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  • Helen Woodward

The Inaugural Black Sea Schools Teacher Conference 2019

Brave is when you risk something new, without knowing how it will turn out, because the purpose is good. The British International School of Tbilisi (BIST), led by Steve Priest instigated and hosted this inaugural conference to:

  • promote teacher professional learning

  • develop international teacher networks; and for their students

  • create regional opportunities for inter-school collaboration and competition


Working in an international context always offers a new lens through which to see the world, creates possibilities and expands horizons. This inaugural conference included seven schools and forty delegates from across the Black Sea region.


It’s always a joy to work with Rafik Iddin leading workshops on coaching, emotional intelligence, moods and emotions, children’s safeguarding and challenging conversations. Steve Priest’s commitment to outdoor learning provided an opportunity for us to invite Janet Green to join the team. Participants returning from Janet’s workshops were enthused and inspired by her passion for outdoor learning and love of the earth. Just as we expected!


Over half of the delegates booked into our coaching workshop. We draw on an elected mix of research in coaching practice and facilitation; Gerard Egan, Richard Boyatzis, Daniel Goleman, David Clutterbuck, David Megginson and Alan Sieler, to name a few.


Rafik and I co-facilitate this workshop so we can demonstrate coaching conversations using a real issue during the day. The learning process we commit to is experiential, and to a large extent based on Glaser’s Adult Learning Cycle. We open with a question for the group. Often, we’re asked for a coaching definition at the outset. We respond with a request that we hold open the space before closing it down with a definition. We invite contributions and ideas to develop deep thinking. It’s not unusual for this to raise some concern, perhaps driven by the need for securing knowledge and certainty. We ask the group to commit to ‘live in the question’, and to quote Emily Dickinson, ‘dwell in possibility.’ Our endeavour as facilitators is to bring the group with us on a learning journey.


We also commit to ‘debunking the myth of the expert’. The notion of ‘master coaches’ as defined by some professional coaching groups, raises questions about hierarchy, gender, exclusivity and the anatomy of power within the coaching community. Despite being deep in the learning and years into the journey, I see no useful purpose in this definition for an unregulated area of work. The important questions are around possibilities; what possibilities are there when we see others as experts? What possibilities close-down when we see others (or ourselves) as experts?

The workshop learning process includes reflection on personal experience, working with real material (for issue management /opportunity creation) coaching practise, observing coaching, theory, processing and reflection. Engaging in this process with real material means we bring our whole selves to the work, our vulnerabilities, uncertainties, failures, struggles and our hopes. We risk ourselves on the world as facilitators and participants as we engage in coaching and re-affirm commitment to our own learning.


We’re not seeking to convey a repository of knowledge from workshop leader to participant. We actively seek to move away from this dominant paradigm. It’s about being with the learning. Working explicitly with our stories and narratives, emotions and physiology, our ‘way of being’. We hold open the idea that learning can take place in our language, emotions and body. (Sieler 2007) This requires professional will and deep personal humility. (Collins 2001).


The feedback in evaluations and conversations reminds me to stay with the process. ‘I’ve got something I can really use’, ‘I have a way forward on something I thought was really big, and now I know what to do’, ‘We’re still talking about it days later’, ‘I’m excited and thinking of picking up my studies in philosophy again’.


This isn’t about tools and techniques. Good coaching goes well beyond serving professional needs. It’s a lived experience embracing a commitment to reflect on our ‘way of being’ in our professional and personal lives as we endeavour to live and work well.


Huge thanks to Steve Priest for inviting us, to the team at BIST for hosting the conference and to the participants for your time and commitment to learning. The original idea for the Black Sea Schools Teacher Conference emerged during a discussion Steve and I had back in June 2018. We dare greatly in our leadership when we risk untried ideas in a public arena. Bravo.

‘I dwell in possibility, a fairer house than prose.


More numerous for windows, superior for doors.’


Emily Dickinson

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