#coachlearninginsport: any limits?


Yesterday was one of those wonderful days of discovery.

Overnight, the oak tree in our garden had gone from empty branches to the green shoots of Spring. It was as if it had been waiting for an opportunity to be warmed.

Without being too metaphorical, my reading yesterday was about the greening of the imagination, oak-like.

A Twitter link took me to a blog post by Katie Martin, 5 Reasons Professional Development is NOT Transforming Learning. Katie introduced her discussion with this quote from Dylan Wiliam:

One of the five reasons Katie cites for the lack of impact of professional development is “there is no culture of learning”. She suggested:

A culture of learning must begin with a safe space for teachers to open their doors and share their practice, receive targeted feedback and relentlessly pursue opportunities to more effectively develop the knowledge and skills to create the desired learning environments.

I wondered if we replaced ‘teachers’ with ‘coaches’ and ‘feedback’ with ‘feedforward’ it would be an even stronger suggestion for the discussion of #coachlearninginsport.

I was really taken by the Dylan Wiliam quote and followed up on some of his writing. My profound regret is that I have just found him.


Dylan shares his presentations on his website. The one I looked at was from 2012 titled Building Learning Communities. In it, Dylan proposes that “there is only one 21st century skill:

It is the skill of being able not to give the right answer to questions about what you were taught in school, but to make the right response to situations that are outside the scope of what you were taught in school.

Dylan quotes Seymour Papert in his 1998 talk Keys to the New Learning of the Digital Century:

We need to produce people who know how to act when they’re faced with situations for which they were not specifically prepared.

I see enormous opportunities for those supporting coach learning to explore ‘knowing how to act’ in 1:1 and in 1:small group (learning community) contexts.

Shortly after reading some of Dylan’s work, I received a link to a New South Wales TAFe skills locker.

SkillsLocker enables TAFE NSW students to collect and present verified evidence for recognition and assessment purposes. Evidence can be collected anywhere, anytime, using a smartphone, tablet device or computer. Evidence uploaded can include photos, videos, audio files, documents in any file type supported by the device used.

I wondered if this might be a great example of having ways to share the dynamic and agile learning proposed by Dylan and Seymour.


It is an excellent example of supporting moves to micro-credentials in learning.

I think it is also part of discussion stimulated by Esko Kilpi. In a recent post about the work place, he observes:

our sense making and our decisions are built on an inadequate appreciation of the complex systems we are part of.

He adds that “all human work takes place in a unique space and at a unique time”. This should lead to valuing “situated knowledge and contextual competences”.

Dylan’s advocacy of a culture of improvement resonates strongly with Eski’s situated work. Eski argues:

The case for networked small units, such as human beings working together in responsive interaction, is stronger than ever.

I do think #coachlearninginsport communities are really well placed to engage in this responsive interaction.

Eski talks about understanding “the peculiarities of human beings”. It seems to me that this is where we address at the personal level any limits we face in personal flourishing.

I see coach learning communities as vital contributors to extending  personal understanding by sharing and exploring practice. Our limits are set (or removed) by our connections.

Some time ago I suggested that coach educators (coach learning experience designers) are meddlers in coaches’ learning journeys. Katie, Dylan and Esri have encouraged me to travel even further down this path as we explore whether we can transform learning by being at the heart of it rather than at the periphery.


Photo Credits

Fence (Peter Liu, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A “Model” Fenway Day (Brian Talbot, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Infinity, (m.a.r.c., CC BY-SA 2.0)




My wife, Sue, and I spent a delightful day, yesterday, with our grandchildren Ivy and Jolyon.

We had a picnic at Malua Bay. Whilst we were there we were looking out to sea and we started talking about horizons and how far you can see. To our delight, as we were looking out to sea, we spotted whales playing just near enough to see splashing but far enough away not to recognise if they were humpbacks.

Sue was a very good spotter and spent a lot of time directing Ivy and Jolyon’s gazes to the splashes. The whales seemed to be moving south so we tracked them from the left to to right of the horizon.


Sue’s guiding enabled Ivy and Joly to see the splashes. This led to a longer conversation about where the whales were headed. Then Ivy asked ‘What about the whales beyond the horizon?’.

At this point, Sue and I looked at each other and smiled. It was one of those ‘how do you answer that kind of question?’ moments. We both thought we should dust down our copy of Sophie’s World in preparation for Ivy’s bedtime reading.

I spent some of our drive home thinking about metacognition … how do I develop a language about thinking to enable a five-year old to continue to explore whatever there is beyond an horizon?

By serendipity, three opportunities arrived today to help me think more about horizons.

Making sense of sense-making

My first opportunity to think about sense-making came from a post by Peter Ellerton in The Conversation. In his discussion of teaching thinking, he concluded:

Moving our educational focus from knowledge to inquiry allows for the development of effective thinking. Inquiry requires students to build strong cognitive skills that extend beyond simple recall or application of learned procedures into genuine critical thinking.

Peter linked to a recent paper (July, 2015) on teaching critical thinking by Natasha Holmes, Carl Wieman and Doug Bonn. They argue:

The ability to make decisions based on data, with its inherent uncertainties and variability, is a complex and vital skill in the modern world.

They suggest that:

the key element for developing this ability is repeated practice in making decisions based on data, with feedback on those decisions.

I was interested to note that Natasha, Carl and Doug found evidence of longer-term changes in students’ thinking after experiencing this approach.

My second opportunity came from an Audrey Watters’ discussion of ed tech. In her post she draws on Seymour Papert’s (1987) computer criticism that aims “to understand, to explicate, to place in perspective”. His approach resonates with Audrey’s positioning as a cultural critic “formally trained in the study of literature, language, folklore … interested in our stories and in our practices and in our cultures”.

Audrey argues:

Computer criticism can – and must – be about analysis and action. Critical thinking must work alongside critical pedagogical and technological practices.

Peter, Natasha, Carl, Doug and Audrey share an interest in critical thinking and they have helped me to go beyond the horizon of current practice. Audrey’s discussion of criticism took me back to Elliot Eisner’s approach to educational criticism and connoisseurship.

My third opportunity came from Matt Cooper-Wright. He has written about ethnographic design research made possible by “cheap sensors, smaller computers and open source datasets” that give access to “an objective picture of the world” that can be compared with people’s subjective views. I was particularly interested in Matt’s discussion of macro and micro observation. His research into the behaviour of drivers has encouraged him to think critically about the distinction between what we say and what we do. His research experience has led to an iterative design to support driver behaviour.

I wondered if Ivy might be interested in this quantitative/qualitative interface with whale behaviour. There is a University of Queensland tagging program and some Antarctic research. There is a 2001 Western Australia paper on humpback whale migration too.

All of which brought me back to near and far horizons.



Whales beyond the horizon gave me a great opportunity to think about metacognition as well as inquiry based learning.

After whale watching, Ivy and Jolyon spent some time on their scooters. Both decided they would adopt aerodynamic positions downhill … their questions about why they went faster in these positions started a new conversation and a search for our copy of Anthony Blazevich.