Downey’s Spectrum of Coaching Skills gives pause for thought as we consider whether one can be called a coach if learners are told what we would do in their circumstances. The quick answer is that if you make a proposal then you are closer to mentoring or training.
Coaching is about using the appropriate questions to establish whether the learner can find their own solution to a need or problem. As Downey says, the most important distinction in the spectrum is between directive and non-directive coaching. It is dangerous to assume that when one is told something then one knows that something. This is too often not the case.
‘Occasionally, as part of a training programme to develop coaching skills, I take the participants onto the golf course. The purpose in this is to get them to deepen their non-directive coaching skills, the theory being that if they do not know the techniques involved in playing golf they cannot resort to instructions’.
Many golf coaches, professionals, teachers, trainers and facilitators, have come across similar situations; Downey puts it down to being ‘trapped in teaching’ and suggests that, ironically, we do not always consider that teaching might not have too much to do with learning.
The Nature and Role of Coaching
What is coaching?
- The key which unlocks the potential to ultimate performance.
- Facilitates SMART (Specific Measurable Achievable Realistic Time-bound) learning to set achievable goals.
- Encouragement of self belief and positive internal interactions in order to realise potential and achieve goals.
- A two-way process where an individual’s performance is improved through reflection on the task and analysed through conversation and questioning with their coach. Both agree on a plan of action, set SMART objectives and then act to achieve their goal. The coach monitors progress at agreed intervals and gives decisive feedback.
- A recognised style of leadership.
What does a learning Coach Do?
A learning Coach:
- Provides support, guidance, coaching and mentoring to learners to help them plan their own learning
- Creates student ownership – allows student to identify their own learning strategies
- Maximises progress in a variety of areas of intelligence, including emotional intelligence
- Identifies goals
- Develops action plans
- Monitors, reflects and records progress.
Twelve Principles of Coaching
To provide opportunities for others to learn about their own performance, their limitations and their solutions, it is crucial that the coach creates an environment for learning. People see benefits from coaching in a place where it is safe to disclose information and share ideas that, perhaps, have never been disclosed before. Trust must be built, therefore the following principles apply:
- Believe that students have all the answers within them
- Adjust ‘big goals’ into achievable steps
- Hold a genuine willingness to learn from their students
- Respect confidentiality
- Build and maintain self-esteem
- Be positive
- Challenge students to move outside their comfort zone and habits
- Believe that there are always solutions to issues
- Attentive to recognising and pointing out strengths
- Believe that self-knowledge improves performance
Change of Thinking
To excel as a learning coach we may need to fundamentally change our thinking. A learning coach needs to drop their own agenda to resolve other people’s problems and develop a more open-minded approach, resisting the temptation to guide individuals towards solutions. Coaching is about a principled, trustworthy and honest approach to support people in finding their own solutions…learning coaches can but rarely advise.
Learning coaches grow the belief in students that if they think an issue, problem or concern through, then they will know the next step in resolving the situation; all they need to do is to take action and follow it, which will lead to improvement.
- Complete other people’s sentences in your head before they have finished? Move on in your mind to the solution that you would choose for the person?
- Use closed questions to direct people?
- Use leading questions to guide others to a specific solution that you have identified? Almost instantly believe that you know the answer they need?
- Make up your mind on one way to resolve a problem or enhance performance and push that idea?
- Become annoyed if your solutions for others are rejected?
- Find that your ideas are not implemented and then the same individual returns with other problems for you to resolve?
- Secretly acknowledge that you do not have the answers to all the problems of others?
If any or all of the above apply to you, then coaching could be a way of relieving frustrations, dissipating annoyance and taking the pressure off yourself to come up with the answer. Coaching will allow you to promote independent thinking in others. A key skill required of a teacher!
The fundamental rule in non-directive coaching is that we do not step ahead of the student and plan the path to a solution for them. The coach must silence their inner agenda to solve the problem ahead of the student. When coaches give advice or guidance they remove from the student any understanding of the process. If the student does not understand the process, then they return again for advice. Coach them, and they get the answers and the process to use next time.
Learning Coaches are curious..
Learning Coaches ask questions..
Learning Coaches support students to learn about their situation fully. Learning Coaches are more than problem-solvers, they encourage others to understand their perspective and amend their behaviours to allow optimum performance.
“Alfred Korzybski in 1933 explained the concept that ‘the map is not the territory’. In other words, what we experience of a situation is not necessarily how our student experiences it and vice versa” (Thomas, 2005, p.15).
“Only the student fully appreciates the complexity of their current situation”.
Time for Reflection!…
When did you last experience something that seemed very different for another person?