Friday, 28 September 2012


Alistair Clarkson and John Longmire - the coaches of the two teams in  tomorrow's A.F.L. Grand Final.

Tomorrow is A.F.L. Grand Final day. Arguably the two most important people in determining the result of this significant national sporting event are the respective coaches of the two teams, who will guide, co-ordinate and lead their teams both in the lead-up to the game, as well as during the game itself.
Yesterday I learnt a bit more about 'coaching', although in a different context. I participated in a workshop on 'Coaching Skills for Managers', run by a professional executive coach. The other participants were a variety of public servants, so the day was not specifically targeted towards education. Despite this, much of the learning I took from the day was very applicable to schools.


There were a couple of significant messages for me about coaching, in the managerial sense:

1. Coaching is about empowering people and helping to 'draw out' their own solutions to issues.

In this sense, it is different to traditional views of teaching (although I think teachers should be looking to adopt such coaching philosophies more and more... ) and even mentoring, which the term coaching is often confused and used interchangeably with. I think the distinction lies with mentoring being more of an advisory role played by the more experienced / knowledgeable other, whereas a coach does not generally provide, or offer solutions, instead preferring to guide and facilitate the colleague to identify their own solutions.

2. When coaching, a trusting, respectful relationship is vital.

A primary skill of coaches is the ability to be a good listener. In his popular book, 'The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People', Steven Covey identifies five 'levels' of listening:

Five levels of listening:
  1. Ignoring
  2. Pretending
  3. Selective
  4. Attentive
  5. Empathetic
A coach needs to be working at the 'high end' of this scale, endeavouring to be 'present' in the conversation and 'listening first to understand... ' If the coach can understand where the speaker is 'coming from', they are better able to guide their colleague to come up with their own solutions to problems / issues.
A further reason for the importance of 'high level' listening and being actively engaged in the conversation, is the notion that the words we say are actually quite insignificant in terms of communicating a message - what is more important is how we deliver the message and the effectiveness of the body language we exhibit during these conversations:

Herman Brain Dominance Instrument [HBTI]

Given the importance of effective communication to the role of a coach, we did some work with the thinking preferences tool, Herman Brain Dominance Instrument.

It was interesting to identify and discuss which 'quadrants' we, as individuals, identified most strongly with, as well as muse about the sections that the people we work with would identify with. From there, we discussed some specific strategies and methods to communicate effectively with people, depending upon their dominant thinking functions. For example, I strongly identified with the 'green', 'blue' and 'yellow' quadrants, but not at all with the 'red', feelings-based section - so please don't dwell on small-talk and friendly conversation when I am in a meeting with you(!!).

Difficult Conversations

The third focus for the day was on how to effectively deal with 'difficult conversations'... We learnt about and practised with some specific processes for carrying out such conversations. The key themes coming out of these processes were the importance of controlling your emotions, focusing on solutions to the issues / problems at hand, as well as working towards these solutions via conversation and discussion.

I don't know if I'll be contending for any premierships in the near future... but I do now feel better about my capacity to effectively coach colleagues in my school.

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