To be able to evoke and support learning in an individual or in a learning community, as a coach, you must develop the following seven skills (Clement, 2017). Everyone already disposes of these skills, consciously or unconsciously. You can read books about coaching, or listen to an explanation to activate your knowledge about it, but these skills are not just techniques that you have to apply. You can only learn to master them by trying things out, and asking feedback to your colleagues, learners and/or other coaches. Each of the seven skills can be used at different stages of your conversations and meetings.
Your main characteristic as a coach, is being curious. When you’re curious, you will nearly automatically start to explore, so this forms the basis for all other coaching skills. listening with curiosity and open-mindedness to experiences and ideas, but also by actively looking for opportunities to grow towards inclusion, both during meetings of your learning community, and in conversations with learners, staff meetings, consultations with parents or other partners, working groups,... You also ask questions and regularly summarise what colleagues are saying until you have a clear idea together of what you want to learn, how you see diversity and collaboration as a function of an inclusive learning environment, who or what can help you, what possibilities there are and what you are actually planning to do.
As a coach, you frequently need to appreciate any concrete things that you find good or strong, e.g., someone’s idea, proposal, question, effort, enthusiasm or initiative,... Reinforcing is about consciously highlighting and supporting strengths. By appreciating and empowering, you create a basis for trust to grow and for everyone’s compentencies and talents to be strengthened. As a coach, you serve as a model, not only in giving but also in receiving and really accepting this kind of feedback.
As a coach, you also need to give critical feedback: to say what you do not see, what you do not agree with, what you do not think is right or effective or what you would like to see adjusted. You learn to confront in such a way that you keep the relationship intact. In this way, you do not jeopardise the cooperation, but strengthen it. Giving critical feedback in a small and concrete way and welcoming it yourself, ensures that you no longer have to hold back criticism or pile it up.
A fourth skill you need as a coach, is to encourage others to push their boundaries, while you offer them any necessary support too. For example, you take a really broad view on diversity, consistently set high standards for every learner, encourage a full engagement of all learners, parents and other partners, and encourage ambitious actions towards inclusion. In doing so, you support others to increase their self-confidence and drive to take on and expand their responsibilities.
A fifth skill is broadening others’ perspectives and helping them to develop an inclusive vision. You can do this, for example, by tapping into enthusiasm for inclusion, exploring any sources of knowledge and/or success stories, giving an inspiring advice on how to make the most of diversity in your class or team, bringing in the voices of learners and parents, encouraging people to look at situations from different perspectives, or looking at creative or innovative approaches.
The sixth skill touches the art of leaving things as they are, so that they change of their own accord. Situations with a lot of diversity and cooperation often evoke awkward or difficult feelings. For example, you get angry when a pupil or parent does not understand you. You feel scared when you cannot control difficult behaviour. You feel resistance when someone seems to force an approach on you. You have a different opinion about an evaluation. Or you come into conflict with a parent, a colleague, support teacher, therapist, social worker, psychologist,... when they assess the feasibility of inclusion or the reasonableness of accomodations differently. Whatever the feeling is – joy, anxiety, sadness, anger,…- the key is to allow it to be there. By being curious about it, you give it the space it needs, even if it is not obvious. As a coachyou support others to feel and express these feelings. You also give space to any disagreement, resistance or conflict that might arise whenever learning takes place.
We know that all learners learn much better when they are relaxed, so as a coach, you try to bring lightness and levity into your conversations. You try to create an atmosphere that invites learning and that welcomes mistakes as opportunities to discover what works and what doesn't. As a coach, you consciously take the lead in this, for example, by looking at things in an optimistic way, by breathing relaxed and by bringing humour and pleasure into your meetings.
How do you already apply the seven skills in your professional learning community and/or your interprofessional collaboration with learners, parents and other partners in the team?
How would you like to further develop the seven skills in order to contribute to an inclusive learning climate that
(If you have not been coaching anyone yet, you can watch the video of 'the owl and the fox' and see how the owl applies these seven skills to coach the fox).