Introduction to Instructional Coaching — By James Mallabone MSc, Managing Director and Executive Coach at PRAESTAMUSLTD
What is coaching and what does it develop?
Coaching is the skill of generating awareness in others, in order to make them more resourceful, responsible and committed to their own professional and personal development in order to take action and maximise performance.
There are many similarities between coaching, mentoring and counselling and there are many common tools, techniques, skills and behaviours utilized across each discipline that blur the boundaries further. It is therefore a good idea to have a clear understanding of what coaching is, and what it is not before engaging in coaching relationships with others.
Coaching is delivered by experienced individuals, usually qualified in coaching; they do not necessarily have subject matter experience in the specific skills being developed by the coachee. Here is the key difference between coaching and mentoring. Mentoring is delivered by more experienced individuals in the actual subject matter being developed by the mentee. Mentors use this experience to help individuals develop and problem solve by guiding them towards techniques that they themselves have successfully used before. Whilst mentoring has its place, the approach can reduce ownership and responsibility of issues or problems. It is important to acknowledge also that what worked for one individual in the past may not be the right solution for another individual in the present.
Coaching allows individuals to explore their own outcomes, solutions and actions. It does this by helping individuals identify what they want to achieve or what barriers may be present that prevent progress or action. By then setting goals, the coach generates ownership and responsibility in the individual, who is then more likely to take positive action. In the context of the instructional coaching role being embarked on, instructional coaches will have some subject matter expertise (similar to a mentor) but not necessarily in the application of every HOW2 tool or technique. By taking a coaching approach the instructor develops their own awareness and responsibility for action rather than being provided it.
Both coaching and mentoring aim to improve aspects of a person’s personal or professional life in the present, or in the future. Whilst issues related to current behaviours and future performance may be rooted in the past, neither coaches or mentors should make attempts to “fix” the individuals. At most, in this respect, a coach might help a coachee acknowledge the past in order to identify barriers to progress as a way to set future goals. Addressing issues from the past is firmly in the realm of counselling and the fundamental difference between coaching and counselling. With the presence of mental health issues a high probability, a coach is more likely to do harm trying to operate in this area. Only trained therapists should provide counselling. If, as a coach, you become aware that a coachee’s work performance or issues are mental health-related, the coachee should be encouraged to seek professional counselling support.
It should be noted that many coaching approaches, tools and techniques have been developed from psychotherapy and counselling, but they are used for the purposes of developing present or future behavioural change and performance.
There are many different forms and approaches to coaching, including performance coaching, solutions focussed coaching, psychodynamic coaching, narrative coaching, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) coaching, relational coaching and Gestalt coaching, to name just a few. The approach taken in the HOW2 instructional coaching programme can be viewed as a combination of behaviourist, Gestalt and cognitive behavioural coaching. (Note: the similarity in the names of Gestalt coaching and cognitive behavioural coaching to Gestalt therapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Remember, many coaching approaches have been developed from therapy but are applied to develop future performance rather than fix mental health-related issues). This combination of approaches allows for a range of techniques to be used, giving the instructional coach flexibility to adapt to a situation and to provide range and developmental opportunities for the coach in the future. However, before defining each approach, it is important to discuss the most important principle and success indicator for coaching; the relationship between coach and coachee is the foundation for all coaching efforts and arguably even more important than the coaching approach. For coaching to be effective, there must be mutual respect and trust, allowing for mutual freedom of expression and the safety of the coachee to discuss their issues and vulnerabilities.
Behaviourist coaching relates to a process-driven relationship between coach and coachee and may include developing action plans or using techniques to help coachee make sustainable changes to their practice. The focus of behaviourist coaching is firmly in the realm of performance. It is about attitude and choice and helps instructors recognise and change their behaviour or practice. As you will notice, the seven-step process of the HOW2 Instructional Coaching Model is very much a behaviourist framework for coaching. It might be seen to be similar to other coaching tools such as GROW (Goals, Reality, Options, Way Forward) or OSCAR (Outcomes, Situation, Choices, Actions, Review). When discussing outcomes or goals, the conversation is about what the teacher wishes to achieve, for example, a change to how they deliver a certain type of lesson. The outcomes may be short, medium or long term. Once a teacher’s outcomes are known, their current practice would be discussed (Reality / Situation), various possibilities for change could be identified and weighed up against each other (Options / Choices). Objectives could be set (Way Forward / Actions) perhaps using SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-Bound).
Cognitive behavioural coaching combines cognitive, behavioural, imaginal and problem-solving techniques forming an integrated approach to coaching. It involves identifying patterns or errors in the coachee’s way of thinking or behaviours to help them change the way they think or behave. When addressing future behaviour, it can be useful to use imagery and visualisation to allow the coachee to consider the application of new techniques. Questions and techniques can be used to explore the coachee’s limiting beliefs and assumptions about issues and recognising the use of deletions, distortions and generalisations in their language that may identify barriers to moving forward or making positive change.
Gestalt coaching is a process to assist a coachee in becoming “fully” aware and turning that into action. The process includes expanding or raising awareness or acknowledging the way the coachee is experiencing a situation and their relationship to it, that is, their thoughts, feelings, emotions and sensations relating to it. It may also include the coach’s awareness of their own thoughts and feelings and using this to challenge, support and enquire.
There are three stages of coaching development in terms of developing coaching skills: competence, capability, and capacity. Competence refers to learning the coaching techniques and skills. In HOW2 Instructional Coaching, competence is the understanding of the model, its similarity to other coaching approaches and how it is to be applied. As an Instructional Coach, you will initially learn about basic coaching techniques from behaviourist, cognitive behavioural and Gestalt coaching approaches. However, from an application perspective, you may only initially be comfortable working with and applying behaviourist techniques (such as goal setting). With experience, you might try out new techniques relating to understanding how people think and the impact thinking has on their behaviour, or you might more enjoy the use of Gestalt tools that generate whole-body awareness. Capability then refers to the application of the techniques. The last stage of development relates to Capacity. This point defines the stage at which we become less conscious about the tools and techniques we are applying. The techniques we have learned have become part of who we are and how we operate. It is the stage we are being, not doing.
Connecting to the HOW2 Instructional Coaching Model
Each step is broken down into:
• An introduction to the purpose and what the intention of each step is. • Coaching questions that might be asked. These are listed in groups relating to the three coaching approaches outlined previously. (Note: As your competence and capability expand, you may become more comfortable utilizing questions from the different coaching approaches). • Typical responses or reactions to coaching questions and follow-up questions.
By listening and recognising what is actually going on, you will be able to adjust your approach by asking the most suitable questions. For example, if you notice that their thinking is distorted or generalised, then taking a cognitive behavioural approach to help unblock barriers to performance; likewise, if they experience emotional responses such as fear of being judged then a Gestalt approach might be more pertinent.
The questions presented during the programme are a guide only. They don’t need to be asked systematically and definitely, shouldn’t be used dogmatically. Adjust and develop your own questions based upon the unique coaching relationships you build with your teachers.