In my constant drive to encourage a more coaching approach in work and education, earlier this year I supported a student completing her Master’s dissertation.
She was looking at whether school children at Key Stages 1 and 2 could have coaching conversations with their teachers. Under the age of 11, handling difficult situations such as bullying, transition into different classes, or approaching class homework can be daunting for many children.
From interviews at a local primary school, the student found teachers were initially quite resistant towards the terminology of coaching. They felt they were doing this anyway through group discussions with the children regarding their goals and performance. Most said they didn’t have the time to sit down individually with a child. They also indicated that children struggled to step away from the teacher/pupil relationship because a coaching relationship is different, that there is a tendency for children to say what they think the teacher wants to hear and hence they can struggle with autonomous learning.
“Your imagination is your preview to life’s coming attractions” – Albert Einstein
What would a coaching approach look like? For me, it would be about exploring possibilities (for play, making sense, discovery), encouragement (strengths, successes, reinforcement), and support (doing and engaging in activities together). It would avoid using language that results in self-limiting beliefs (“should”, “ought”, “must”). At the Key Stage 1 and 2 ages, this is when the ‘core’ self is at its most ‘untainted’ or natural, where we express ourselves unfettered by adult experience.
If you list basic coaching skills, they include listening (to the words, feelings, and unspoken thoughts), questioning (open), building rapport (positive, supportive including body language), empathy, feedback, patience, silence, summarising, being non-judgemental, managing boundaries, creating a safe place, etc.
Why wouldn’t these be appropriate for young children, taking account of the school context and the different development stages of children which are clearly important factors? The challenges tend to be systemic including class size and the range of children’s differing needs. Some teachers will have natural coaching skills, others not. Skills and mindset development allied to a system that enables teachers to give attention to unique individuality would be worthwhile goals.
You can’t be completely non-directive with a child – to protect them from harm or to ‘show and tell’ and accelerate the gaps in knowledge (where they don’t know what they don’t know and won’t discover it unless you tell them). The danger for adults is in imposing their value system, biases and judgements on a child at an impressionable age (which I’ve seen).
So, yes, I believe a young child can have a coaching conversation with a teacher. We begin to create the conditions for potential to be realised (not stifled), to sow the seeds of making more of yourself for yourself (not others), nurturing natural abilities, imagination, and experimentation (not focusing on failings) and recognising every child as an individual with unique talents.
What’s your view? Would an emphasis on a coaching style and techniques help create building blocks for future personal fulfillment and releasing potential at an earlier age? What would the implications be for our children’s future employability?