Coaching with Structure: The TO GROWTH Model | Steve Barkley
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Coaching with Structure: The TO GROWTH Model

Today, I am delighted to share a guest blog from Jonathan Mueller, an instructional coach at the Western Academy of Beijing. Jonathan has joined me on a podcast as we’ve explored building coaching practices. I invited Jonathan to share his recent design of a planning model for coaching. You can find more of Jonathan’s insights on his website, ConnectedLearningPartnership.com. Thank you, Jonathan! I hope you enjoy his ideas…
– Steve

“Success is a continuing thing. It is growth and development. It is achieving one thing and using that as a stepping stone to achieve something else.”
– John C. Maxwell

My coaching core belief is growth over goals. While goals have their place and importance within the coaching process, focusing on growth (continual learning and improvement) helps create the attitude that tomorrow will be better than today. Through my experience coaching teachers, teams, and administrators, I have used several models and structures. Some had good stuff, some less so. I needed a model that took the best from some models and included new ideas I refined over time. So, via trial and error, reflection and learning I’ve created the TO GROWTH coaching model.

High-quality coaching, although rooted in conversation, is so much more than a conversation between two or more people. Instructional coaching is a purposefully designed alliance and a partnership in learning, that has a specific purpose: to improve student learning.

As the coach in this partnership, we do not enter the relationship with our own agenda or belief that the coachee “needs fixing”. Our goal is to increase awareness and then facilitate action, learning, and reflection. The coachee controls the agenda, but the coach controls the process.

My model, TO GROWTH, gives coaches a clear process to use at each session in a cycle. As a coaching collaboration tool, it establishes commitments and actions, and encourages responsibility and accountability while firmly keeping the focus on improving student learning outcomes and the client’s professional growth.

Here’s how it works:

T – Topic

What topic does the coachee want to address and explore today? Don’t overlook the importance of clearly specifying the topic. If the topic is too vague, the coaching session, and future sessions within the coaching cycle, won’t have real purpose and direction. The topic should be a clear, concise statement.

O – Outlook

Next, get a better understanding of the coachee’s beliefs and attitudes around the topic. This helps uncover existing beliefs, opinions, and emotions around the topic that could be blocking progress. When coaches and coachees unpack and understand their underlying beliefs, growth is possible.

G – Goal

Next, the coachee makes an actionable goal for the current coaching session, based on the Topic and Outlook discussion. This goal should connect specifically to the focused area of growth and learning outcomes the coachee has identified.

R – Reality

This is the key phase of the TO GROWTH model. Once the goal(s) have been established, it is time to dig into the exploration of the current reality, uncovering the truth of the topic. Getting a clear picture of reality cannot be stressed enough. We are eager to grow and improve what we are doing, but don’t jump to conclusions. This is where we as coaches dive into questioning, data, and funneling this information into a clear picture of the current situation. If we get caught in analyzing perceived reality ahead of facts, this leads to assumptions and tainted perspectives. Questions in this phase should remain descriptive and open-ended, free from judgment. Reality is the expansive part of the coaching process and getting a clear picture of it will open up options and possibilities. Once all parties have a realistic picture of the situation, empowerment and intelligent action can occur.

O – Options

Now we explore how to move forward from the current reality. It’s time to generate options. During this phase, the quality of options is not as important as the quantity. I like to think of this phase as the “creative workshop” part of the model, where the coachee and coach get to be “instructional and pedagogical miners”, uncovering potential practices that are brought forward through great questioning.

One thing to consider at this phase: Should the coach offer their expertise and experience? My opinion is yes, but keep these in mind before:

  •  The teacher/team should have already exhausted their list of options – wait for a lull.
  • Ask permission to step out of the coaching role and offer guidance but wait until it is granted. For example, “I have some ideas that might help. Can I share them with you?” This granting of permission lets the coachee know they still control the agenda.

W – Way Forward

Now it’s time for action: finding a way forward. This is where the dialogue shifts from options into a decision. It is important that the coach ensures that the coachee is clear about the reasons behind the choice(s) of action. The coach and coachee should evaluate the possible implications of the action(s). This will ensure confidence in taking these actions forward. Once a way forward has been established, it is important that these agreed-upon actions are recorded and verbally re-iterated.

T – Tell Someone

When we tell someone about our plan for growth, there is greater commitment and responsibility. Also, as the coach, you can use growth plans to form teams to support each other or professional learning communities. As Steve Barkley says, “Teaching is a team sport and a public act.”

H – How

The final step in the process.

  • How will improving student learning outcomes help you grow in your teaching practice?
  • How do you believe this growth in your practice will make you feel?
  • How will you celebrate growing in your practice?

What if the improvement in student learning outcomes was not as great as the coachee had wanted? Bring it back to growth over goals – they have gone through a growth process and that needs to be reflected upon and appreciated.

In conclusion, using the TO GROWTH model for coaching conversations helps coaches guide teachers and teams in a structured thinking process. It cultivates awareness and insight that leads to purposeful action, reflection, and learning. It helps build an understanding of the importance of the coach using powerful, open-ended, and expansive questions.

How might you use the TO GROWTH model in your own coaching practice? What might be some possible adaptations for your personal coaching style? Let me know by Tweeting me @jfjmueller.

Jonathan MuellerAbout Jonathan Mueller:

Jonathan Mueller is the IB Primary Years Programme Coordinator and Coach at the Western Academy of Beijing, consultant, teacher for The Instructional Coaching micro-credential available through PLS 3rd Learning’s Academy for Educators, and member of the International Coaching Federation. He is passionate about education, professional coaching, growth, leadership, and the Dave Matthews Band. He is also the founder of ConnectED Learning Partnership and you can follow him on Twitter @jfjmueller.


Photo by Jamie Templeton on Unsplash

Photo by Ravi Roshan on Unsplash

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