Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Fluid approach


Coaching is sometimes portrayed as a dark art shrouded in mystery. Utter nonsense, says Sue Stokely. It's about harnessing people's innate ability to motivate and inspire and deploying that ability in everyday situations.

Much of the latest thinking on 21st-century schooling supports a shift to a more coaching style of education, so how do we support school leaders and staff to feel confident and competent in their ability to coach others, as our approach to education changes?

A lot has been written about coaching and a whole new industry of executive coaches has sprung up over the last ten years. Unfortunately, many people create a mystery around coaching so that it can easily be seen as a dark art, beyond the reach of mere mortals.

This, of course, is nonsense. Most people have, at one time or other, had a huge impact on the lives of friends, family, pupils or colleagues; have helped them to grow and take on a new challenge; or have inspired them through a belief in their potential. Great coaching is about harnessing this innate ability and using it to benefit those around us.

So do you have to become a highlyskilled coach to coach other people? No, but you do need to do the basics well and, most importantly, unearth and develop your natural coaching talent. It will take more than this article to develop those basics but it will introduce you to the 'four faces of coaching', enabling you to gain an understanding of which face might be your natural style of coaching and which face you might need to develop.

We believe that there are four core coaching styles: Expert, Challenger, Counsellor and Supporter.

Expert and Challenger are more directive (push) styles, while Counsellor and Supporter are more supportive (pull).

We all have our natural styles or of coaching - ways of approaching situations in which we feel more comfortable and that we use more frequently. However, given the range of people one deals with daily in the workplace, it becomes necessary at times to use those styles which may be less comfortable. To this end, the boxes to the right give some tips and hints about how you can develop and use these less-favoured styles.

A thirst for coaching

The most valuable coaching you can provide is in the moment and this can take numerous forms, be that defusing a difficult situation, unpicking a complex decision together or helping someone realise why s/he is the best person to take on a particular challenge. The best coaches position themselves so that they are on hand to provide help when it is most needed and the above hints and tips are designed to be used in everyday situations.

Consider this scenario. A headteacher invites one of her senior teachers to present a new initiative at the school governors meeting. The head's natural style is to offer expertise which is always gratefully received.

So, before the meeting she sits down with the senior teacher and runs over the content of the presentation, offering suggestions on how it could be even better. However, during this session the teacher becomes more and more quiet.

Perhaps the 'expert' face is not what is needed in this scenario. Using a 'counsellor' face, the head could recognise the fact that the teacher seems to be quiet and ask how he is feeling about doing the presentation. From this exploration, the head discovers that the teacher is comfortable speaking in front of children but gets very nervous when he presents to adults.

The head could then switch to a 'supporter' coaching style and help to build the teacher's confidence in his ability to talk passionately about this subject matter and help him see how he can use his natural engaging style with adults as well as children.

Coaching can be a hugely rewarding experience, not only for the receiver of the coaching but also for the coaches themselves. Creating a culture within a school or college where pupils, teachers, staff and leaders alike are willing to be coached and to coach others can foster a vibrant learning environment fit for 21st century education.

Sue Stokely is co-founder and managing director of Coach in a Box, a specialist coaching company that has worked extensively with schools. For further information visit www.coachinabox.biz


Role modeling

It is easy to underestimate the insight others gain from watching you work. Why not allow your coachee to watch you operating in aspects of your role. You will be surprised how much they pick up.

Explain in detail

When you are naturally strong at something you can sometimes find yourself 'unconsciously competent', that is, doing something well without knowing explicitly what it is that you are doing, or how you are doing it. If you step back and take the time to make conscious your expertise, you can then provide a powerful source of content for coaching others.


Believe in others

One of the great motivators most people have is to be able to sense when someone else believes in them. If you can see the potential in someone, it will rub off and it will do so even more if you demonstrate this belief by trusting them with responsibilities that are important to you.

If it's so obvious to praise people, why is it hard to do?

Two of the most common reasons why people hold back on praise are that they think it will come across as patronising or that negative feedback is more useful - you cannot do anything with positives. However, if 'facts' are given, rather than simply 'interpretations', praise rarely comes across as patronising. In addition, most people are overly self-critical because they see the negatives more than the positives. You can act on positives, by doing more of them!


Listen and reflect more, ask less

By asking a leading (or closed) question you are inviting others to think in a particular way. It is generally more effective to use more reflection and less questioning. The best way of reflecting is to simply repeat back, using the same key phrases and, if possible, the key statement the other party has made. Another useful tool is TED questions, which are intentionally non-leading: Tell me...Explain...Describe...

Feelings are worth more than thoughts

In many coaching situations 'feelings' will get you to the solution quicker than your coachee's rational thoughts and opinions on a subject. Leverage the power of 'feelings' in coaching by naming them and describe what you see and feel in others. For example, "As I listen to what you are saying you seem frustrated..." or "I can hear how sad you are about..."


Straight and honest is best

Most of us become anxious when challenging others. The feelings that result can distort the message and we are either tentative around the subject or too harsh with the individual, coming across as more aggressive than we intended. In either case, the other party tends to find the experience more difficult and will often become defensive. Telling the truth with respect is the best way forward.

Use 'fact impact' feedback

Explain your intention and give the facts. Tell why you want to make the challenge. Then give the specific data; one or more factual examples (what you saw, what you heard) and the impact it had, the thoughts that arose in you or others (the interpretation), and the feelings that arose in you or others (the reaction).

For example: "When you..." (the fact) "I thought/ noticed/ felt..." (the impact). Be wary with opinions and judgments. If you must give them, label them as such: "It was easy for me to think that..." Opinions and judgements are based on interpretation and are not necessarily the truth - until you check them out.

Natural coaching styles

The first bullet in each example describes the essence of each of these coaching styles. The second describes the possible downsides if you overplay this coaching style.


  • The Expert displays a deep knowledge of their subject and a passion for sharing this knowledge with others, linked to the wisdom to offer sound advice and opinion in most situations.

  • The Expert can become a compulsive advisor, more interested in giving their opinion rather than listening to what anyone else thinks. They can get into problem solving for people who could, in fact, solve the problem themselves and can lose touch with the needs of the person they are coaching.


  • The Challenger has the vision to see what can be different about a person and the courage to act on what they see.

  • If too much challenge is used it can begin to lose its impact and the coachee can end up feeling emotionally battered or overly criticised.


  • The Counsellor displays a strong belief that an individual can discover their own answers and find their own solutions.

  • At times people need more direct counsel and guidance than the Counsellor will naturally provide. At times, self-discovery can take too long and the immediacy of a situation demands that the coach is able to provide options or a solution.


  • The Supporter has the ability to see the potential in others and genuinely believe that their potential can be reached.

  • On occasion, Supporters can avoid tackling poor performance head on (they are always seeing the potential in people). This can be particularly limiting when the context demands results very quickly.

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