Beginning coaching

This week, I attended a two-day workshop about coaching and leadership, led by Jan Alen of Growth Coaching International. I went into the training knowing very little about coaching and I had no experience of coaching or being coached. I’m very new to this so it’s by no means expert advice. I just want to use my blog as a platform for reviewing the course and reflecting on what I have learnt so far.

What is coaching?

Coaching is a non-judgemental conversation between a coach and coachee whereby the coach uses skilful listening and questioning to facilitate the coachee’s goal-setting and self-directed learning.

“Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.”

John Whitmore, Coaching for Performance

Coaching is often confused with mentoring. Though they share similarities, a coach does not act as a more experienced or more qualified professional. Coaching is not about advising or informing. Rather, it’s about facilitating, clarifying and deepening the coachee’s thinking. It is therefore unnecessary for a coach to hold a more senior position or to be an expert in the coachee’s area of development.

Eight Key Coaching Skills

Growth Coaching International has identified eight skills that are essential for effective coaches:

  1. Developing trust
  2. Being present
  3. Listening actively
  4. Clarifying
  5. Empathising
  6. Being succinct
  7. Asking the best questions
  8. Giving feedback

We were asked to self-reflect on these skills and the exercise was a worthwhile one for me. I came to the conclusions that being trustworthy and empathetic are my strengths. I pride myself on these character traits and I acknowledge the importance of these in coaching conversations and leadership generally. A positive relationship between the coach and coachee is essential. Without trust and confidentiality, the coachee is unlikely to speak openly and honestly about their goals. Though I lack some of the other skills, I feel that they are somewhat teachable and can be developed over time. I feel confident knowing that I hold some of the character traits that are arguably less teachable.

‘Trust is the highest form of human motivation. It brings out the very best in people.”

Stephen Covey

I do acknowledge my weakest areas on this list. Active listening is much more difficult than it sounds! I find this a real challenge (just ask my girlfriend). Especially as an inexperienced coach, I was constantly thinking ahead to the next question or thinking about my own performance. Good coaching requires active listening in order for the coach to understand the coachee’s thoughts, clarify succinctly and respond with the most appropriate questions. A good coach is totally present in the conversation. This, I hope, will come with experience and practise.

The GROWTH model

Growth Coaching International uses the GROWTH model (Campbell, 2016) to guide conversations and questioning.

Goals: What do you need to achieve?

Reality: What is happening now?

Options: What could you do?

Will: What will you do?

Tactics: How and when will you do it?

Habits: How will you sustain your success?

Using this model to guide the conversation, the coachee should leave with an  ‘I SMART’ target (Inspiring, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results driven and Timebound). Growth Coaching International added ‘I’ to the well known SMART acronym because the goal should be motivational and inspiring; something that the coachee wants to achieve. It should come from them as part of their self-directed learning. In coaching, it is believed that ideas, strategies and next steps lie within the coachee. It is the coach’s role to tease these out.

My experience so far

Importantly, large parts of the workshop were dedicated to practising these conversations. Though daunting, these were the parts that built my confidence most. Learning the theory was vital, but effective coaching requires practise and reflection.

I was coached by three different partners over the course of the two days and can honestly say that every conversation was beneficial. Despite the similar inexperience of my partners, I left every conversation with clarity about my goals and steps that I should take to achieve them. What’s more, the ideas came from me. My coaches just unlocked them through their questioning and the way they encouraged me to think deeper. Clarifying one’s own goals and next steps feels very empowering!

Even more surprising were the times when I coached. These were particularly daunting because two of my partners were senior leaders with experience and knowledge way beyond my own. However, it became clear that this did not matter. Again, coaching is not the same as mentoring. As the coach, I was not there to offer experience or guidance. I was facilitating their thinking through my listening and questioning. Just like when I was coached, I felt like my coachees found value in the conversations, even with the limited time that was available.

Over the two days, my confidence grew significantly. Not only do I see huge value in coaching generally, but I came to recognise the value of me being a coach for others. This is something I hope to build on through practise and experience. I want to do justice to the potentially powerful process and offer the maximum benefit to my coachees.

Next steps

  • My school is about to implement a new coaching model for all staff. Throughout this year, I will coach and be coached.
  • Find volunteers within my Year Four team who would like to be coached by me. These conversations would be in addition to our schoolwide coaching model and provide opportunities for me to develop my coaching practice.
  • Carry out my own professional reading in this area. I would like to start with the work of Christian van Nieuwerburgh. If you have any more suggestions, please leave a comment below. Thank you!

Further questions

Like I said, this post is merely a review and reflection of what I have learnt so far. I hope that it helps others, but I probably have more questions than answers at this stage. Hopefully, more experienced/qualified coaches will leave comments with advice and guidance for me. In particular, I’m curious about these questions:

  • If coaching is so reliant on openness, trust and confidentiality, does it work to attach high stakes to these conversations? I’m concerned about schools that use coaching as part of appraisals, contract renewals, etc.
  • Does it take a very specific type of person, or can anyone be an effective coach?
  • What makes a successful coach/coachee partnership?
  • What other coaching models are there and how are they alike/different?
  • How do leaders utilise the power of both coaching and mentoring?

This reflection is just a snapshot of a very busy two days. For more information, visit the Growth Coaching International website.


  1. Hi Adam
    Great post and coaching is amazing isn’t it? I so wish I had received coaching earlier on in my career.
    I think your question about the use of coaching for appraisals etc is a very good one. It is something I raise with school leaders who ask me to coach often. Coaching will only work if the coachee wants to be coached and is open and honest in their response. A person who is told they have to be coached because they are failing may take some time to realise its a good thing. Coaching for me is confidential and I never ever give any information to other parties other than how often we have met and for how long. They can get this from my invoices anyway!
    However coaching is a useful tool for anyone who feels they are stuck or wants to achieve something but is not sure about how on their own. So a coachee identifying a big goal as part of their appraisal process may well be asking for coaching support If in an enlightened school it was available.
    The Personal Academy website run by the Coaching Academy is good. You have to subscribe to it.
    Good luck and enjoy

    1. Hi teachercoach1,

      Thank you for your comment. I totally agree with everything that you have written. Thank you for contributing to this blog post with your experience and expertise. I will definitely check out The Personal Academy. Thank you for the recommendation.



  2. A wonderful insight Adam into coaching, a course I would, myself, have thoroughly enjoyed. I would certainly agree with some of your own thoughts regarding the attributes of a sucesssul coach. I will look further to more posts on this and enjoy discussing these in further detail next time we manage to meet up. A very thought provoking subject.
    Good luck using these new skills too this week & during this year!

    1. Hi Vicky,

      Thanks for your comment. I’ll be seeing you at Christmas so I’ll hopefully have more experience under my belt by then. I look forward to discussing this with you.



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