I am currently completing the final stages of a coaching accreditation course with Growth Coaching International. It has been a very worthwhile course.
The word ‘coach’ comes from a Hungarian word, ‘bus’, which means helping people move. Coaching is a way of leading and learning, and a coach is someone who takes the time to have focused conversations with others to help them maximise their capabilities. Coaching is about creating the conditions for learning and growing, it is about seeing people in terms of their future potential, and it is about building the coachee’s self-belief (Whitmore, 2009. pp. 5-19).
A key coaching skill is listening actively. Princess Diana was incredibly skilful at this:
“On many occasions, I watched her give unfailingly the highest-calibre attention to people. I watched her look into their eyes, bend one knee slightly, rest her arms easily in front of her, relax and listen as if they were the only person in the world at that moment. Often she had literally only a moment, but in a split second, because of the quality of her attention, she disarmed feelings of nervousness and assumptions of inferiority and allowed people to remember that they matter.” (Kline, 1999, p.250).
The quality of a coach’s attention determines the quality of the coachee’s thinking and Nancy Kline advises, “Keep your eyes on the eyes of the person thinking, no matter what.” (p.44). I now write myself reminders to “listen with my eyes” during coaching conversations.
Teachers are often “well-intentioned fixers” (John Campbell, workshop, 2014). They are used to being the authorities and possessing the answers. However, if we want teachers to take ownership for their learning, the coach cannot be the expert, as this creates learned helplessness on the part of the coached teachers. The primary responsibility for learning must rest on the shoulders of those doing the learning, and it is the coach’s role to facilitate the learning and to build capacity.
“A less optimal solution the coachee develops often produces better results than the right answer from me.” (Tony Soltzfus)
The danger with coaching lies in the perceived need for the coach to appear brilliant, to be seen to have all the answers. When coaches are focused on looking wonderfully clever, they do not listen long enough. They summarize and interpret and direct far too early in the session. Coaches need to realize that the brilliant person is the client. The coach’s job is to help the client discover that.” (Tina Breene cited in Kline p. 138.)
High Tech High teacher Tom Fehrenbacher talks about the coach holding a frozen snowball, ready to throw it if needed, but trying not to submit to the temptation. He provided me with an article written by Mike Reardon:
In the world of teacher transformation the issue is not reflective or directive but rather reflective and directive. It is not one model over another. It is instead a synthesised model containing both reflective and directive elements. A highly effective coach is skilled in both schools of thought, and based on experience and wisdom integrates them into a seamless conversation that increases the teacher’s efficacy. One moment the coach, through reflective conversation, unpacks a teacher’s unconscious competence into the Learning Zone through direct feedback and opportunities for rehearsal. It is not that one model is better than another. Both the cognitive coaching model and the behavioural feedback model are necessary for teacher transformation. Remember the goal is to build capacity in the teacher; a capacity to think and act with greater professional integrity so that the teacher knows what she does and does what she knows. We want our teachers to build internal schema based on external evidence that in turn drives their decisions as they plan, as they teach, and as they reflect. Some teachers have innate abilities to anticipate, to modify, and to enhance their craft. They simply need guidance on how to refine their level of reflection. Other teachers need direct feedback so they can gain those abilities. The role of an effective coach incorporates reflection and direction.
The questions that a coach asks determine the quality of the coachee’s thinking and David Cooperider states that, “People live in the world’s our questions create.” Drawing from the contributions of solutions-focused and positive psychology, Barbara Frederickson (2009) in her book Positivity, recommends a 3-to-1 positivity ratio.
Interestingly, it is likely that those who coach, in turn increase their capacity to seek feedback on their own performance. Stone & Heen (2014) write about developing the ability to sort through feedback to find the coaching, “see challenge as opportunity, and feedback as useful information for learning” and “hear feedback as coaching, and find the coaching in evaluation.”
Bryk (2002) found that the extent of trust among adults in schools strongly predicts positive student learning outcomes and Needham (2014) advocates that coaching can be “a vehicle for bringing an intentional, growth oriented approach to conversations about teaching practice.” An intentional and well implemented coaching culture can make a real difference to teacher growth and development and ultimately, to student learning. My role as a leader in this coaching culture is to “create the enabling conditions for these conversational communities, and ensure the coaching remains directly linked to student outcomes. This includes protecting the coach from being the evaluator” (Needham).
Bryk, A. & Schneider, B. (2002). Trust in Schools: A core resource for improvement. Russell Sage Foundation: New York.
Foltos, L. (2014). “The Secret to Great Coaching: Inquiry method helps teachers take ownership of their learning”, Journal of Staff Development, June, Vol. 35, No. 3.
Frederickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking research to release your inner optimist and thrive. Oneworld: London.
Kline, N. (1999). Time to Think: Listening to ignite the human mind. Cassell Illustrated: London.
Needham, K. (2014). “Coaching and the Power to Choose”, Australian Educational Leader, 35 (3).
Stone, D. & Heen, S. (2014). Thanks for the Feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well. Portfolio: London.
Whitmore, J. (2009). Coaching for Perfomance: GROWing human potential and purpose – The principles and practice of coaching and leadership. Nicholas Brealey Publishing: London.