I recently happened across the website of a EdTech consulting company that referenced “epic failures” on their homepage. I loved it. First, because they were confident enough in their own work to write that up front. And second, because they understood that we learn more from our failures than from our successes. We are in the learning biz, right?

Learning from “failures” is a very important concept in our professional growth as educators. Just about the only way to avoid “failure” is to avoid growth, and that’s pretty much a failure in itself.


A TIM-C Coaching Cycle

If you’ve used the TIM-C coaching tool, you’re already familiar with the five phases of a coaching cycle:

TIM-C menu

The menu within the TIM-C may give the impression that a cycle is always linear. There may, in fact, be times when everything goes exactly as anticipated and the client and coach step through the five phases in order. Everything gets checked off, the cycle is closed, and life goes on. That’s all well and good.

But the most important learning can come from a “messy” coaching cycle that isn’t quite so linear.


Goals Are Not Set in Stone

To revise a goal might at first seem like cheating, but I’m not suggesting that we simply change a goal to match an outcome. Rather, we might need to revise a goal based on new information. And the source of new information? Well, that comes from “failure” of course. We’d do well to rebrand “failure” as “new information.”

Even if we were careful to establish a SMART* goal, there may well have been information that we didn’t have at the time. Now we do. We should therefore revisit the goal in light of the new information. In fact, it’s a good practice to revisit goals on a regular basis throughout a coaching cycle. In addition to the new information we receive from a “failure,” the context is always subject to change. Who would have expected when we began the spring 2020 semester that so many of us would be completing it entirely online? That huge change in context no doubt impacted many coaching goals.

Even without a major disruption, coaches would do well to revisit goals from time to time with their clients. If a client senses that a goal is no longer relevant for some reason, he or she will lose interest in pursuing the cycle.

Fortunately, the TIM-C provides the means to record modifications to a previously-established goal. You might, for example, keep the goal title the same, but then describe the previous and revised goal in the extended text box. Click the “Update Goal” button and you have made the change as well as recording the history and any explanation you chose to add.


Activities Aren’t Set in Stone Either

Activities, of course, are where we will learn the “new information” that failure provides. We have a reasonable goal. We plan an activity that seems likely to advance that goal. And suddenly we are faced with “new information.” Things didn’t go exactly as we expected. An activity need not be in the “epic failure” class to provide “new information.” Usually the new information is of a more modest sort. Some things might have gone better. Some worse. In any case, we again have “new information.” We should use that new info to inform, revise, or add to the subsequent activities we have planned for a particular goal.

As with goals, the TIM-C also allows you to revise both the title and the extended description of the activity to note the modifications you’ve made. Then click the “Update Activity” button to add your revisions to the record.


Keep the Conversation Going

Whether you are the coach or the client, use the Check-Ins and Activity Progress features of the TIM-C to mine any “failure” for for new information. A coach may need to encourage the client to extract as much information from an activity as possible. A client can also take the initiative to share what was learned with the coach. Remember, the client isn’t the only one to grow through a coaching cycle. Coaches are also growing in their experience and knowledge with every cycle they participate in. This is especially true if you are doing peer coaching.


A Final Note on Completion

The TIM-C was designed to be as flexible as possible both to work with most coaching systems and to meet the specific needs of schools or districts. Not every institution will ask that coaches and clients use every aspect of the tool.

When we were building the TIM-C we discovered that for some districts, it was especially important that the “completion” of each of the five phases could be centrally tracked. And so, you’ll note that each phase has a dropdown menu that can be changed from “No” to “Yes.” Your institution may request that you use the dropdown menus to record your progress through the five phases. But please keep in mind that tagging a particular phase as complete does not in any way keep that phase from being revisited and edited or added to.

Don’t be afraid of a “messy” cycle or one that includes multiple opportunities for “new information.” The messy cycles are the ones we grow the most from. After all, personal growth is the one goal that we don’t ever need to modify.

*SMART goals are goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-limited.

Roy Winkelman is a 40+ year veteran teacher of students from every level kindergarten through graduate school. As the former Director of FCIT, he began the Center's focus on providing students with rich content collections from which to build their understanding. When not glued to his keyboard, Dr. Winkelman can usually be found puttering around his tomato garden in Pittsburgh.