Step into the world of coaching for education Be the change that you want to see
Good news! There is good news for those of us trying to influence students on their path to learning and achievement. Ready? Here it is:
„Over 80% of children at school entry level positively assess their own ability to learn.”
This IS good news, right…? Right…? In any circumstances, there should be no better news than this. It must be good because there is nothing more pleasant and nothing gives a better feeling than teaching pupils who believe that they “can”. This also makes our profession as educators easier. Who in their right mind would not like to work with a student full of belief in their potential to grow? I have yet to meet a teacher like that.
Since everything is peachy, then why is it that this next piece of research is no longer so optimistic?
“After school training this percentage drops dramatically: 80% of young people and adults believe that learning is something difficult and way beyond their ability.”
Is it the students and their expectations? Is it the school system that entraps us? Is it the learning material that is too challenging and overbearing? Or is it… – hold tight – teachers who add their own bit to the students’ overall picture of self-doubt?
These are all relevant who and what questions and yet there is one that seems much more pivotal on the general level and concentrates on finding a solution – it is the question of how.
HOW do we change the future of education so that by the time our students leave the school system they will have kept the belief that they can learn without the undercurrent of toil and lack of ability?
Our schools need incremental change. They need to be more empathetic, more studentcentred, more personalised and individualised. We need more individual communication and relationships with students and more focus on how to grow and develop their feeling of empowerment, responsibility and the skill of decision making, and all that irrespective of age. Most of all though, we need an efficient approach to changing our students’ outlook on learning and personal ability. We – teachers, parents, school administrators – are all equally responsible for how young people perceive our schools. And their perception is shaped by both personal experience and the underlying belief of (not?) being in a position to influence the real world around them.
And this is where a discussion on Coaching in Education begins.
First, we need a clear understanding of coaching. In order to speak the same language we need to form a definition so that we have a core to refer back to and remind ourselves of what is important. A very simple and yet powerful one says that…
“…coaching is a supporting and partnering relationship which provokes creativity and the realisation of potential in learning and beyond.” Pay attention to the two key words: relationship and potential. These are the cornerstone for anything that can ever happen in the learning process between teacher and student. Without these, no learning will ever happen. In order for any progress to take place students need to like their teachers, i.e. have a positive relationship with them. This, in turn, generates trust and enables the fulfilment of potential to grow. And the loop closes.
We also need to change our communication style from instruction-based (one where communication usually moves in one direction: teacher to student) to question-based (one where we always seek to learn about our students and how they view all that is relevant in a given situation). Why do that? As William Bernbach said:
“Nothing is so powerful as an insight into human nature. What compulsions drive a man, what instincts dominate his action? If you know these things about a person, you can touch him at the core of his being.”
And that is one of the most important preconditions for effective work with students in education.
For all those who work in education, the shift from instruction to inquiry is not going to be an easy one, especially in a system where it is the teacher who knows, tells and instructs. We need to start moving towards this brave new world of giving up a little bit of our “teacher authority” for the sake of better communication and closer relationships with our students. We need to work more from a position of curiosity and trust, which in turn will enable us to get to know our students better and in this way exert greater influence on their actions and motivation.
Having said this, there is a pressing need to build a code of conduct reflecting the most important areas of communication and influence between teachers and students. This will provide the foundations for curiosity and trust. Following Will Thomas it would be of great value if, in every teachers’ room, every day before starting work with any group of students, the ten pillars of coaching listed below were adopted and exercised daily.
- Be non-judgemental.
- Be non-critical.
- Believe that people have all the answers to their problems within them.
- Respect a person’s confidentiality.
- Be positive and believe that there are always solutions to issues.
- Pay attention to recognising and pointing out strengths and building and maintaining self-esteem.
- Challenge individuals to move beyond their comfort zone.
- Break down big goals into manageable steps.
- Believe that self-knowledge improves performance.
- Hold a genuine willingness to learn [from your students].
As plain as these rules can seem, they are hard to implement in everyday teaching practice. The reason is that there is always a significant rift between theory and practice to be overcome in our daily attitudes and teaching approaches. Still, this must not be an excuse that we make in order to justify ourselves from not taking action to change, develop and grow as teachers of the 21st century. We are responsible for pushing ourselves out of the comfort zone and taking real action, which could in this case be putting the ten pillars on a wall in our teachers’ room for everyone to see and act on. This in turn should provoke discussions, thought exchanges and reflection on our tools and approaches to teaching and learning in general. And hopefully processes such as these will only be the beginning of a change that will translate into a higher percentage of students leaving schools with a strong belief in their own ability to achieve goals and learn new things. Being an educator and working with generations of people to help them develop is both a great privilege and a great responsibility. Schools should not only be places where knowledge is transferred but also places of inspiration, motivation, understanding and challenge, and a great part of that is present in coaching. Educational institutions should constantly push for critical thinking and challenge the status quo and not only that of the students’ but everyone’s, and that again is a significant part of coaching. Schools co-create people through co-creating circumstances and that can also be done practically, not only in theory. And step by step the change can occur. It is in our power to create this change irrespective of limiting beliefs, systems and structures and, as Benjamin Disraeli said, “[m]an is not the creature of circumstances; circumstances are the creatures of men […] and man is more powerful than matter.” And yet again, all that is present in coaching.
The practical dimension of growth always manifests itself in the shape of a long-term process through the use of theories and tools to drive incremental change. As John C. Gardner, Jr. said “mastery is not something that strikes in an instant, like a thunderbolt, but a gathering power that moves steadily through time, like the weather.” But in order to build this gathering power to drive educational change towards coaching, we need to find tools that will help us pace the process. Let me invite you to take a quick visit to the Pearson Poland website, the video training section – www.pearson.pl/filmyszkoleniowe, where you will find practical tools for coaching in education to drive the change that can only influence our educational future for the better. Watch the complete series of video training sessions, take the tools that you want to experiment with, suit them to your teaching reality and your students and be the change that you want to see in your school.
 Taraszkiewicz, Małgorzata, http://www. madredziecko.com/articles/show/1/11/66/
 Kimsey-House, Henry; Kimsey-House Karen; Sandahl, Phillip; Whitworth, Laura; (2011). Co-Active Coaching. Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
 Thomas, Will, , Coaching Solutions Resource Book, Network Educational Press Ltd.