An Introduction to Coaching

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Coaching is a word with complex connotations. It likely conjours for you an
image of your school PE teacher, whistle round the neck and hollering
voice at the ready (my apologies to all PE teachers listening or reading, but
I feel we can all agree that a prerequisite of the job is relatively strong voice
projection!) Unfortunately, in its professional usage, coaching bears little
resemblance to this way that we have become used to using the term. In
fact, our sports ‘coaches’ are probably more akin to the term ‘sports
mentor’, when we begin to unpick the definitions of these two terms.

Christian Van Nieuwerburgh’s book, ‘An Introduction to Coaching Skills: A
Practical Guide’ (2014),notes that mentoring and coaching are "broadly
similar” (pg. 6) as they are both striving to "support others to achieve more
of their goals and aspirations” (pg. 6). Since this goal is in fact an excellent
definition of both teaching and leadership, it is safe to say that both
coaching and mentoring have a vital role to play in schools. So what’s the
main difference?

In simple terms, mentoring relies upon the experience, expertise and
knowledge of the mentor in order to impart information, guidance and
advice. We see many examples of successful mentoring at the start of
teacher training, when mentors play a crucial role in guiding trainees
through the working and expectations of a school, lesson planning,
behaviour management etc. These are sessions which heavily rely on the
mentor’s expertise and their direct advice and suggestions are vital for
trainees needing a starting point from which to form a pathway through.

Coaching does not require any such experience in a particular field (and in
fact when done properly, the coach must resist any urge to offer advice
from their own experience - not an easy task, especially for teachers
always keen to teach!) Coaching focuses on helping the coachee to
explore their own solutions and start to become their own adviser.

So what could this look like in a school setting? Providing coaching for a
colleague seeking to improve their behaviour management would see the
coach guiding the participant towards reflecting upon questions such as:

- Which particular element of behaviour management do you wish to
address or change?
- What do you think is causing the particular issue you have identified?
- What possible solutions are open to you?
- Which solution do you commit to trying before we meet again?

The coach’s role here is to allow the participant to reflect upon their own
practice and the possible solutions they could trial without offering any
advice or suggestions. At the next session, they serve as an accountability
partner to allow reflection upon outcomes and next steps.

As we continue this series, we will look more closely at the roles of
coaches, the responsibilities of participants and the potential for
development through professional coaching conversations taking place in
schools and colleges.

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