Coaching: A Professional Development Approach for the 21st Century

Innovation; Research
Coaching: A Professional Development Approach for the 21st Century
By John Campbell, Director of Growth Coaching International (GCI)
“Conversation is the fundamental unit of change. If you change the conversation, then there’s every chance you’ll change everything that surrounds it.” 1
Recent years have seen increasing interest in workplace coaching as an important approach to helping people grow and learn. In some ways this interest highlights a process that educators have been using successfully in interactions with staff, parents and students for many years without previously calling it 'coaching'.
It seems though that coaching has come to the fore recently at least in part because it  fits the increasingly complex nature of contemporary schools. Complexity theorists suggest that schools (and indeed all organisations) are dynamic, complex relational systems rather than mechanical 'things' that always work in ordered and logical ways. Various interdependencies exist that are hard to order and control and the outcomes from these various influences are not always predictable.
In this context the way people talk with each other, the questions they explore and the stories they tell have a shaping role in the way the school community moves forward (or backwards). We talk with colleagues, with those we lead, with parents, with students in all sorts of ways in any given week. And we progress issues (or inhibit progress) by the way we lead and respond in these conversational moments. Consequently the broader leadership literature2 is now highlighting the importance of 'the conversation' as a key way in which organisations move forward and leaders lead…
Coaching works as one kind of 'conversation' that seems to be a good fit for this environment. People also find the personalised nature of coaching, the continuity, the accountability and the safe environment built into the way more formal coaching can be implemented as other appealing aspects of coaching as a professional development approach.
What things can be done then to help make both spontaneous and more formal coaching conversations work even better? Consider these tips for making every coaching conversation count as a constructive, professional development interaction…

  • Be intentional – get clear on what a good outcome from the conversation would be. Sometimes you can prepare for this ahead of time and sometimes it is negotiated at the beginning…"What would be a useful place to get to with this topic in the time we have available now?"

  • Stay focused on what’s wanted – spend more time on what the preferred future is in relation to whatever topic is raised rather than focusing too much on the background and how it developed. It is surprising how many people are really clear about and willing to talk about what they don't want. Asking, "And what would you like to have happen in relation to this?" can quickly shift focus towards what's wanted – almost always a more constructive place to invest time and energy.

  • Identify and leverage the available resources. It can be easy to be overly influenced by what can be obvious barriers and difficulties. While not pretending these do not exist it is important to focus attention on what is or has worked so that any available resources can be identified and are deployed in progressing the topic. Identifying any resources can go a long way towards building confidence that movement is possible in even the most challenging situations.

  • Small steps. Small steps are better than big ones – they are easier to do and more likely therefore to get done. They also change the landscape – taking some small actions creates momentum and changes things. Then additional small actions can be taken and so on until the desired outcome is achieved or until an even better one emerges.

Bastow is partnering with a number of organisations to support the development of coaching practice in schools and early childhood settings.
For further information see Bastow's Professional Practice Series.
1. P. Jackson & J. Waldman. (2011) Positively Speaking: The Art of Constructive Conversation with a Solutions Focus. St Albans, UK: The Solutions Focus.
2. M Cavanagh (In press). The Coaching Engagement in the 21st Century: New Paradigms for Complex Times. In Clutterbuck D., Megginson D. and David, S (eds) Beyond Goals: Effective Strategies for Coaching and Mentoring, London: Gower Publishing