Uptake and Instructional Coaching
The power of listening through uptake talk moves
I just gave a listen to a fascinating pod from Kim Scott around active listening. In this conversation about organizational management and collaboration they discuss the power of surveys as listening tools. Kim actually uses a little analogy about firefighting to make the claim the survey’s aren’t really listening. It goes like: Surveys are like the fire alarm, actual listening is firefighting.
I really like this distinction, and find lots of what they discuss in this pod super fascinating and useful. For example, another key moment for me is when Kim talks about the plethora of communication she’d receive as a people manager—the communication she solicited as feedback for the organization’s work and her individual contributions. Yet, there was such an avalanche she put out the stipulation that criticism must be accompanied by three potential solutions and a recommendation.
After this ask, she heard from some direct reports wondering when they’d just have a moment to chat with her. What’s fascinating to me about this is related to some of the things I’ve written and reflected upon here—the difference between monologue and dialogue, the chatter around the protocol, and the essentially interruptive nature of interpersonal, unfinalized dialogue.
That brings me to uptake. I’ve also spent a good bit of time over the last few weeks in relatively unstructured dialogue with school leaders about instructional improvement. This involves popping into several sites, interfacing with site level leadership, conducting classroom observations, and debriefing findings around an observational tool. Because I’m on so many sites, I’ve gotta be deliberate with uptake of the site-level leadership’s names, roles, visions, etc.
A simple definition of uptake is restatement—bringing back into the dialogue something that was said earlier. This can take the form of saying someone’s name, restating their idea, or building upon the utterance later in the collaborative dialogue. I’ve been reflecting on dialogue and uptake here in contrast to the staid delivery of predetermined content in the context of teacher training—there’s clearly a big difference between bringing a scope and sequence with a prescribed course and the responsive nature of dialogic coaching, necessarily without as prescribed a scope and sequence.
Coaching, in contrast to training, really makes the necessity of uptake apparent. When I’m delivering training through instructional materials, I’m clued in to the success criteria of participants, our desired outcomes, and the look fors to certain checks for understanding. When I’m providing coaching, success criteria and look fors are much less apparent. When it’s clear I can have a sense of the other party’s desired outcomes, and propose questions in the dialogue to check for understanding, the trajectory of the conversation is much more amorphous.
Herein lies the value of uptake—especially with regard to coaching. As coaching is really tailored to the vision and values of the coachee, uptake becomes a way for the coach to express they’ve both heard the participant’s position, considered what they’ve added, and are responding in pursuit of the coachee’s goals. Not only does uptake allow one to build personal connections through the use of names and integration of personal connections, but it can be a way to connect the work across team members, and draw a through line through the coaching conversation. In a way uptake becomes the scope and sequence of the coaching, these recycled ideas becoming the themes and motifs of the dialogue and the seat of next steps.
Soter, A. O., Wilkinson, I. A., Murphy, P. K., Rudge, L., Reninger, K., & Edwards, M. (2008). What the discourse tells us: Talk and indicators of high-level comprehension. International journal of educational research, 47(6), 372-391.