Gathering

Whenever I come to England to meet coaches (twice a year), I hope my visit coincides with a Chris Porter facilitated ‘Gathering’.

It did last week.

Chris has been organising Gatherings since his appointment as the Coach Development Manager for GB Boxing in 2015. I have manged to attend five of these. The venues emerge from Chris’s personal learning network. This time it was a Gathering at Hartpury hosted by Dean Clark and Tony Ghaye.

Invitees to the Gatherings are involved in coach education. I believe that everyone who attends is enthralled by the possibility of coach ‘educere’ (Randall Bass & JW Good, 2004).

Educere as leading out aspires to prepare:

a new generation for the changes that are to come – readying them to create solutions to problems yet unknown … (and) requires questioning, thinking, and creating. (2004:162)

On this occasion at Hartpury, there were eight attendees to immerse themselves in conversation. I do not take notes at these meetings. I try to listen very carefully and absorb the appreciative inquiry atmosphere.

Inevitably, the ideas being discussed send me off on tangents. I try to bring myself back but I can be gone for a long time.

An example from this Gathering.

A friend who works in an Olympic sport (I am trying to be discrete as I have not asked explicit permission to mention names other than organisers), explored the idea of removing descriptors from coaching such as ‘elite’ and ‘high performance’. He shared some extensive research he has been monitoring to support his case.

What sent me off (to Copenhagen) was his discussion of coaching as a Michelin system.

Very good cooking in its category
Excellent cooking, worth a detour
Exceptional cuisine, worthy of a special journey

Why I was in Copenhagen for part of the conversation, was to do with my interest in Noma and the discussion about its two star status.

I did come back into the room and enjoyed the momentum of the conversation. I think it is a profoundly important debate in England in the context of UK Sport’s Elite Programme.

I am very comfortable with the coach title that is used without qualifiers but the Gathering is exactly the kind of place to debate these issues without prejudice.

This led smoothly to another conversational point: how do we design learning experiences for coaches? I am afraid I went off again to some distant place to think about how we might enable personal learning journeys. I was brought back to earth by Tony Ghaye. I had made a point about what ‘learning organisations’ do. In his delightful way, Tony suggested that perhaps I was referring to ‘organisations that learn’.

With that nudge, I was off again somewhere else thinking about scaffolding and microlearning. I had not read Christy Tucker’s post on the same theme. Christy suggests:

  • ‘Scaffolding’ is support for learners that gradually fades away until the learner can do the task without support.
  • Scaffolding is removed over time, but microlearning doesn’t have the long time span for typical scaffolding.

I did not articulate my interest in David Weinberger‘s observation about small pieces loosely joined and how this was guiding my thoughts about learning experience design rather than coach ‘development’. David suggests:

The Web is binding not just pages, but us human beings in new ways. We are the true ‘small pieces’ of the Web, and we are loosely joining ourselves in ways that we’re still inventing.

All of which led me to ask about how those in the room dealt with transitions in educere practice and within organisational governance of coaches’ learning journeys. I even threw in mention of epistemic cultures and how these might be transformed.

Why I asked these questions is because of the very special experiences in the room.

  • Institutional transition to new academic possibilities
  • A new appointment to a national organisation with responsibility for coach learning
  • Two colleagues who were transferring responsibilities within a national organisation
  • A colleague with growing organisational responsibility for coaching journeys
  • A colleague two years into a new sport with opportunities to extend others’ zones of proximal development
  • … and my project as a critical friend to 23 rugby union and cricket coaches

I did stay in the room to savour the conversations and the afternoon sun … with only occasional glimpses to the Grade II listed gardens and thoughts of Hartpury’s origins (established after World War II as an agricultural education centre with 50 students).

I think there is a metaphor in there somewhere about fertile soil and innovation.

That is what Gatherings do to you and with you.

Photo Credits

The gardens from Hartpury House (Keith Lyons, CC BY 4.0)

The Noma Crew (Nick Webb, CC BY 2.0)

History (Hartbury website)

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