Can models, frameworks or tools support us to support others?
It is interesting to reflect on what enables or constrains coaches and mentors (both formal and informal) in our work; and how structures might help to scaffold practice at different stages of our own professional development. This blogpost draws on participants’ ‘chat box’ contributions during a CollectivED Fellows evening webinar held on the 24th September 2020. The conversation allowed us to reflect on how structures and protocols support us when we coach and mentor others.
There are professional competencies that are relevant to our work (such as the ICF core competencies) as well as more approach-specific guidance, such as those associated with GROW models of coaching and versions of it (e.g. GROWTH / TGROW etc), PACE, Solution Focused coaching and Strengths-based coaching. Perhaps unsurprisingly it is often at the start of our development of new practices such as coaching and mentoring that we find protocols and frameworks most helpful, providing a good way to reinforce our confidence. However, there may be a tension or paradox. For example, in coaching we may use frameworks to focus our work and yet too much emphasis on tools can mean we lose the importance of a coaching way of being.
As we become more expert in our work, we can blend knowledge, skills and disciplines into our own unique approach and presence. As such a framework might be viewed as a scaffold that is able to be taken down, piece by piece – rather than as a prop that remains forever in place. Ultimately it is important to be able to develop understanding of the pros and cons of different models and to have the opportunity to put into practice a model we feel most confident with. Some practitioners co-construct their own competencies for mentoring and coaching appropriate to their contexts and settings with success criteria. These typically draw on the models and competencies produced by other organisation but also help develop ownership. There is value individually or collectively exploring the theoretical underpinnings of approaches as they can help to develop our understanding to inform our decisions in practice. Over time this allows us to become more eclectic and use a repertoire of different skills as appropriate.
The common feature of the work of coaches and mentors is that they have relationships as their foundation. The CollectivED Fellows recognised this during the discussion and as such their focus became the coachee, mentee or teachers that they were supporting. They reframed our trigger question about what they found useful to the essential one of ‘How are we using models, frameworks and tools in the service of our coaching and mentoring participants?’. For example, there was a strong case made for the fact that the focus of a coach’s work was their coachee not the framework, as meeting the coachee’s needs is key. They recognised that sometimes using a model too strictly can be interpreted as inauthentic and that this can slow down building the essential trusting relationship that supports coach and coachee.
One way of maintaining the focus on the coachee or mentee that the Fellows explored was the use of imagery as a tool, particularly in their work to support wellbeing. We can use imagery and metaphor (including emojis) to help convey complex ideas or emotions. This is why imagery is often used in supervision. The creative use of writing (rather than just talking) was also considered, as a tool to promote depth of understanding. These ideas are intertwined with the potential of storytelling to empower reflection and decision making.
Common to successful coaching and mentoring is the desire to give undivided 'time' to working together. It is self-evident that no two coachees (for example) are the same. Some seem to really appreciate having a clear structure to the conversations and tools can help give this clarity. Other coachees seem to benefit from more free-form conversation. Motivations for engaging in professional coaching and mentoring do vary, sometimes there is an obligation to participate (for example in initial teacher education), but often the choice to seek a coach in individual and discretionary. Some coaches work to promote the coachee as the expert, empowering their thinking and ownership of the process. Others seek to enable a safe space for the coachee, perhaps using meditation, visualisation and embodiment to generate a feeling state. There is nuance in our work, but it relies on our commitment to building expertise.
Thanks to the following CollectivED Fellows and members of the Advisory Board for contributing to our discussion; Charis Hart, Fleur Hoole, Brendan Marshall, Rae Snape, Rose Blackman-Hegan, Cath Proffitt, Gary Handforth, Lizana Oberholzer, Trista Hollweck, Claire Cuthbert, Victoria Wasner, Jasen Booton, Julia Skinner, Daniel Duke, Victoria Carr, Natasha Armitage-Evans, Paula Ayliffe, Naomi Ward, Rachel BostwickAll of our CollectivED Fellows engage as reflective practitioners; and in their own contexts and with their specific skills are part of an essential ecology of support for others in the education landscape. You can find out more about our Fellows through the twitter hashtag #CollectivEdFellows or by following @CollectivEDFel1. We will work to support the Fellowship community to sustain positive impacts on the lives of educators and outcomes for learners and we will invite Fellows to be proactive in developing approaches to this.
Rachel Lofthouse is Professor of Teacher Education in the Carnegie School of Education. She has a specific research interest in professional learning, exploring how teachers learn and how they can be supported to put that learning into practice.