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Visible Learning for Coaches?

I recently spent 3 days at the ACEL Conference in Melbourne along with 1000 educational leaders from across Australia and an array of prominent speakers. It was a good couple of days… perhaps some of you were there too.

Among the keynote presenters was Professor John Hattie, new Chair of AITSL and author of one of the most significant works in education in recent times, Visible Learning (2008). In the follow up book to the original research, Visible Learning for Teachers (2012) Hattie makes the following comment, summarising key implications of his work…

“The messages in ‘visible learning’ are not another recipe for success, another quest for certainty, another unmasking of truth. There is no recipe, no professional development set of worksheets, no new teaching method, and no band-aid remedy. It is a way of thinking: ‘My role, as teacher, is to evaluate the effect I have on my students.’ It is to ‘know thy impact’, it is to understand this impact, and it is to act on this knowing and understanding. This requires that teachers gather defensible and dependable evidence from many sources, and hold collaborative discussions with colleagues and students about this evidence, thus making the effect of their teaching visible to themselves and to others.” (p.23)

As I listened to Hattie speak and then reflected on this comment I was reminded of just how much coaching conversations are in essence learning conversations. Somewhere in all the research and thinking about coaching it seems that not as much attention has been paid to the learning aspect of coaching. Lots of helpful insights from the psychology, and to a lesser extent from the leadership ‘lenses’ have informed coaching practice over recent years but not so much has emerged that focuses on coaching as a one to one learning conversation. This ‘lens’ has much to contribute.

Even just brief reflections on the comments above leads to some interesting connections with coaches and their learning about their practice. Here are just four that come to mind…

Make learning explicit

Just as teachers are coming to understand value in making the processes of learning visible to their student learners, as the coach makes the coaching process explicit, this can be a helpful way to not only assist awareness and learning in relation to the coachee’s topic of interest, it can also assist the coachee to begin to learn the coaching process. This level of learning can help the coachee to engage in more effective conversations with colleagues and staff members whether these are called coaching conversations or not.

Feedback from the coachee is critical.

It is one of the most important ways a coach can get a sense of her impact and can therefore adjust her approach. A simple question at the end of a coaching session can be a good start towards this. Just asking a couple of questions like these can elicit useful, and sometimes, surprising information:


  • What was most helpful from our conversation today?
  • What would make it even better next time?

What would make it even better next time?

At GCI we have long argued that effective coaches know themselves and how they come across -the coach’s Way of Being. “The Way of Being describes a series of attributes which a coach must possess in order to create safe, trusting and positive environments in which coaching can take place” (van Nieuwerburgh, 2014,p .). In some ways the coach’s Way of Being, the way they ‘show up’ in the coaching interaction, is the most important element of all in a coaching interaction, even surpassing the impact of the coaching model and coaching skills. Knowing the impact that both his own presence brings as well as the impact of specific coaching skills and models is critical for any coach.

Get involved in a reflective practice process with others.

Hattie’s quote above makes explicit mention of the importance of ‘collaborative discussions with colleagues and students’ for refining teaching practice. This is a valuable source of learning that good coaching practice has been emphasising for some time. In the therapeutic world ‘supervision’ is a required part of ongoing professional development and for coaches this ongoing reflective practice, both individually and particularly collaboratively, is equally as important.


The journey from good to great coaching is a never ending one. These suggestions for making your coaching conversations better learning conversations, for both you as a coach and for those with whom you work, will help you take few more steps in that direction.

References:

  • Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses related to achievement. Oxford: Routledge.
  • Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers. Oxford: Routledge.
  • Van Nieuwerburgh, C. (2014). Introduction to coaching skills: A practical guide. London: SAGE.

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