Monday, 5 June 2017

Coaching: passions and practice.

A few years ago, I attended an introductory workshop in Coaching at my workplace. At the time the aim was to create a coaching community within the University and offer the ILM Level 5 Qualification in Coaching to interested attendees of the workshop. I was very interested but unfortunately the dates clashed with conferences I was presenting at, so I was unable to participate. The following year, the institution stopped running the course; however, I maintained my interest through reading and using techniques where possible and appropriate, for example, in the Action Learning Set I was involved in as part of the Aurora course (a development programme for female leaders in higher education) .

In November last year I participated in a Twitter chat hosted by UKLibchat on the subject which was incredibly popular. This encouraged me to include coaching as part of my performance development review at work as I could see how beneficial it would be both in developing my relationships with staff and in my work with students. Recently, a follow-up refresher workshop was offered at my workplace due to increased interest in the subject so I put my name down straightaway.

Reader, I loved it. The biggest glow I get at work is either when students ‘get it’ when I am helping or teaching them and also when I see people’s reactions at the end of attending one of my mindfulness workshops. While these two things may seem very different, what they both have in common is that they are empowering the person to be and do better. I believe very strongly that coaching does this as well, which is why I think I get that feeling.

Some useful refreshers:

Proper coaching does not involve advice

Coaching is about enabling someone (the coachee) to achieve goals or to resolve problems through the skilful use of questions, listening and feedback. This helps the coachee to arrive at their own solutions which can improve their self-esteem and confidence, especially if they didn’t feel they were capable of coming up with a solution and felt confused, lost or worried as a result.

This is very different to mentoring which is a term sometimes used interchangeably and confused with coaching. A mentor is often someone with more experience and while they may use coaching style questioning techniques, they may use their knowledge to impart advice to the mentee.

The only exception to this (and not everybody agrees) is if a coach uses something called ‘permission protocol’ (Wilson, 2014). In this situation, the coach may ask permission to offer some insight or piece of useful information if the coach has exhausted all their own ideas. This should be used very sparingly though so as not to confuse the relationship.

The models aren’t that important

In the first coaching workshop I was introduced to the GROW model, which stands for:

  • Goal
  • Reality
  • Options
  • and Will.

During a coaching session the coachee is responsible for the content and the coach manages the process. The GROW model seemed to me to be a useful framework to fit the session around and ensure that we didn’t go off track and everything I’ve read since seems to confirm that viewpoint.
During the second workshop, we were introduced to another coaching model, created by Alexander Graham and Sir John Whitmore;

  • Clarify
  • Simplify
  • Multiply
  • Will it fly?
  • Do it by? 
(Bradbury, 2009)

Even though this had only one extra step, I found it quite difficult to remember – possibly because it didn’t fit into a neat little acronym but also because I found the ‘will it fly’ point a bit forced. Our teacher’s advice was to look at the models available, see what worked for us and to use them as a guide rather a rigid set of rules. I found this helpful because when I came to the practice elements of the workshops I could focus on listening intently and asking carefully selected questions (the most important part of coaching) rather than trying to remember the model.

It’s all about practice

In the workshop, we all got chance to practice coaching each other. In groups of three, one person would be a coach, one would be a mentee and one would observe, ask questions of the other two and offer feedback afterwards. While this was the most enjoyable and rewarding part of the whole experience, I did feel a little self-conscious regarding whether I was asking the right questions and was trying very hard to not lead my ‘coachee’ to a particular answer, especially when the conversation seemed to veer towards information literacy! This will improve with practice and is the best route to take, regardless of any qualifications.

I think the coaching qualification may be a little like the teaching accreditations I’ve been blogging about recently. Whereas the awards may help with finessing what you have and adding some credibility to a CV, having the intention and empathy to teach and to support the learning and development of others most likely comes naturally. I would definitely still like to do the coaching qualification in future and look at ways I can embed it in my teaching practice. This may be a little way off so in the meantime I’ve signed up to a workshop where we get to do more practicing…

Bradbury, S (2009) Coaching: The power of questions. Available at (Accessed 22/05/2017)

Whitmore, J (2013) Coaching for performance. 4th ed. London: Quercus

Wilson, C (2014) Performance coaching: a complete guide to best practice coaching and training. London: Kogan Page.

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