From past experience, what I have quite often found is that when we talk of “coaching”, a lot of the time we end up meaning “mentoring”.
While this may not seem like a problem, I personally have found that without knowing exactly what coaching is and can achieve, sometimes we end-up spoon-feeding ideas to others.
A “pure” coaching relationship is something I have had the benefit of experiencing with two people in my professional lifetime. As such, the top tips and best practice I share come from being on the receiving end of coaching as well as beginning to use coaching more over the last year.
As a busy English teacher it can often seem like there is not a spare minute in the day to organise a coaching session, discuss a topic at length, and empower the coachee to solve a problem themselves. Which, in part, is true. There are many ways in which a coaching system can seem like a drag. A brilliant thing to do “if only we had enough time”. Which is why I was so fascinated to hear about, and later try out, the idea of a quick (specifically, seven minutes) coaching method.
As a Teaching Leaders fellow, over the last two years I have had many opportunities to discuss the concept and pitfalls of coaching. I have also had the benefit of adding to my arsenal of coaching techniques. Although different models and guides are better for different situations, in my role the one that I have found to be a great basis for most coaching conversations is the quicker the better.
It should be said at this point that if you have never been coached before then the first time can seem a bit bizarre. I found myself in a situation where someone who was outside of my profession was trying to get me to work out my issues and overcome the barriers I was describing. Which, when you are just really, really stuck and want a hand, can seem almost cruel if not done tactfully and openly. One of the things that has to happen is both parties need to be clear on what exactly is going on and why.
When I first heard the idea that someone could be coached in under 10 minutes, I scoffed. Surely that isn’t long enough to have a meaningful conversation?
However, having been on the receiving end with a very experienced coach I was able to see first-hand how, if someone has a particular issue that is bothering them, the start of a plan of action can be formulated quite quickly just by giving them the time to answer very focused questions.
Like many coaching conversations, my coach focused on the GROW (goal, reality, obstacles/options, way forward) model. The idea that there is a goal that the coachee will want to attain, which differs from the reality of their situation. Effective coaches will then prompt their coachees to discuss options and, finally, decide on something that the coachee will try to find a way forward and overcome the issue.
First, I was asked about the problem and, because I was a willing volunteer, I was ready to spill the beans right away. Very quickly, without giving any of her own ideas, opinions or bias on the situation, I was asked to elaborate on this, exploring what I really wanted.
In under five minutes, I had already explored why I was unhappy with the status quo and had begun to explore a few ideas of how I could move forward – things I had not really thought of before I was asked the simple question: “what have you thought of doing?”
It might sound like my coach had put a magic spell on me, opening my eyes to the possible solutions without really trying. The reality is that, through careful questioning and because I knew I only had a limited time to try to solve the problem with their support, I was forced to decide on at least a few ideas I could implement.
In other scenarios (i.e. when this wasn’t being “done to me” as part of a demonstration of how the quick coaching model can work), my coach would have been able to check back in with me a few hours or days or even weeks later to see how I had got on. This timescale is really useful to agree on in the coaching sessions and, as they are very quick conversations to have, the quick coaching method means you have more time to check-in with the progress at a later date.
So when is this quick-fire coaching model a useful one to use? I have always felt that at the core of working well with others is for everyone to feel as though they are valued and supported in order for them to then feel capable and inspired to excel.
Such a fundamental part of coaching lies in this – in being able to express opinions but also listen to others.
Something I have found the quick coaching model has been really useful for is ensuring that, by asking probing questions, I can often lead others without doing things for them. If I am asking for their opinion, rather than presenting them with a list of options and allowing them to choose, I am more able to show how much I value their skills and expertise.
As such, the coaching model does not have to be for huge, ground-breaking problems, but instead could be a good tool for forcing leaders to become better at delegation.
For example, if someone comes to me with a problem, often people might just want reassurance that their solutions are the right ones. Even if it is a quick conversation in the corridor or over a cup of tea, the seven-minute model can work to clarify problems and set achievable goals without burning up hours of precious time.
Another way it has been a useful tool for me is as a way to support colleagues and students in improving outcomes. By being strict with yourself on how long you will set aside for a short coaching conversation you can ensure that the discussion does not turn into a mentoring session where you fill the other person’s to-do list with your priorities.
Identifying areas for development in a short coaching discussion is the first step in ensuring those wishing to develop are taking ownership of their practice, therefore leading to better outcomes for pupils.
For me, the seven-minute conversation can be used with students and colleagues alike – whether it is based on a result of a termly assessment or as a way to ensure feedback from an observation has been understood and is being acted upon.
The benefit of having regular, invigorating conversations with members of your team can’t be denied. By using the GROW model there is a clear structure to the conversations and, as you are able to have conversations a lot more regularly, I have found that colleagues are often now able to have a mini-coaching session in their own heads without having to find their coach for support.
Having the support of coaching is key, but feeling like it is a burden because of how long traditional coaching sessions can be is a hindrance. If you are feeling guilty for not setting aside hours of time for coaching, try the quick coaching model to see how meaningful even a short discussion can be.
Amy Benziane is the English teaching and learning coordinator at Woodside High School in north London.