Coaching Case Study By Sofia Leone
(Life Coach, ITALY)
The term ‘coaching’ often seems to be used for anything remotely related to motivational discussion and thinking. In my experience as an English language teacher in southern Italy, its relevance in the upper secondary classroom is not widely talked about, however, my extensive work over the past seven years has proven that life coaching techniques are in fact transferable and valuable to learners. What started as a passion eventually turned into a personal teaching project and is now the start of a future career in life coaching for young people.
As teachers, we know instinctively how important motivation is in the learning process, yet motivating upper secondary learners can be challenging. Simply expecting learners to do well, as suggested by some motivational theories, is somewhat unreliable and misses the fundamental component of the learning process – the learners themselves. In the Italian public schools where I work, there is still a significant focus placed on rote learning. The result is that secondary learners are very good at reciting English poetry and summarising the life of Shakespeare yet they have great difficulty explaining basic concepts.
I have had extensive discussions with these students about their learning experiences and what always arises is the need to be listened to and respected. This resonated with me as I strongly believe that listening is the queen of skills and I have seen how receptive teenagers can be if they feel they are being listened to. This is further proven by Roy Moody who states that “the greatest motivational act one person can do for another is listen.”
Armed with this enlightening information, I keep three keywords in mind in the classroom: how, responsibility and attitude. In my classroom, the main focus is on helping students express themselves and set goals and in turn, increase their self-esteem. Every single teenager has something magical to offer and inspirational ideas to share, and I believe it is the responsibility of the teacher/coach to ensure there are countless opportunities for that to happen.
The single most powerful coaching tool which I have experimented with in class is visualisation. Visualising goals and subsequently writing them on paper is effective for a number of reasons. Firstly, visualisation encourages learners to focus on what they want to achieve, and seeing it in their mind creates a more vivid image rather than a vague idea constructed from a pair work speaking activity. According to coach Reardon (2010), “you are more likely to behave in the direction of your goal if you have the visual in your subconscious.”
Secondly, writing goals gets that specific information down on paper. Written goals are proven to be more tangible and achievable than non-written and I believe it is a skill every young person should acquire.
One valuable visualisation technique which I experimented with at the start of the year is to get learners to create a vision board which includes written goals, such as a new skill they would like to acquire, and pictures of places they would like to travel to and things they want to achieve. Through mingling students share their goals, where the most important part of the oral activity is the big question: ‘How?’ If the students take turns to tell each other what their goals are, it will more often than not become a series of monologues which is not the scope of the coaching set up nor particularly communicative. It’s far more productive to ask their classmates how they are going to turn their dreams into reality. This encourages the students to really reflect on where they are in the present moment and furthermore, by sharing these goals, the students are being held accountable which of course a fundamental component of the coaching process.
Two years ago that student walked into my classroom at the start of the year. The student with various labels: failing, disruptive, demotivated. I had two choices: I could have refused to have that student in my class because they were disruptive and, on paper, failing. However, I also had the option of giving them a chance and that’s exactly what I did.
I listened, I praised for effort and most importantly, I held this student accountable for their goals because I could see their potential and desire to do more. This student passed the final exam, but that wasn’t the sole objective. More importantly, they learned how to set goals and achieve them through hard work, dedication and self-belief. On the last day of term, this student thanked me for giving them the tools to find self-belief and for the chance to prove they could do better. This was a key moment in my coaching journey and reminded me of an important quote by Sir Ken Robinson: “We need to see our children for the hope that they are. Are our task is to educate their whole being so they can face this future.”
Through coaching, I have successfully created a motivated environment where teenagers are not afraid to express themselves and are constantly given opportunities to shine. It is a learning curve, but I have understood that by giving the students a space to share their wins, dreams and ideas, I am giving them permission to be themselves. In this way, I am working in line with my core values and my mission is to ensure that every young person has the opportunity to do the same.
Moody, R: https://www.wcspeakers.com/speaker/roy-e-moody-m-ed/
Reardon, P (2010): Life Coaching Activities and Powerful Questions. Create Space Independent Publishing Platform
Robinson, K (2009): The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. Penguin Books