The ICF describes the skill of Powerful Questioning as the ability to ask questions that reveal the information needed for maximum benefit to the coaching relationship and the student.
This is what the teacher needs to pay attention to when coaching
Indications of a coaching conversation
Listening to a professional coach you will hear them ask a large number of questions. Indeed this is one indication that the conversation you are listening to has coaching intentions.
So where do all these coaching questions come from, and how will you think of the right questions to ask during the coaching session when you are the coach?
My skill in asking powerful questions is one that has developed over time, and has had several distinct phases. Initially I asked open-ended questions, ones that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. I made note of which open questions had a strong beneficial effect on my clients. The next phase saw me using with new clients the kind of open-ended questions that were powerful for previous clients. The last phase saw me move towards focusing on questions that are powerful for the client that I had in front of me.
So let's start there!
The aim of asking powerful questions is to reveal the information that is needed to get maximum benefit for the coaching relationship and the client. Basically that means being honest about what is going on. Immediately, without judgement, ask the question. Such as...
"How strongly will your attitude affect your chances of ... reaching your goal?"
You be aiming to evoke discovery, insight, commitment or action, so it's important to keep your own attitudes and opinions out of the tone of the question.
Often powerful questions will challenge the client's assumptions about what is happening, and you will do well to show respect for their view of the world; at the same time as you are questioning it.
Open vs Closed Questions
The reason coaches ask open-ended questions is that open questions create greater clarity, open up possibilities or new learning. Closed questions that can only be answered with yes, or no have the effect of snding the conversation.
Mostly you will ask questions that move the client towards what they desire, rather than questions that ask them to justify themselves or look backwards at past actions.
Early in the coaching relationship and if the difference between the coach and teacher roles is not made clear, students may well expect the coach to be looking for the "right" answer to their question. They may also expect the coach to have the answers as well as questions, and to give the answers when the student cannot answer for themselves. In that case you need to make your expectations as coach clearer to the student.
Powerful questions and the client's response
For me the only way to learn which open-ended questions worked as powerful questions was to take note of the clients' response. When the client was lost in thought, changed body language significantly, or reported after the coaching which questions had had the biggest effect.
The effect of powerful questions on the coach
When I saw that the client seemed to have been "hit by a bomb" by one of my questions, made a breakthrough in what was vitally important to them, dramatically changed the way they thought etc I felt hugely powerful, deeply rewarded and humbled.
There are many situations in school where a coaching approach can be used in the conversation. In these situations you might be seeking to change or correct the student's behaviour.
It is important to note that there are always several agendas (sets of goals). The student in question, their parents, their friendship group, the class, the teacher are a few of the people that have agendas
A step by step coaching approach that could be used
1 Make the agendas clear
2 Ask for mutual respect
3 Seek a new balance
4 Find new behaviour to support the new balance
5 Find resources
Making the agendas clear
How, you might ask, can you make the different agendas clear when there are just two people in the conversation, you the coach and the student
What's the student's agenda? Ask!
What's the class agenda? Guess!
What's the teacher agenda? If it's you, tell, or ask the other teacher
Challenging the student's behaviour
It's always better to allow students a couple fo chances to come up with their own new behaviours. A lot depends on the student's maturity, acceptance of responsibility and willingness to change their own behaviour
We see that you have this behaviour....
What benefits do you get out of that behaviour?
There are side effects on me, the teacher, the class ... the effects are ... and we don't want to have them
How can you get your benefits with less side effects?
The source of powerful questions
Recalling the questions at the start of this section "Where do all these questions come from, and how will you think of the right questions to ask during the coaching session when you are the coach?" What answer can I give?
The clue to where the quesions come from lies in your thinking; or rather not thinking.
"Listen with an open mind, and allowing the questions to form in your belly", sounds like mumbo jumbo until you have experienced it happening; and seen the effect the questions have on your client. It's hard to formulate a better description of how the question pops out of my mouth, having been only an instinctive buzz in my stomach. The question doesn't have time to go up to my head and be formulated, it just pops out. Well, that's how I want to describe it for now.
1 How do you know what the student is really talking about? What clues are there?
(It's in discrepancies between their words, tone of voice, body language, gestures ect)
2 How can you use what you hear so that it supports the student in their coaching process? What are the techniques that you can use?
Here is how the ICF defines Active Listening, adapted for teachers coaching students.
What would a coach be worth if they didn't listen? Listening is a coaching skill that can be forever developed to higher and ever higher levels.
Listening is good. What's better than just listening? It's called active listening and it is the ability to focus completely on what the student is saying, and is not saying. It is also the ability to understand the meaning of what is said in the context of the student’s desires. This is often called third level listening, and there are further levels.
Using what you hear to support the student's self-expression will be of great service to them. Further, when you support the student's self-expression you will see them grow, become more mature, more responsible for who they are and what they are doing in the world.
As coach, you simply act as a mirror - except it's not light you are reflecting, it's another form of energy. The greatest service you can provide your student is to be as neutral as possible in your reflection. And it's hugely enjoyable. One of the curious aspects of coaching is that when it is done right, it is wonderfully rearding. Most teachers that I have spoken with agree that seeing students grow up is one of the greatest rewards for all their teaching efforts. With coaching these moments come more often, and more powerfully.
Here's the situation I want you to have in mind
Imagine that you are in the middle of a coaching session, somewhere the middle of the planned time with this student.
You hear, in the student's tone of voice, and read from their body language some indications of what the student is really talking about, their concerns, goals, values and beliefs about what is possible and what is not possible. It would not be easy to point out the actual details of how you know this, the impression came to you intuitively. And you choose to rely on your intuition and follow through using one of several techniques.
As coach the aim is to be a mirror for what the student is saying, so you can use any of the following techniques to reflect back to them about their goals, values and beliefs.
A) You can summarize, simply say what you heard in brief
B) You can paraphrase, say what's been said in slightly different words - without changing the meaning, or interpreting what's been said
C) You can reiterate, say exactly what the student said
The aim of this mirroring of what the student has said is to ensure clarity and understanding; their clarity and understanding, not yours.
The issue of Agendas
It is essential that early in the coaching, you identify and then keep to the student's agenda. When you actively listen you will hear what the student is really talking about. You will hear their concerns, goals, values and beliefs. This is the student's agenda and is the only one you shall work with when you are a coach.
Developing your skill in holding the student's agenda in focus is a challenge. This is a skill that will greatly increase the value of the coaching for the student. To this end I recommend that you, as coach, have a coach!
An easy way to do develop your skills is for three teachers to coach each other. You can avoid possible confidentiality conflicts through the use of written agreements and adhering to the Coaching Code of Ethics!
Not all the active listening skills belong to the coach, some belong to the student.
Some students will try to avoid being coached by telling stories. A skill that you can teach the student is to ask them to give the bottom line of any story they may want to tell you. It's rarely necessary for you as coach to hear, or understand the whole story, a bottom line version is enough to establish sufficient background. Explain that you don't need to hear the whole story and then say "Imagine that you have already told me everything you want to say... what comes next?"
Another skill that's useful is getting the student to vent or clear what they are bottling up. Use it when the student is bottled up or overflowing with emotions and needs to become a little emptier in order to get to a place where they can do something about it. Ask "What do you need to say in order to be ready for coaching?"
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