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Coaching Boundaries

By March 23, 2015Uncategorized


Coaching has become an integral part of the professional development of teachers and non-teachers in many schools. In many cases it involves the coming together of pairs trios or other small groupings, using a framework for coaching conversations. Research suggests that these sorts of professional dialogues happen best when people involved are clear about the expectations and the boundaries of the discussions. Coaching principles can be a very positive starting point for discussing and agreeing the way that this form of CPD happens. Here are the nine principles of coaching according to Thomas W. and Smith A (2010, Coaching Solutions Second Edition). Of course there are other sets of principles and you may wish to develop your own. Click here to view available helpful books.

Girl Writing In Note BookThe nine essential principles of coaching that will help you ensure your coaching work has maximum impact in your school

In order for any coaching work to thrive, it is vital that you create a climate that encourages and supports risk-taking. People will derive most benefit from coaching in an environment where it is safe to disclose information and share ideas that may never have been discussed before. To enable that trust to be built, I have developed the following nine principles of coaching excellence:

1. Be non-judgmental and non-critical.

The aim here is to encourage an unconditional positive regard for the person being coached, and to remind coaches to be be mindful of their own subjective judgements. Within this principle, ‘non-judgemental’ refers to thoughts you may have as a coach and ‘non-critical’ how you communicate those thoughts through verbal and non-verbal means.

2. Build rapport and respect another person’s model of the world.

This principle draws from Alfred Korzybski’s concept of the map not being the ‘territory’ and is vital when working with people of diverse experiences, cultures and backgrounds. Only by respecting difference can we engender the trust and rapport needed for people to freely explore their thoughts and feelings. Rapport can be built through high quality listening, repeating the words and sentiments of others and clarifying the issues coachees want to discuss. It’s important to emphasize here that respecting is not the same as agreeing with. You don’t have to agree with another person’s views, but respecting them allows differences to be discussed more readily, and alternatives considered. In this sense the respect considered here links closely with being non-judgmental.

3. Believe that people can find their next steps.
This principle is important because it challenges any notion that the coach knows best, thereby empowering coachees. An early challenge here is for coaches to switch off their internal problem-solving instinct. Having a belief that people can find their own next steps provides a check against the ‘Good Samaritan’ syndrome, whereby coaches try to rescue other people, leaving the coachee feeling helpless and dependent.

4. Build and maintain agreements about how to work together.

In order to build the trust needed to work together with your coachee it is vital to set the boundaries of your coaching conversations. These boundaries will also help provide a point of reference to restore trust if one party breaks the code, or if unexpected events occur and boundaries need to be redefined.

5. Be positive and believe that there are always solutions to issues.

If, as a coach, you doubt that a solution can be found, this is often communicated to the coachee – usually in subtle, subconscious ways. If you struggle in this area you may need to work on your own self-talk, using techniques to turn negative internal dialogue into empowering words.

6. Enable others to access resourceful states through strength recognition.
It is important that as coaches we build people’s awareness of, and connection with, their strengths because this will build their capacity to make positive changes. Much of the dialogue during coaching centres on questioning people to enable them to tap into memories of previous success, lifting them into a more resourceful emotional state.

7. Challenge individuals to move beyond their comfort zone.

People can sometimes become locked into habitual patterns of thought or behaviour that result in repeated difficulties. One of your key roles as a coach is to encourage people to think and act differently through the use of open-style questions that stimulate new thought patterns. This can take courage, because you are aiming to be deliberately provocative in order to create thinking breakthroughs with the coachee. This sort of challenge must only be offered in the context of having already established a positive rapport with the person you’re working with.

8. Break down big goals into manageable steps.

People often complicate situations and processes, so one of the important roles of coaches is to help coachees break down the complexity surrounding their situation by asking questions that require specific thinking and help create steps towards progress. They include questions such as ‘What specifically will you do next?’, ‘When will you do it exactly?’, ‘What will you do next?’, ‘Then what?’, and ‘And finally?’. 

9. Act to increase choice and balance.
A vital principle of coaching is that coachees should be equipped with more choices about what to do next. This can empower people who feel they have no choices, or only one choice, about the next step. It can also enable people to make choices that are congruent with their own moral code, allowing them to move forward in a balanced way, with a strong sense of purposefulness. As a coach you should try to support others to act with authenticity, and this may require various options to be considered before the most appropriate way forward is identified. More than ever before in teaching, considering the impact of decisions and working practices on well-being and the health of teachers is very important. This principle serves as a check on the personal impact of approaches to work, and workload.