Expanding the minds of students and organization leaders is no easy task, but Schar School of Policy and Government adjunct professor and professional coach Penny Potter does not back down from a challenge.
But first, what is coaching?
“The coach acts as a facilitator for the leader to answer their own questions, and serves as an accelerator and a thought partner,” said Potter. “Coaches ask questions designed to get leaders to look at their situations from angles that they don’t normally do.
“Coaching is about letting go of knowing,” she said.
Potter, who said her classroom superpower is ‘creating a safe ‘no-judgment’ learning space, has designed a distinctive classroom setting constructed to break students out of their shells. “Knowing how adults work, I have given the students a lot of experiences meant to leave them comfortable with ambiguity,” she said. “I leave them with that experience—and challenge them to make sense of it.”
Previously, Potter was a project manager at the National Foreign Language Center at the University of Maryland in College Park. In order to advance in her career, she discovered the Master’s in Organization Development and Knowledge Management (ODKM) program where she studied under Tojo Thatchenkery, director of the program that emphasizes leadership skills and creative problem solving.
“I realized that I didn’t know enough about the organizational structures my clients were in,” she said. “I decided to go to an [Organization Development and Knowledge Management] info session. They talked about the marriage of [organization development] with [knowledge management], and it was the perfect bridge with my technology and project management background.”
“After graduation, Penny served as a facilitator for the Group Dynamics and Team Learning course,” Thatchenkery said. “Penny was always willing to help her classmates. She eventually began teaching in the program after getting her PhD in Organization Development [at Fielding Graduate University]. Overall, she made significant contributions during and after the program."
After receiving her Schar School master’s degree in 2008, Potter went on to start her own coaching company. Productive Interactions’ mission is to educate leaders on ways to enhance engagement, productivity, and resilience.
Potter uses her knowledge of organizations to ask questions designed to get leaders thinking, realizing every situation is different. She is taking her experience in the field to the classroom, teaching students from the lens of a coaching professional.
“The ODKM program is full of unexpected surprises that will transform you from the inside out and allow you to show up in a more full and productive way within your organization,” she said. “It doesn’t matter where you come from. The ODKM program will help you get an operating system upgrade.”
During the course of her teaching, the students, she said, learn how to coach—which ultimately benefits her own experience.
“One of the things I say to students is that you are becoming a coach,” she said. “I am becoming a coach too.”