How to make the best choice…for you!

Everyone has times when they have two (or more) alternatives to choose from and are not sure how to make a choice that they feel they won’t regret later on. They may have already made a pros and cons list for each and tried to make a comparison, but still feel it isn’t clear which choice is likely to be best for them.

Two coaching wheels

Coaching can be a great way to work through this situation. When a person asks me to work through it with them, one tool I use is the coaching wheel as it helps chunk the options and prioritise them. However, instead of using one version of the coaching wheel, we’ll use two, with each wheel representing an option.

I work with the coachee to identify the key factors for them that would span both options, and these would be listed, then written into both wheels. The next step is to, for both options (i.e. both of the wheels), revisit all of the factors and mark them, on a scale of 1 to 10, how well they are represented in each option (Southern Institute of Technology (a), n.d.). As a final step the factors are evaluated and a colour used to represent any that the coachee identifies as ‘non-negotiable’. Those that the coachee doesn’t see as non-negotiable can then be framed at a level the coachee wouldn’t negotiate below.

Tui: The two job offer dilemma

Usually, it becomes really clear, based on the coachee’s values and beliefs, which of the options makes the most sense for them. Take for example, a coachee, Tui, who has been making really strong progress toward her goals, and has applied for and been offered two jobs. Both roles seem like dream jobs and appear to offer great opportunities for career progression. Tui is anxious to make the ‘best’ decision. Which to choose?

The first step I take to support Tui is to ask her to visualise what her ideal job and role look and feel like. After a moment or two I then ask her to state the most important factors for her. Tui pauses to think, and then identifies: professional development, collaborative workplace, autonomy, opportunities for progression, opportunities to assume management responsibilities, close to home or near public transport, has a cafeteria that has healthy eating options, and has a gym on the premises or nearby. I am taking notes while the Tui is talking so that she can focus on her thoughts rather than on writing them down. The notes are useful in the next step where I ask her to double check the list of criteria. She confirms that  it looks complete and these are the criteria she wants to use.

Using two blank coaching wheels I invite Tui to add in the criteria, and to place each section on the 1 to 10 scale. After she has completed that step, I then ask Tui how important the criteria are to her, and if there are any on which she might compromise. Having chosen ‘opportunities to assume management responsibilities, opportunities for progression, and a gym on the premises or nearby’ as her non-negotiables, she then colours these sections green. ‘Professional development, collaborative workplace, and autonomy’ she identifies are open for some negotiation and she colours these orange. The remaining ones she colours blue.

It is immediately clear to Tui and I, just by looking at the prevalence of green on one of the wheels, that this job is the job that will be the better fit according to Tui’s criteria. Tui is both relieved and delighted. She reveals that she had a gut feeling about the job that came out on top, and is pleased that she can make an informed decision that reflects her priorities. The job, she feels will stretch her, but she has the peace of mind that it will be in a way that will develop her strengths and move her in the direction she wants to go – and she is likely to get a bit fitter!

Other uses

There is the option where there are more than two choices more than two wheels can be used, but this can become a bit cumbersome. Also, the approach with two or three wheels can be used when coaching a group. For instance, where a team have to decide between two or more ways forward, and feel as though they are talking in circles. The wheels can be a great way to focus discussions about team values and beliefs. They can also help to ‘depersonalise’ some of the priorities through the use of the visual representation, which clearly illustrates, in one place, the overall team’s criteria.

The main benefit

While it isn’t a watertight approach, using two coaching wheels as a tool to make comparisons does help ensure that the coachee is empowered to make a decision based on their strengths, values, and beliefs. This means that whichever one they choose is likely to be the ‘best’…for them.




Russian Matryoshka. CC ( BY ND NC ) licensed Flickr image by Dennis Jarvis:

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A brief introduction to cognitive computing

Information is unstructured, especially when it is en masse (think, for instance, the Internet). The amount of available content is doubling every 5 years, and we just don’t have the time or the cognitive capacity to keep up with everything.

People have amazing ideas, but the computational abilities are often not ready. “At the core we are trying to leverage knowledge the way humans record and communicate in natural human language in a a particular text” (video below), to the point where there is a natural interaction between humans and computers”. Ideally, cognitive computing systems expand the boundaries of human cognition and get smarter with use, providing complex information processing systems, able to acquire information, collate and act on it, and transmit it as knowledge.

For example, healthcare. In healthcare cognitive computing can become a “support tool to expand the physicians cognitive boundaries by giving them deeper access to much larger volumes of [selected, filtered, organised] information” (video below). In other words, we are leveraging the computer’s ability to keep up with huge volumes of data. Using semantic analysis to recognise patterns the computer is able to understand the knowledge contained within the data, so that it can be applied to the problem that the physician is trying to solve, and give different alternatives, while also providing evidence that supports those alternatives (evidence exploration). The key here is that we are “adapting the computer technology to work better with the way humans want to work so it’s a more natural relationship between the human and computer” (video below).

A useful visual introduction cognitive computing, the video (2 mins 6 secs) below, Eric Brown (IBM Research) provides a brief overview referring in particular to Watson. For a much deeper overview, have a read of What is cognitive computing ? IBM Watson as an example.

Image: Simplified diagram of Spaun, a 2.5-million-neuron computational model of the brain. Public domain licensed Wikimedia Commons image by Chris Eliasmith:

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A dreamer, a realist or a critic?

I sometimes work with coachees who will come up with a strategy, and then immediately add the tag “that won’t work because…”. This focus tends to result in some great ideas and strategies never getting off the ground as a result.

The Disney Strategy was developed by the Neuro Linguistic Programme (NLP) practitioner, Robert Dilts. Dilts based the strategy on the approach Walt Disney used with his creative teams to support them to develop ideas. The underpinning concept is that, even if a person has a way of thinking that they find most comfortable, any person can consider something from three different perspectives and switch between them. The approach can be used with individuals, or with small and large groups.

The reason the Disney Strategy works so well in situations where the person is their own worst critic of their ideas is because of the three separate modes: Dreamer, realist, and critic. The strategy, even when coachees are initially sceptical, is effective in part because it also acknowledges a coachee’s perceived barriers – but not until they have explored their initial ideas.

The Dreamer mode is where I encourage all the coachee’s new ideas – the focus here is purely on (positive) creative suggestions and on invention. The sky’s the limit! Barriers and issues have no place here because they are acknowledged in the next two modes.

In the Realist mode I encourage my coachee to consider how to make their ideas work in practice. This is the mode where ideas become detailed plans (with milestones and timelines) that are likely to work in the coachee’s context because it integrates complexities.

The final mode, the Critic gives space for the coachee to look for flaws in their ideas and to identify what might go wrong. This mode helps ensure that the coachee ‘audits’ their idea, registers risks, and considers mitigations; it is a way of keeping the best of an idea – maybe using it as a springboard for a second idea – at which point the coachee and I would work through all 3 modes again. Alternatively, possible big picture fixes could be taken back the the dreamer mode and other two modes again if an idea still holds merit but has some apparent issues.

I carefully facilitate each mode, clearly defining the associated ‘rules’ and describing the modes. Shifts from mode to mode can also be signalled by different coloured items of clothing if the approach feels comfortable.

In brief the Disney Strategy provides time and opportunities for an idea mature and develop because:

  • My coachee can generate a range of ideas quickly, and cannot immediately jump on what they see as flaws, concerns or risks.
  • Idea / brainstorming spaces can be shared in advance of a coaching session to start the coachee’s creative energies flowing.
  • Using communication links between the dreamer and realist, and then the realist to critic, avoids the critic directly making comment about an idea in the early stages, thereby keeping the energy level high and positive during the dreamer mode.
  • The approach can break habits of constantly scanning for, and criticising, flaws in a suggestion, which can clear the ‘log-jam’ and allow ideas to flow more freely (i.e. less “that won’t work here because…”.
  • By working through one mode at a time, the dialogue remains focussed and is not undermined by the possible distractions caused by the other modes.
  • Ideas that have gone through the Disney Strategy are likely to be way more robust.


Message stones. CC ( BY ND ) licensed Flickr image by: Roselyn Rosesline –

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What do you need for great goals?

Woman climbing through a windowCoaching has a wide range of definitions and approaches. One of the most prevalent understandings is that coaching comprises “a collaborative relationship formed between a coach and the coachee for the purpose of attaining professional or personal development outcomes which are valued by the coachee” (Spence & Grant, 2007, p. 185). Couched within this understanding is the importance of goal-focused activity with a clearly defined outcome. A person embarks on a coaching relationship because they are working through a challenge, or a goal that they want to attain, and they are looking for support to develop effective strategies and solutions (Grant, 2013). As such, a big part of development is setting effective goals that will enable a person to plan and identify clear directions to achieve their desired change.

Beyond the practical aspects of goal-setting, research indicates that setting and evaluating your own goals play a large part in sustained motivation and ongoing action, even in the face of emerging issues (Bandura, 1998). The process of associating attainment of stated (valued) goals with self-satisfaction has a direct influence on “how much effort [a coachee]… expend[s]; how long they persevere in the face of difficulties; and their resilience to failures … [and these contribute]  to performance accomplishments” (Bandura, 1998, p. 75).

There are several characteristics to effective goals … and some common mistakes. I’m now going to briefly discuss a few of them.

Challenging but attainable

Goals need to stretch you, but still be attainable .. within your stated timeframe. So, if you have never run a step in your life and are not in the best of shape, it is unlikely, for example, that you will attain a goal of winning a marathon in a month’s time. However, if you decide you would like to run a marathon in say, 4 hours, in a year’s time, and put together a training plan with milestone goals along the way, then you are likely to achieve it. So, a long-term goal, with incremental steps (and celebrations) along the way, and with enough challenge to keep you interested, is the way to go.

Specific and within a timeframe

A mistake that is often made is to identify a goal that says we will try harder, do more of something, or improve a skill. However – how will you know you are making progress, or have achieved what you have set out to without some ‘measure’ that will enable you to evaluate how you are doing. You goals should be as tangible as possible, and specify how many, of what, and by when. Using the example above about the marathon, if, as a sub goal you decide to run the Auckland 10km race in April in under 1 and a half hours, it would be easy to know if you have or have not achieved the goal. It’s not always easy to set such specific goals, but the more specific you can be the greater your sense of progress will be.


Sometimes it’s tempting to identify what we don’t want – things (emotions, behaviours, contexts) we’d like to avoid – rather than looking at what we do want. It is, though, way easier to actively set out to do or achieve something than it is to try to avoid doing it. Again, taking the example of the marathon, compare ‘I will stop eating biscuits until after I have run the marathon’, with ‘Up to when I run the marathon I will eat at least one salad a day, except for Monday which is my day off when I will eat 1 biscuit’.

Other things to include in effective goals

As well as the three key areas discussed above, it is good to also keep in mind the following characteristics of effective goal setting so that you include:

  • clear direction to attain your desired change,
  • clarity of priorities (which will inform your ongoing decision making),
  • identification of resources available to you (including people),
  • clearly stated tasks and activities that align directly with specific aspects of your goal(s), and
  • specific links to your performance and personal development

(Southern Institute of Technology, n.d., n.p.)

Even if you set effective goals, sometimes you’ll feel as though you aren’t making progress or that other things are derailing your efforts. At times like these it is good to talk with your coach to work through responses that will help you stick with your long-term goals, while maintaining your motivation – and sanity!

Terry Pratchett in his novel The Wee Free Men sums up the importance of goals as opposed to dreams as follows: “If you trust in yourself. . .and believe in your dreams. . .and follow your star. . . you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things …” (Pratchett, 2004, p. 21). Dreams can be incredibly motivating. However, you need to sit down and work out how to turn them into them reality, and setting effective goals is part of that process.


Back in time. CC ( BY ND  ) licensed Flickr image by Hartwig HKD:


  • Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press. (Reprinted in H. Friedman [Ed.], Encyclopedia of mental health. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998).
  • Burdett, J. (2005). The listening paradox. Organizational Performance Review, 7-9.
  • Castleberry, S., & Shepherd, C. D. (1993). Effective Interpersonal Listening and Personal Selling. Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management, XIII(1), 35-49.
  • Grant, A. (2013). The Efficacy of Mentoring – the Benefits for Mentees, Mentors,  and Organizations. In Jonathan Passmore, David B. Peterson, and Teresa Freire (Eds). The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of the Psychology of Coaching and Mentoring Series: Wiley-Blackwell Handbooks in Organizational Psychology. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 16 – 34.
  • International Coaching Federation. (n.d.). ICF Core Competencies. Retrieved from
  • Pickering, M. (1986, Fall). Communication. Explorations, A Journal of Research of the University of Maine, 3(1). pp. 16-19.
  • Rogers, C R., & Farson, R.E. (1987). Active listening. In Communication in Business Today. Eds. R. G. Newman, M. A. Danziger, & M. Cohen. Washington C.C.: Heath and Company
  • Rothwell, J. D. (2010). In the company of others: An introduction to communication. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Salem, R. (2003). Empathic Listening. In Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Retrieved
  • Southern Institute of Technology. (n.d.) Transformational Coaching and its outcomes (Module A) [Lecture notes]. Retrieved from CBC105 (NET).
  • Spence, G.B., & Grant, A. (2007) Professional and peer life coaching and the enhancement of goal striving and well-being: An exploratory study. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 2, 185–94.
  • Whitworth, L, Kimsey-House, K, Kimsey-House, H, & Sandahl, P. (2007). Co-active coaching: New skills for coaching people toward success in work and life. Palo Alto,California: Davies-Black Publishing.
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Blended Learning reviewed in New Zealand

Blender partsImage by groovysuvi via FlickrAn article recently published in the Computers in New Zealand Schools Journal, gave the details of a study that examined a teacher’s first implementation of online learning in a Learning Management System (LMS). The programme of learning was Home Economics, and the students and teacher are based in a New Zealand high school. The article, entitled The first blended or hybrid online course in a New Zealand Secondary School: A case study, lists some of the benefits of using a blended approach, including the development of ICT confidence and skills, enhanced interactions, and the fostering of independent learning with increased self management and higher order thinking skills.

Nigel Bailey, who is trialling a blended learning approach with his Geography students at Chanel College, and made the following observations:

“From my experience so far, and the results of the questionnaire that I put out to the students, I would agree with much of what they say in this article but there are a few areas that I feel I have worked through and am possibly in front of where this study has got to.

The need to scaffold the course varies by level (ie Level 1, 2 or 3) and also by the IT competence of the students. I have been amazed by the lack of working knowledge of some of the Office packages that some of the students exhibit so this re-inforces the statement in the article about us assuming that students are digital natives (a phrase that Prensky himself has now moved away from apparently!).

Screen grab - video 'Home'Image by hazelowendmc via Flickr

I have found that students are working at their own pace and own level and the course so far has been a great leveller especially for the less able or less confident students. Online questioning has been invaluable for some of these students. The ability to upload their work, have it ‘e-marked’ and returned quickly has also been a plus. I have found that I am marking far more work and in far more depth now than I have for years. This is partly due to the increased amount of work the students are producing and also partly due to the fact that I can read what they have written and have space to add a valid comment at the appropriate place in the text, which in the past there wasn’t room for.

  •  I agree with the positive outcomes stated and have my own evidence to support this from my students
  • The challenges faced are also very well stated.
  • Strategies suggested are also good for the growth of e-learning
  • The statement about schools having a professional responsibility to expose students to e-learning really rings true. Morally we also have this obligation as educators.
  • Students may be familiar with the ICT but they still need guidance in how to use it effectively and this is best achieved in a blended rather than fully OTL environment
  • I found it interesting that they were proposing the more practical subjects were best suited to blended learning; what is wrong with more academic subjects going down this route?
  • My results also back up the flexibility comments, but the amount of flexibility/freedom also concerned some of my students
  • Greater resource options is definitely true but again care is needed to ensure validity”
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The Learning Powered School

21st Century educationImage by wlibrary via FlickrGuy Claxton today facilitated a webinar entitled The Learning Powered School. One of the first things he started by asking was why is it that the 19th century approach to learning and teaching is so ‘sticky’. He suggested that few people disagreed that education in some way needs to change, and proposed a vision that suggested 21st century education needs to help you people to learn to be open-minded and inquisitive, while also discovering their passions. They should also be encouraged to make and repair friendships, enjoy seeing different sides of a subject, and be unafraid of uncertainty. So, as far as the latter point is concerned this would involve the design of a curriculum that offers, regularly, experiences that are increasingly uncertain.

Guy cautioned against using the academic jargon often used in the writing of vision statements, which are as a result impenetrable and inaccessible to a large proportion of, for instance, government ministers. Values, he also feels should be relevant to life in general, not just for a test. Fancy language gets in the way of being taken seriously!

One of the key points Guy discussed was what does it take to so a 21st century education properly? He advised that eight core principles have been distilled from research:

  1. Broadening the core aims of education
  2. A vision that offers success for all
  3. A strong rationale
  4. Precise and accessible language
  5. Progressive change to school culture
  6. Focusing on teachers and teaching
  7. Honest self-appraisal
  8. Committed leadership

Leadership he advises will really make or break shifts in practice, along with clear, visible endorsement by leaders that reinforces objectives. The traditional education agenda, he argues, will not be changed without strong leadership.

Having an ‘and’ mentality is essential. People who are looking at assessment scores can also be looking at key competencies, but it is reliant on having a complementary set of ways of tracking the key competencies. The government is not stopping us changing by the focus on assessment.

The way in which education needs to change is on a whole lot of different levels. Where the issues are now are in helping and supporting, primarily teachers, but also students, teachers, and members of the wider community how change is going to happen and what it will look like. Where the world is now is moving from “vision to precision”, and it requires clarity around, for instance, the role of parents in their child’s learning experience. Clarity will help address misunderstandings and ‘fogginess’.

While I agree with much of what Guy says (in particular the ‘and’ instead of the ‘one or another’ focus), I did feel that there wasn’t really ‘anything new’ – there was no different strategy  to drive change,  although there was re-affirmation of some sound steps to take. From a slightly more nit-picky point of view, when did curiosity, risk-taking, building relationships, and being comfortable with uncertainty become 21st century attributes??? I’m coming to the conclusion that the whole focus on a 21st century learner is misleading – rather we need to focus on the process human development and the context and circumstances in which that happens most effectively. Although, I guess, much of the problem is the mammoth that is many education systems – and how to enable change in a environment that is often positively glacial.

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Why does Sara feel sick every Monday morning? Coping with dyslexia.

Do you know anyone who fits the following profile (taken from Danella Smallridge‘s Wiki)

  • Sara has undiagnosed dyslexia.
  • She is good at maths and art.
  • She constantly struggles with reading and spelling.
  • She had reading recovery at 6 years old and made some progress.
  • Every year since then, her literacy achievement has been slipping.
  • Her teacher thinks she is lazy and needs to “try harder.”
  • Last year her teacher thought she was just naughty.
  • Sara thinks she is dumb.
  • Her biggest disability is her low self-esteem.
  • She tries to hide her difficulties from her friends.
  • She would rather people thought she was lazy or naughty– rather than dumb.  (Source)

Danella goes on to say “The really complicated thing about dyslexia is – no two students will have exactly the same symptoms. Each dyslexic student will have their own unique blend of difficulties” (Source).

If you feel any of your students, friends or family might be dyslexic you are likely to find some useful information and sources of support in the resources Danella has compiled. On her Wiki she has advice around diagnosis, as well as classroom tips. For a way more extensive review of dyslexia and the way schools can meet the needs of dyslexic learners you can access a study that Danella researched and wrote up: Delving into Dyslexia (.pdf). An extract from the executive summary is quoted below:

The current cognitive and motor study conducted in conjunction with the Action, Brain & Cognition lab at Otago University, has found a consistent and significant difference in reactions times for dyslexic learners on a simple visual-motor response task. This adds weight to the New Zealand Ministry Literature Review on Dyslexia (2007) which states that dyslexia is more complex than merely a simple phonological deficit. Based on my learning from current research and the study of specialist interventions, help for dyslexic students must consider: early diagnosis and intervention; general classroom accommodations; specialist 1:1 teaching in literacy & underlying cognitive weaknesses; developing self-esteem through strengths; fine tuning classroom literacy teaching; using multiple memory hooks; addressing any sensory and motor difficulties; teaching social skills; and enhancing metacognition. Davis Dyslexia and SPELD NZ are both recognized providers of specialist teaching interventions for dyslexic learners. This study examines each in detail, and comments on observed strengths and weaknesses.”  (Smallridge, 2008, p.1)

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Access to the Internet appears to be one of the key sticking points

Access to the Internet appears to be one of the key sticking points for those students who are based in the lowest socio-economic communities. While this factor seems to be pretty logical, maybe it is less obvious that low decile schools and/or small rural schools would also struggle to access affordable high-speed Internet. Rachel Roberts comments “I know there are lots of issues around equity and access for RBI though I had never considered decile rating to be part of the digital divide …”, and shares Cost bar keeps fibre dream out of classrooms(written by Kirsty Johnston).

A couple of highlights from Kirsty’s post include:

Schools in underprivileged areas are struggling to benefit from the Government’s ultra-fast broadband scheme, with high prices and unfair distribution creating a rich and poor “digital divide”, Labour says.

Figures show the scheme remains behind schedule, with 176 schools connected to the fibre but only eight actually using the high-speed internet

Figures show there was a relatively even split between schools in rich and poor areas getting high-speed internet access. For example, there were about 45 decile one schools in the rollout so far, and 58 decile 10 schools. Wall said decile 1-3 schools should have been a priority. “Strategically, they are depriving children who live in communities like mine. The parents of my kids are more worried about putting bread and butter on the table than having internet.” (source)

So – what’s the solution? What have your experiences been? Ideas or solutions?

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Schools are technophobes? Your thoughts…

I took a couple of sharp intakes of breath while reading this article (Schools are failing our children simply because they are technophobes, by Allister Heath, that was shared by Mike Preece).

I certainly agreed with some of the broad statements (“universities…still mostly requir[e] students to study full time on location and pay increasingly unaffordable fees for the privilege of listening to often mediocre lectures”), as well as with the overall message that education, is in many cases, not meeting many of the needs of learners.

However, I admit to a visceral reaction when the author referred to problems with education as including “no automation, no economies of scale, no productivity gains” – which are surely terms rooted in business developments from the 19th century! Currently, many industries are returning to a small-scale, responsive model of working that has many more similarities to cottage industries than the huge behemoth of companies that are beginning to groan. Rather, for education, shouldn’t we be thinking about agile, responsive, individualised facilitation of learning experiences?

In addition, I felt there was a bit of a problem with the author’s suggestion that there is a direct causal link between “shockingly high levels of youth unemployment” and the provision of education that “suits neither students nor their employers”. Hmmmm – growing population, ongoing recession, diminishing natural resources, the growth of India and China as economic and business powers – maybe these also have some impact on high levels of youth unemployment?

Finally, the whole notion of “there is no proper transition from campus to office”: does anyone remember the graduate positions that used to be offered (and still are by some companies) to help with this transition? It isn’t purely the responsibility to education providers to smooth this transition; rather, I believe, it needs to be a joint effort that includes education providers, business, and wider communities.

At the end of the day, I suggest that progress for education is way more complex than “paving the way for a more competitive and open education market, allowing and incentivising schools to adopt technology”. What do you think? Please jump into the conversation….


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That feeling when you uncover that hard-sought insight!

Success has different interpretations, and not all successful coaching sessions will see progress toward a specific goal (A to B) or having developed a strategy or solution (Allen, 2013). Sometimes it can be a sense of the coach and coachee working together to uncover a hard-sought insight, which can feel as though “you’ve hit a home run and the crowd goes wild and your client feels as if s/he has won the World Series” [emphasis in original] (Allen, 2013, Para 6).

To help ensure that coaching sessions frequently achieve that home run feeling both coach and coachee need to be in the right ‘head space’. The coach needs to be authentic, genuinely interested in their coachee’s growth, open to feedback / self-reflection and willing to be vulnerable (Allen, 2013). On the other hand, the coachee needs to be engaged, open to sharing, enthusiastic, willing to learn, and open to coaching.

It is important to pay attention to preparation to make sure a session is successful. For example, the coach and coachee need to have agreed on a central theme that can be woven through the session. This theme should align with the coachee’s needs for the session, as well as raise really clearly their awareness of the value of the session – what they have heard, thought, seen, felt and gained (Allen, 2013). As a coach, therefore, it is necessary to both support the coachee’s learning during the session, as well as be able to ‘see’ the coachee’s learning, and help them recognise that it has occurred, the value of it and its application.

Sometimes sessions don’t flow and it is important that the coach moves rapidly to address the issue otherwise it can negatively impact the coaching relationship. One effective way of doing this is to explore, with the coachee, what just happened. Usually it will be one of two things – either the session itself (comfort with the process, a sense of purpose / engagement, rapport), or the coachee’s current context and experiences (level of perceived well-being, state of mind, or situation at work and/or at home).

You know when a coaching session has been successful when…

Before the session

Before a session the coach and coachee will have decided what they want to cover during the session, as well as agreeing on expected outcomes – and this may include engaging with an article or video, for instance, that the coachee has been working with in connection to a specific goal. A mutually comfortable space with the minimum of distractions will have been agreed on (and this may be online via a VOIP tool such as Skype, or by phone).

During the session

At the start of the session coach and coachee will have worked on building rapport, with the coach asking some simple questions to get the ball rolling. As the session progresses the coach will have asked carefully selected open questions to help the coachee unpack their situation, while also listening deeply and actively (for instance by summarising and paraphrasing to check understanding with the coachee). Remaining non-judgemental and non-directive (Haynes, 2005), the coach instead will have encouraged the coachee to explore options and make decisions. The coachee will have been open to formative feedback, supportive challenges, and a sense of ‘discomfort’ or dissonance, which is likely to have led them to insights into their own values or behaviour, as well as wider possible implications and impact on others.

By the close of the session the coachee will have a realistic plan of action, with specific next steps, intended outcomes, and timeframes, as well as a clear idea of who else will need to be involved, resources, and accountability. The coachee will have supported the development of the action plan and encouraged the coachee to check its feasibility, as well as offering assistance, if necessary (Haynes, 2005).

To wrap up, the coach and coachee will have evaluated the session and identified any ways to make following sessions more effective. The coach will also have summarised the main points of the session, and double-checked that they both know what each has agreed to do before the next meeting.

After the session

After a successful session, the coach will have taken notes (if they haven’t done this during the meeting), and will share these with the coachee. Both the coach and coachee will have followed through with agreed actions, and before the next session the coach, if requested by the coachee, will follow up on progress, provided support, and / or shared resources.

The coachee may also have reflected in writing on the session (either privately or via something like a blog post – following protocols of anonymity and confidentiality of others). In this reflection they might consider their satisfaction with the session itself, what might have made the session better, and how well it worked within the overall coaching process. The coach will also have evaluated the session, checking on how well the agreed outcomes and focus were covered, as well as the coaching process. As such, they will have reflected on went well (and why), what was challenging or frustrating, and how well they managed it. They will also have identified main take-aways and things they will do differently next time to help make it the session more effective.

When it isn’t successful

There are a range of elements that influence the success of a coaching session; all require input from both the coach and the coachee, and not every coaching session is successful. Some of the key reasons for a session to not be as positive as it might include a lack of an agreed focus for the session, an ill-defined focus, or differing expectations between the coach and coachee. Also, a coachee might be working through crises that are distracting them, or may be short of time / feeling pressured which impacts enthusiasm. In addition, the coach may be inexperienced, might mix approaches in a way that is confusing, or may appear disinterested.

The main thing is that the experience will be an opportunity to learn, and perhaps work out how to work more effectively together going forward.


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Haynes, K. (2005). Ten tips for improving your coaching session. In ASTD Training and Performance Sourcebook. Mel Silberman (Ed.). Alexandria, VA: American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) Press. pp. 135-137.

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