There are many definitions of coaching but one of the most widely recognised is:
‘coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them’ (Whitmore, 2002).
The solution-focused approach to coaching is, as the title suggests, essentially trying to make greater progress with the student by focusing on where they want to get to and understanding what skills and knowledge they need to get there, rather than spending excessive amounts of time exploring the problem or issue they may be facing.
One of the principal features of a solution-focused coaching approach, and one of the reasons why we advocate its use with students through your teaching and personal tutor role, is that it can significantly reduce any inferiority students feel about themselves or their current situation. Furthermore, in terms of emotional well-being, experience shows that this approach helps learners to think more optimistically, behave more confidently, as well as engage with their goals which become more self-generated.
The following 5 key characteristics help you focus the way you view solution-focused coaching and use it in your day to day conversations with students:
1. Positive change can occur
Solution-focused coaching works on the assumption that positive change can occur with your learners and that this change can happen quickly.
2. Clear goals and self-directed action
You should work with each learner to define specific goals (Gurbutt and Gurbutt, 2015). The impact of a good coaching conversation doesn’t stop when it stops. Set a clear expectation that the students must be self-directed and take the responsibility to implement actions to achieve these goals outside the coaching conversations.
3. Develop solutions and focus on the future; not dwelling on problems within the past or present
Listen to any issues or problems in order to communicate empathy and develop rapport with your students. Quickly move the conversation on to exploring future goals, past successes, and what skills, knowledge and abilities they have.
4. Using the learner’s experience, expertise and resources
A solution-focused tutor is an enabler and facilitator.
There is a belief that students are likely to already have the answers and the ability to take themselves forward, and as their personal tutor it is your role to help them notice this.
When students feel they have worked something out for themselves, there is a greater chance that they will ask themselves the same questions in the future and coach themselves. The best coaches in some ways become invisible.
5. Reframing the student’s perspective and help them to notice positives
Reframing can help learners to notice:
- a distant possibility as a near possibility;
- a weakness as a strength;
- a problem as an opportunity.
The coaching conversations you have with students will not always go perfectly or have the perfect outcome, but practising the techniques is key to understanding which you prefer and feel comfortable with and in which contexts you feel they are and aren’t appropriate.
They aren’t the ‘magic wand’ that will fix all of the issues you want to address or the areas you, or your institution, wish to improve. However, solution-focused coaching techniques are practical tools you can use to help remove barriers to learning and to stretch, challenge and motivate your students in the many and varied situations in which you work with them.
Given the expectations placed on you to remove barriers to learning as well as motivate your students to achieve their potential, if solution-focused coaching techniques were used, at appropriate times, by every member of staff who worked with students, how helpful would that be to them and what benefits would there be for the educational institution?
Gurbutt, D J and Gurbutt, R (2015) Empowering Students to Promote Independent Learning: A Project Utilising Coaching Approaches to Support Learning and Personal Development. Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, 8.
Whitmore, J. (2002) Coaching for Performance: Growing People, Performance and Purpose. 3rd edition. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.