6 ways to start your coaching journey

In 2019-20, I lead a staff wellbeing research project, which aimed to explore evidence-based approaches to wellbeing in schools. This culminated in the Biscuits at Breaktime blog, an article in Impact, and, unfortunately, some cancelled primary research when COVID hit. My colleague, Rachel, and I read a lot about Self Determination Theory (SDT), a psychological needs model that really spoke to us; through that lens, coaching kept being cited in various studies as a brilliant way to address a teacher’s autonomy, relatedness, and competence.

But, coaching? Isn’t that basically mentoring? Don’t I do that anyway? Those were the questions that sprang to mind; I was one of the uninitiated, swept along in the conflation of mentoring and coaching. And so began my coaching journey, which is still in its infancy.

What has followed is 18 months of simply the best professional development I have had. Becoming a coach, and being coached, has taught me an incredible amount about leadership, myself, and the power of a trusting, coaching relationship. If you are thinking of becoming a coach, please read on and discover my top tips for getting started.

  1. Prepare the ground – reading, asking, watching

Due to all of the fuss in the academic papers that we read, I decided to do some reading of my own. I started with Coaching for Performance, by Sir John Whitmore. This was probably a bit much for a first-time coach in the making. I understood the premise, but the book alone was unable to give me the feeling of being coached (I’ve since delved back into it for many coaching lessons!). I decided to watch some coaching videos on YouTube, keen to observe how both parties interacted, and if the process was as empowering as it claimed – and if it really did ‘unlock potential’ in the coachee.

My interest was piqued, firstly on an intellectual level, and now on an emotional one. I had almost ‘felt’ coaching. At this point, I did two things. Firstly, I coached myself with a list of coaching questions; this undoubtedly helped me work through a few personal and professional challenges, but, of course, it lacked the energy of relationship and trust that I would later find from a coach. My second move was to celebrate wildly once I’d seen that leadership hero, Andy Buck, had released a book about his own model of coaching: BASIC Coaching. I devoured the book quickly, and enrolled onto the online course. I’ll detail that more in tip 3, but ultimately my advice here is to immerse yourself in coaching in a few different ways. Read, watch, question, engage with a variety of coaches, models, and styles.

2. Get a coach

This sounds obvious, but its importance cannot be overestimated. I recommend that everyone has a coach, even if you don’t want to become one yourself. As a trainee coach, though, having a coach has a few benefits. The most obvious is that once you have been a coachee, you can empathise with the position: the trust you have in your coach is paramount, the vulnerability you feel as you think or verbalise previously untapped ideas, or the other different emotions you encounter throughout the process.

Having a coach also helps you to see how it’s done – a model example of how to get the most out of your coachee, but also how to apply those nuanced techniques such as summarising, replaying, etc.

3. Invest in your initial development

The first course I did was Andy Buck’s BASIC Online course, which was informative and engaging. He spoke with passion and clarity, and it complemented the book really well. I had to coach someone and send it in for assessment at the end, too, which meant that I did 4-5 hours of coaching during the course.

After this, I did a coaching course in my Multi Academy Trust, and, having loved that, I signed up to Growth Coaching International’s Accredited Coaching Program. This was in my top 3 professional decisions ever made. GCI are international coaching experts who specialise in coaching for education. The online course, which ran for six months and was lead by Christian van Nieuwerburgh and John Campbell, involved colleagues from Europe, South Africa, the USA, and Australia. We attended live sessions as a large cohort, accessed weekly modules on the online training platform, watched many coaching exemplar videos, kept a reflective journal, and had to discuss coaching matters with our fellow delegates on the online portal. Best of all, though, was how we were split into small groups for a series of weeks; during this time, we coached each other, listened, gave feedback, and became firm friends. We got countless hours both being coached and coaching, in addition to watching other coaches. Finally, at the end of the course, we were given two coaching sessions by one of GCI’s expert coaches – a wonderful way to consider how we would take coaching forward into our careers. My coach was Margaret Barr, who taught me a huge amount about how to combine humility, warmth, challenge, and professionalism as a coach.

I don’t have shares in GCI, but I do advocate significant investment in your development as a coach. Coaching is a layered, intricate practice and it’s easy to fall into bad habits or to forget about some of the nuanced approaches that take a bit of extra work. Your first 6-12 months as a coach is vital, and is worthy of your time and effort.

4. Practise

Again, at the risk of sounding obvious, you need to coach regularly and keep trying things out. Once my GCI course finished, I decided I would offer my services as a coach (with no charge), so that I had regular practice to complement the reading that I carried on doing. At present, I coach two people within my school, and the rest I met on Twitter! They include an Occupational Therapist, and three teachers. I love working with my coachees and feel that I learn more from the sessions than they do!

5. Find a network

After we finished the GCI course, one of the groups who I spent a number of weeks with agreed to keep in touch. In December, we are going to meet via Zoom and discuss our coaching experiences in the autumn term. This is incredibly exciting! A group of learners coming together to reflect, swap stories, and talk about our future coaching journeys.

Within this group, I’ve also begun a reciprocal coaching relationship with one of my colleagues. We zoom once a half term and coach each other during the meeting. This relationship is one of collegiality and trust, and means we can practice together and then offer honest and constructive feedback at the end. There are other ways to engage in professional networks, of course, such as joining an association like the Association for Coaching, or signing up to a group like CollectivEd, who do great work.

6. Keep developing

After nearly two years, and many hours of coaching, I am still a novice. Coaching, despite one of my friends describing it in jest as ‘asking questions without starting with the word ‘why’’, is a complex process and requires dedication and humility to keep focused on how we can improve.

When you work with a coachee, it quickly becomes obvious that the conversation can have a huge impact on their professional choices, and therefore their emotions, wellbeing, productivity, and so much more. The person you are coaching is worthy of as much investment in your continued development as you can muster.

This might take the form of reading, training, practising, and being involved in professional networks. But mostly it involves identifying as someone who is always looking to improve their coaching.

See the coaching section of my Pocket Library to see my favourite coaching books so far!

I will continue to post about coaching as time goes on. I hope this post was a useful introduction into the six steps I took to become a passionate, developing novice coach.

Please ask me any questions or share your coaching journey!

Thanks

Sam

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