Welcome to the November 2018 edition of Psychology for Positive Change, a blog about how psychology can make a positive difference to lives/society. In this article I will explore the concept of core human needs and signpost to a language of needs that can help us to understand either ourselves or others.
What do you want to achieve? Where do you want to be in five years’ time? To what extent are you on-track to achieve your goals? What might you need to keep doing or do differently? In short, how are you doing, and what’s next? Whatever your role, it can help to regularly set aside some time to take stock of your situation, revisit your vision and values, review progress and learning points, and plan next steps for the future. With September 2018 marking five years since the beginning of APS as a service, it seems a timely opportunity for me to reflect on our own journey so far. In doing so, I will cover three core strands:
APS as a company
The following are some points of progress as regards APS over the last five years.
So far we seem to be making a positive difference and we will work to ensure that continues. As new challenges present themselves, we will tackle them by focusing on the next step in front of us while ensuring that our practice and behaviour reflects our values.
The application of coaching/coaching psychology in schools
Over the last five years we have:
As well as (according to our evaluation feedback) making a difference to the performance and/or wellbeing of those we have worked with, this has provided us with valuable experience and learning about coaching practice and some of the opportunities and challenges that can be encountered when trying to apply/develop coaching in schools. Sadly, a pattern that we have noticed over the last few years is that schools in our area are experiencing increased budgetary pressures, and as a result have needed to prioritise spending in areas other than providing coaching support for staff. Understandably, when schools are finding it difficult to even fund the support children need, the reality is that the provision of coaching support for staff may not be considered a priority.
At the same time, while acknowledging this practical reality, we would argue that coaching is needed in education now more than ever. The mental health challenges facing children and young people in today's society are well-documented (DfE, 2017), and coaching could represent a valuable proactive intervention for enabling young people to access support, problem-solve difficulties, and learn strategies for maintaining their own wellbeing. Indeed, evidence is already emerging regarding the potential benefit of coaching in this respect (Green, Grant & Rynsaardt, 2007; Pritchard & van Nieuwerburgh, 2016; Robson-Kelly & van Nieuwerburgh, 2016). It has already been argued that the UK government’s proposed strategy for addressing young people’s mental health needs to be more far-reaching and should include a greater emphasis on proactive and preventative approaches to supporting young people’s mental health and wellbeing (Education and Health & Social Care Committees, 2018). In our view, finding ways to increase access to coaching for young people could be a valuable part of a strategy for achieving this.
As regards the adults in schools, a recent survey by the Education Support Partnership showed that nearly a third of education staff overall (29%) and more than a third of senior leaders in education (37%) said that their job had made them feel stressed “most or all of the time in the past few weeks” - a figure that is in contrast with 18% of UK employees overall (ESP, 2017). As the proportion of working age teachers leaving the profession continues to rise (Worth & DeLazzari, 2017), mechanisms for supporting the wellbeing of staff are crucial. While a high number of significant wellbeing issues and frequent turnover of staff may indicate the need for broader systemic or contextual changes, regular psychology-informed coaching for practitioners could provide staff with a valuable outlet to proactively and preventatively explore and address issues that may impact on their wellbeing.
Coaching in Educational Psychology
In 2009, in an article written for DECP Debate, Law (2009) described the engagement of Educational Psychologists (EPs) in coaching as that of an “invisible minority”. This struck me as something of a shame given the potential of EPs to contribute to the development of coaching as a discipline and given how coaching might be able to contribute to positive outcomes for staff and young people in education. I’m pleased to note that, almost ten years later, there seems to be an increasing number of EPs interested in or engaged in coaching. Over the last twelve months alone, I’ve had the privilege of providing coaching-focused CPD for more than 330 Educational Psychologists across eight Local Authorities and three independent psychology services (a level of demand which in part accounts for my year-long hiatus from writing blog articles!). Services and practitioners seem keen to explore, adopt or further develop coaching as a practice, either as a within-service support mechanism or as part of the range of services they offer to their clients. In different parts of the country, EP services have seen how coaching might link to their own local priorities (e.g. providing ELSA supervision, developing inclusive practice, enhancing the quality of adult learning/CPD). Individual EPs seem to find that the principles and methods of coaching resonate with their own values about how they want to practice, while the practice of coaching provides a vehicle through which their existing skills and knowledge can be applied. It has been particularly satisfying to see individual practitioners feeling empowered to begin providing this form of helping support (within parameters) to either adults or young people.
My hope for the future is that this momentum can be maintained, that the practice of coaching will continue to embed across Educational Psychology, and that more practitioners will become engaged in shaping the development of coaching in our profession. Indeed, in addition to the demand for coaching CPD across EP services, there are some other indicators which suggest that this may be beginning to occur, for example:
These are small green shoots, admittedly, but isn’t that how all strong plants begin?
Having reached the five-year milestone, I would ideally like to see the next five years of APS characterised by:
The last five years have led to some pleasing outcomes, certainly, but there is more to do. Onwards, together.
With grateful thanks to our clients (without whom we would not exist), and to the other psychologists who either work or have worked with APS and supported its operation and development
Department for Education (2017). Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision: A Green Paper. Department of Health / Department for Education, London.
Education and Health & Social Care Committees (2018). The Government’s Green Paper on Mental Health: Failing a Generation. Published on 9 May 2018, House of Commons.
Education Support Partnership (2017). Health Survey 2017: The Mental Health and Wellbeing of Education Professionals in the UK. YouGov.
Green, L. S., Grant, A. M. & Rynsaardt, J. (2007). Evidence-based life coaching for senior high school students: Building hardiness and hope. International Coaching Psychology Review, 2(1), pp. 24-32.
Law, H. (2009). Coaching psychology in education – an introduction. DECP Debate, Edition 132, pp. 18-21.
Pritchard, M. (2016). The perceptual changes in life experience of at-risk young girls subsequent to an appreciative coaching and positive psychology interventions group programme: An interpretative phenomenological analysis. International Coaching Psychology Review, 11 (1), pp. 57-74.
Robson-Kelly, E. & van Nieuwerburgh, C. (in press). What does coaching have to offer young people at risk of developing mental health problems? A grounded theory study. International Coaching Psychology Review, 11 (1), pp. 75-92.
Worth, J. & DeLazzari, G. D. (2017). Teacher Retention and Turnover Research – Research Update 1: Teacher Retention by Subject. Retrieved from https://www.nfer.ac.uk/teacher-retention-and-turnover-research-research-update-1-teacher-retention-by-subject/.
Welcome to my first blog article of the new academic year – typically (in education, at least) a time of new beginnings, and an opportunity to think about what we want to achieve in the time ahead. With that in mind, this post offers some thoughts on the nature of the creative process, what it takes to make our ideas a reality, and the importance of persistence and determination as we shape and refine our efforts.
It was September 2014, and I was at a low. I’d just finished writing my fourth draft of Coaching Psychology in Schools, and I found myself feeling really dissatisfied with it. Although it was reasonably well put-together in terms of its practical and academic/theoretical content, I thought the writing was generally dry, unengaging, and I was querying the worth and value of the book. To have spent so much time and effort on something that I was dissatisfied with was very disheartening, and after four attempts I wondered whether I would ever be able to get it into a state that I was happy with. However, I wasn’t sure what it was lacking, and so wasn’t clear how to improve it. Feeling despondent, I recognised that I was probably quite saturated with it, and so opted to take a break from it for a few weeks and then return to it with a fresh head. It was during this period that I went to the cinema to see 20,000 Days on Earth. Turns out my timing couldn’t have been better.
20,000 Days on Earth
20,000 Days on Earth is a film by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard about the singer-songwriter Nick Cave. It’s ostensibly a part-fact/part-fiction biopic, exploring a fictional day-in-the-life of Cave as he goes about his business. However, it’s not the detail of Cave’s life that takes centre stage, but rather the intimacies of creativity itself. The film explores and captures the nature of the creative process, charting the evolution and shaping of an idea (in this case, a song) from its first tentative beginnings during a practise session, through to it being a finished work - in this instance, one that is eventually performed to a sell-out crowd at the Sydney Opera House. It’s a powerful reminder that finished works have humble beginnings, and do not necessarily emerge into the world in their final, polished form.
As an ardent Nick Cave fan I was of course enraptured by the behind-the-scenes expose the film provided. But it was the narrative accompanying one of the final scenes that had a transformative impact on me.
In his distinctive baritone, Cave mused:
“All of our days are numbered. We cannot afford to be idle. To act on a bad idea is better than to not act at all, because the worth of the idea never becomes apparent until you do it. Sometimes this idea can be the smallest thing in the world; a little flame that you hunch over and cup with your hand and pray will not be extinguished by all the storm that howls about it. If you can hold on to that flame, great things can be constructed around it, that are massive and powerful and world changing… all held up by the tiniest of ideas.”
At the time, this was exactly what I needed to hear. Cave’s words electrified me, adding renewed impetus to my desire to finish the book, and rekindling a spark of courage and determination to see it through. This flash of motivation then helped me to reconnect with the core purpose of the book, the difference I hoped it might make, and how it needed to be further shaped.
Over the coming months I reworked the text so as to have much more of a personal voice, to reflect my passion for the subject, my personal experience of coaching, and to actually try to reflect the principles of coaching in how I engaged the reader. Having done this, I eventually got to a stage where I felt ready to submit the improved manuscript.
Three years on
Coaching Psychology in Schools was published in November 2015. The book has now sold over 500 copies, which is obviously a relatively modest amount (I won’t be purchasing a speedboat with the royalties any time soon), but I understand those numbers are good for a book of this type. It’s been well-reviewed in several publications, and I’ve received feedback from a number of people about how the book has been helpful to them – indeed, each time I hear such feedback it affirms that the effort and cost (in terms of time and emotional energy) was worth it. As well as sharpening and deepening my own learning about coaching psychology, the book now supports my endeavours to train other people in coaching skills, and has also been used by others as a text on their courses. The book is unquestionably a tiny contribution in the grand scheme of things, but it’s made a positive difference to some, and I’m very satisfied with that.
Reflections on creativity
So what is the message here? A central theme, for me, is that being an originator of an idea or product (whatever it may be) takes both courage and persistence. The creative process - while at times exhilarating and exciting - can be arduous, and ideas can be fragile in their emergent forms. However, those emergent stages are a necessary part of the evolution of the idea, and it is almost guaranteed that aspects of earlier versions will be discarded, shaped and learned from as the journey progresses. In the course of this process there is a danger that the flame may be too readily extinguished, either by our own premature evaluations or through fear of the judgements of others; however, if we are to see the process through to the end, then we need to be willing to hold on to our ideas, to protect them, and to allow them sufficient time and room to evolve. This can involve risk, and a willingness to make ourselves vulnerable. We will inevitably need to begin with an idea that has not yet been shaped through exposure to reality. But if we are willing to do this - if we are willing to ride the storm, to accept the lows as well as the highs - who knows where the journey will take us, and what may eventually arise from what began in the tiniest of forms?
I’m reminded of these lessons at the moment, at the beginning of this new academic year, since I have a number of creative endeavours waiting ahead of me – writing a book chapter, writing a journal article, further shaping our company, and developing new services that aim to make a difference to schools and young people through the application of psychology. As I begin to approach each of these challenges, I am reminded of the importance of taking action and allowing ideas to emerge and be shaped, and being willing to accept that the process may not be entirely painless. Nonetheless, it will be better to act and learn than to not act at all.
So if you have a desire or need to create – be it in terms of a book, a journal article, a project, a blog, a website, a University thesis, or to experiment with new ways of working to try to make a difference to others – whatever it may be, I wish you well as you attempt to protect and nurture the flame and see the idea through to completion. Who knows where that endeavour may lead?
As Cave wisely notes, our days are finite and numbered.
What do you want to do with yours?
20,000 Days on Earth. Pulse Films, 2014.
You can watch the final scene here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kuu8Vb_evf
For the final PfPC article of the year I’m going to completely swerve away from the theme of the rest of this academic year’s articles, and am instead going to offer some personal reflections on an aspect of my recent practice that didn’t go as well as I would have ideally liked. In so doing I will draw upon the spirit and messages of Black Box Thinking, Matthew Syed’s engaging and inspirational book on the importance of systematically learning from failures.
So far this academic year, this series of articles has outlined a psychology-informed coaching approach to lesson observations that can be applied to support education practitioners to reflect on and further develop their classroom practice (see the APS blog archives, September 2016 to January 2017). In this article I’m going to expand on one particular component of this approach – how we can support and guide reflection on practitioners’ successes – while also highlighting how we can use the process to develop teachers’ skill at being reflective.
Making Lesson Observations Work (Part 3): A Seven-Step Framework for Supporting Practitioner Learning and Development.
My previous two articles have focused on:
This post represents the third part of this series of articles, outlining a seven-step psychology-informed framework (Adams, 2015) that can be applied in the context of lesson observations to support practitioner learning and development.
My Term 1 blog post focused on some of the problems that can be associated with traditional lesson observation procedures (see the archives, September 2016). This post outlines some ways in which the application of principles from evidence-based psychological approaches can transform the process and enhance the likelihood that it will result in change.
Making lesson observations work (Part 1): Problems with traditional approaches to lesson observation.
A central concern for any school is how to support and enhance the performance and development of its classroom teachers. It is for this reason that observations of classroom practice have become such a prominent feature of the landscape in education settings, with observations now taking place many times during the academic year for each individual teaching practitioner. Observation processes are linked to and inform, among other things, performance management appraisals, school inspections, and continuing professional development (CPD) for teachers. Being observed at work can be, in my view, a good thing, in that it can bring strengths to one’s attention, inform consideration about areas for development, and raise awareness about blind spots one might have about one’s practice. It stimulates learning and reflection, guards against complacency, and is a helpful vehicle for challenge. Observation is thus a key tool for supporting practitioner learning and development, which in turn supports the ongoing process of school improvement. It is also a potentially valuable component of coaching engagements in schools if the aim is to support the development of classroom practice. However, there are a number of factors associated with observation procedures that, in my view and experience, can either confound the process or interfere with the aim of supporting practitioner learning and development. This blog post outlines some of these factors.
Carol Dweck’s work on mindsets (Dweck, 2006) has very much permeated the modern educational landscape, and is a good example of how findings from psychology research can influence people’s thinking and practices. A related but equally informative area of exploration from Dweck and her colleagues’ research, in my opinion, is their work on performance goals and learning goals. My decision to make this topic the focus of a blog post was inspired by a conversation with my 10-year-old daughter that took place earlier this year.
Have you ever listened to someone else talk through a problem or situation and felt the urge to offer them advice or solutions? That’s the righting reflex, which is the subject of this blog post. In this instalment we’ll explore further what the righting reflex is, and why it can be a problem. We’ll also look at how we can manage it, and ways in which we can respond other than ‘fixing’.
Psychology for Positive Change is a blog about constructive applications of psychology to everyday living.
Mark Adams is a Chartered Psychologist who is passionate about how psychology can be applied to make a positive difference to lives and society. He is the author of Coaching Psychology in Schools, published by Routledge in November 2015.
For other psychology-related resources, please visit the resources section of the APS website.