were enthusiastically engaged in the activity, and yet knew that they had half an ear on the dialogue that he was having with this young man.
How do you miss them? Riccardo asked. All the time he replied, all the time. It hurts. I can't focus on my work, it makes me sad.
Turn the problem inside out said the voice in my head. I will I said.
You feel sad and it hurts Riccardo said. You miss your parents because you love them, you love and respect them, and that hurts. He looked at him, yes. You show respect for your family, and it hurts all the time and you cannot focus on your work. How do you feel about that? I feel angry and I feel sad he replied.
Now Riccardo noticed all the students were listening to them. The teachers were listening too.
How long are you sad? I am sad all day. How long do you want to be sad? How long do you want to show respect for your family, and still focus on your work? How long would be enough? He paused, then smiled. Two hours he said that's enough. Riccardo asked two hours together or two hours one in the morning and one in the evening, or something else? His eyes brightened and he said one hour in the morning before school and one hour in the evening before bed I will show respect for my family and I won't let it stop me doing my work.
Their attention was drawn to the rest of the students in the room who were all listening to them. For many of them their situation was similar. they have been sent to this country to get an education, to get a job and to start a new life. And then they were to bring in their family. I thanked the young man for sharing his situation and his new strategy.
Riccardo stood up and walked slowly to the front of the room in front of the whiteboard, turned to face the students and wondered what he would do next.
What's important Riccardo asked what's important about family?
The students shared their thoughts on family, their feelings of frustration, sadness at missing their parents and siblings, and their need to succeed in the education system in order to get a good job. There was a lull.
Riccardo centred himself, standing at his full height with all his weight in his feet in full contact with the floor. He wondered what would come next and remembered that he had promised some stories about family and work.
“So are we ready to hear about work?”, Riccardo asked. They said they were.
Riccardo began to tell them about his experience of looking for work in Sweden and that he had found it difficult and decided in the end to start his own small company. As he was doing so he felt there was a beginning of a disconnection between him and these young people. His head was telling him that they were only 16, starting a company was a very big step and probably a long way off from where they were at this moment. Riccardo became curious about what they wanted to know about work.
Riccardo paused his story and asked, “What do you want to know about work?”
Several questions were raised about the kind of jobs that were available to immigrants and how one could tell it in advance if a job was right.
Riccardo was tempted to give some answers. He knew that he could achieve more by asking some questions. He decided to offer them the opportunity of being coached right here in the room right now.
More here about the volunteer
Riccardo invited the volunteer to come up to the front of the room and stand beside him. Riccardo introduced himself and got the volunteer’s name. The volunteer stood tall beside him, almost a man. Then Riccardo turned to the rest of the class. We are going to do some coaching, and we don't know exactly what will happen, what will come up, what we will say. I need to ask you something, I need to ask that you agree to keep this conversation confidential. That means that what we say here in this room stays in the room you don't talk about it outside this room. Do you agree with that? Would you raise your hand if you agree to keep the conversation confidential. We all raised our hand.
Riccardo asked the volunteer to talk about himself. Tell me a little about yourself. Who are you and why are you here? He told his story of fleeing a country at war and coming to a country that had offered him sanctuary and a place where he could live and the school where he could learn. He told me that learning Swedish was hard but he understood why it was important and he was frustrated that is the time in school was so limited.
“Don't get stuck in the present moment”, said the little voice in my head. “I want to take him to his future.” I replied silently.
Riccardo chose a time about five years from now. Tell me who you will be and where you will be five years from now, Riccardo encouraged the volunteer to speculate about his future. He was not able to do so. He shrugged his shoulders and seem to shrink a little.
You jumped too far ahead, said the voice in my head,. Whose agenda are we working with here? Oh fish I replied.
What are you thinking about now? Riccardo asked. He replied that life used to be so easy before he came to this country and he wondered if it would ever be that easy again. When was it easy? Riccardo asked. When I was 10 he replied when I lived at home with my parents and my brothers and sisters and I played and went to school.
So five years ago, Riccardo indicated that they were both to take a step back from our original position, to a place that represented five years ago. Can you tell me some of the differences between here and there? He waved his hand to show that here was five years ago there represents our original position of now. The volunteer spoke about the differences, and as he did so he brightened up and seemed to be the young boy whom he was remembering. A light shone in his eyes as he took himself back to when he was 10 years old and played at home with his brothers and sisters, and went to school and school was easy in his own language. They shared the enjoyable moment, both of them longing for more.
Then Riccardo pointed to another place in the room some steps and head of their original position. Are you ready to look ahead into the future five years? Riccardo enquired. Okay he replied looking a little more ready this time to speculate about his future.
Riccardo asked him who are you here, why are you here?
The volunteer stood tall, taller than before, he seemed to grow more into the man he would be five years from now. His voice was deep as he said I am an ambassador for my people, I want the Swedes to understand my people I will explain the Swedes to my people and I will explain my people to the Swedes. We must understand each other so we can live together, in peace.
Riccardo invited him to stand as the ambassador to be fully grown as the ambassador for his people. Show me, show us, he encouraged. The volunteer’s presence seemed to fill the room as he looked at his classmates as the ambassador he was becoming. They were with him, they could see him fully grown and supported him.
What do you need to make this happen? Riccardo asked. Swedish he replied. I need to learn Swedish.
Is there anyone here who can help you with that? Riccardo knew this was a leading question because they were four Swedish teachers in the room, But he wanted him to choose who he wanted to teach him Swedish. Yes he replied noting the obvious answer.
Will you make a request, ask for what you want Riccardo encouraged.
The volunteer turned to one of his teachers looked her straight in the eye and said will you teach me Swedish? The teacher cried her answer tears flowing from both eyes she said of course.
Ant is now standing to attention over what he believes is Riccardo’s dead body.
Khaled invites Riccardo to make a request.
Reflects on what Riccardo has meant for him
Life story. What’s better because
Now has positive inner voice
Khaled repeats his invitation for Riccardo to make a request
Shall I stay or shall I go?
Can now speak directly to people, guiding them to make better choices
Feet don’t touch the ground
Clothes made of ice and snow
Reaches out and touches the sun
Decides to stay and enjoy here/there (just add tea) then/now/soon (all the same)
Riccardo hears own voice supporting him in times of need (italicised text in stories)
Now JC and Khaled have access to their own inner supporter
Throughout the intro/extro sections
Include Anthony’s OWN reflections on the life he has had thanks to the better choices he has made
Include Khaled’s OWN reflections on the life he has had thanks to the better choices he has made
Riccardo reflects on the name of his new role, rescuer, supporter, (when speaking as inner voice to others)
The Book Club
I am a teacher, a business-owner, a public speaker, a coach and an author.