Psychological Underpinnings for Coaching Practices (Part 1) - Steve Barkley

Psychological Underpinnings for Coaching Practices (Part 1)

While reading a post, Coaching Cultures in Schools download by Chris Monroe, Margaret Barr, and Christian van Nieuwerburgh, I was introduced to the work of Mark Adams, who had identified five psychological theories and frameworks that have an application to coaching:

  • Person-Centered
  • Solution Focused
  • Self-Efficacy
  • Self- Determination
  • Positive Psychology

Monroe, Barr, and van Nieuwerburgh state that these are relevant not only to coaching itself, but also to the process of creating a coaching culture.

Coaching card. Colorful brush design. Vector background.In this blog (Part 1) I’ll explore my thoughts on how person-centered, solution-focused, and self-efficacy connect to my experiences and practices with coaching.

Following in Part II I’ll examine self-determination and positive psychology.

The person-centered approach is based on the theory and philosophy of Carl Rogers. The coach is non-judgmental and holds that the coachee is the best expert of himself or herself. Thus, the coach facilitates the coachee’s intrinsic motivation and sense of responsibility. When a coach respects and values the knowledge and expertise that the coachee brings to any situation, they are more likely to empower the coachee to take sustained action.

The key word for me in the person-centered approach is “knowing.” K-N-O-W-I-N-G. My initial focus with a new coachees is to work on knowing who they are, by providing opportunities for them to tell me things that are important to them. I might start with a question like: “Tell me about Louise the teacher.” When I ask a question like that, I sometimes get back, “What do you mean?” My response is, “What should I know?” Imagine that Louise responds with a statement like this: “I taught biology for four years, and then I left to raise my kids. I just returned after 10 years of parenting.” I might continue that conversation with a question like: “How do you imagine parenting impacts your teaching?” Or a coachee might say that they had worked in sales for several years before entering teaching. Similarly, I’d ask, “How do you think the sales experience affects your approach to teaching?”

I sometimes ask coachees to describe their instructional approach or their desired classroom environment. Whatever the question is, it’s broad and I follow their responses to explore further to know some of the things behind their thinking. (Find more on knowing the teacher’s agenda here)

The solution-focused approach is based on solution-focused therapy with families where clients talk about their preferred future, without needing to analyze the problem. A coach using a solution-focused approach helps the coachee gain clarity about possible solutions and how to use their strengths and skills to achieve a solution. In a school culture that embraces a solution-focused approach, the focus is not on the problem, but on supporting one another to find solutions.

I like to describe this approach as focusing on where you want to be. I’m often asking a coachee to create a continuum of desired outcomes, starting with where they are now, and at the other end of the continuum, where would they want to be. Then, what do spots in between those two ends of the continuum look like?

This type of a continuum allows us to identify progress along the way. If I’m looking at academics, it might be, where are we now? What’s our goal for the end of the year? And what do spots in between look like? Then the teacher can initially place students as to where they fall now on that continuum. So progress looks different for different students as they move along that continuum.
When teachers are talking about a classroom management issue. I get them to picture a thermometer with negative behaviors as being below zero and positive behaviors as being above zero, I then describe to the teacher that rather than focusing on getting rid of the negative behaviors, they consider a focus on replacing the negative behaviors with some of the positive behaviors. Taking away all the negative behaviors simply brings one to zero. Energy is better spent looking at replacement behaviors and moving students into those positive learning production behaviors. (Find an application example here.)

Self-Efficacy Theory of MotivationSelf-efficacy is one’s belief in their own abilities. Self-efficacy may be the strongest predictor of our ability to set and achieve goals and persist when we meet setbacks. A coach can use a range of strategies to support coachees to build their self-efficacy, using past successes to identify future possibilities. External pressures, agendas and responsibilities can erode a sense of self-efficacy. Coaching can help educators find focus and identify achievable goals that matter to them.

In this mindset, I often look for what is working. Where is the teacher getting the desired student engagement in the learning production behaviors that generate the learning outcomes that a teacher wants? I often focus on a “celebration of perseverance” when I’m coaching.

Years back, I was training teachers to implement the “celebration of perseverance” in their classrooms for students. Any time that students persevered, increased effort and became successful, teachers would look at throwing a 30 to 90-second celebration. Celebrating perseverance so that students could make the recognition that the success was based upon their effort and perseverance.

One day a teacher said to me, “Who’s planning the celebration of perseverance for the teacher?” That focused me on celebration as a critical element for coaches. Because teachers work so much in isolation, opportunities to celebrate magical teaching experiences are often far and few between.

I love observing at the moment that student learning responses happen just as the teacher had predicted it would in our pre-conference. I give a thumbs up with a smile and you can see the smile and the energy that the teacher gets with that moment of celebration. Those histories of success support and build the efficacy of teachers and keep them persevering.

How do you see these theories and frameworks applying to your coaching and to being coached? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

More to come in part II.

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