A Coaching Model Created by Padraic O’Donnell
(Educational Coach, UNITED STATES)
The word ‘eureka’ is famous because one man supposedly forgot to put his clothes on and ran through the streets of Syracuse, Italy a long time ago. That man happened to be the single most influential scientist/mathematician of the ancient world. His name was Archimedes (288-212 B.C.) and the word that he shouted through the streets, “eureka,” means, “I have it” in Greek. He had solved a problem he was thinking about while in the bathtub, but he was too excited to follow proper etiquette as he ran to the king’s palace. He had figured out that the density of the king’s crown was not made of pure gold. When he entered the bathtub the water overflowed and his scientific mind eventually calculated that the buoyancy and gravity played off one another in a way that could be measured. It became known later as the Archimedes Principle which is still applied in many areas of scientific or mathematical study today, such as by geologists studying the density of rocks and in the medical fields for the density of bones (Live Science).
What Archimedes had was an aha moment, “a moment of sudden insight or discovery” (Dictionary). At some point, don’t we all wish we could shout ‘eureka’ about something? But haven’t we all experienced these aha moments on some level? Maybe not to the degree that affects science or mathematics forever, but still we want to have these types of moments, especially if they directly influence our own lives or affect important decisions we need to make. All students and teachers deserve to experience more and explore more, of these moments so they can discover deeper for themselves what direction is best for them to pursue. This is precisely what I key in on in my coaching, to bring about eureka moments, these “I have it!” moments, these aha moments.
As former math, English, and history teacher, I was tremendously excited to see these aha moments in students; these moments change a student’s world to some degree. When teaching, I saw and heard students have these sudden insights all the time in the classroom. They would stop, look surprised, and with eyes bulging, say, “I got it!” or “Yes! or “aha.” These moments are often a significant reason teachers teach. We love being a part of this process when students learn something new, or better yet, discover something about themselves or about a pattern they have which keeps them from moving forward.
As an academic instructional coach for the last eight years, I also coached teachers as individual educators, in small groups, and as a whole faculty. In one-on-one coaching sessions, I have seen teachers resolve their problems in such creative ways. In group settings, aha moments happen through collaborative thinking, and when they do it makes the nuanced work of coaching all worth it. Facilitating teams to decide on their goals, to guide them towards new aha moments of learning, and to look to each other’s strengths in a concrete action plan, makes educational coaching a diversely rewarding endeavor for both the teachers and the coach. An aha moment is a glimpse from our true selves; they are ways forward into our truth-filled purpose.
The progression of an Aha Moment: from a question to thinking, to insight, to verbalize it!
How does a coach guide a client, students, teachers to their aha moments? A coaching session has a basic progression: from setting goals to exploring thoughts, feelings, assumptions, and/or beliefs which lead to new learning, to creating direct actions to accomplish that goal. That is a simplified version of a coaching session according to the International Coaching Federation competencies. Since aha moments can often be viewed as the center of this process, the model I present here moves towards identifying these aha moments and springing off from them. The model is simple:
ASPIRE–setting a goal you aspire to
HONE–move towards “I have it!” moments of new personal learning
ACT–make a concrete action plan to reach your goal
Students (or educators) often have something they want to work through or an issue they need to discuss. A coach will assist the client to aspire towards a goal. Aspire means, “too long, aim, or seek ambitiously; be eagerly desirous, especially for something great or of high value” (Dictionary). Through the initial stage of the coaching session, the coach listens to the student or educator and questions them to decide what they aspire to and to name the goal for the session around that aspiration. A high school student might want to get into a certain college; a teacher may want to improve their relationships with a student or improve their teaching of a certain strategy; a school leader may want to lead his faculty to implement a difficult cultural transformation. In a school setting, they want to grow and know they can and that is where a coach can use her tools. Through listening, building trust, and asking initial powerful questions, the coach assists the client to narrow in on her own goal, a goal that fills her with inspiration, something she aspires to do, to gain, or to be.
In the middle stage of the session, the coach and client will hone in on the aha moment that brings new learning. To hone means: “to make more acute or effective; improve; perfect,” such as to hone in on one’s skills (dictionary). The coach begins to use the tools of deeper powerful questions, direct communication about what she observes, and creating awareness in the client. It is often the case that a powerful question will stump, or give pause, to a client’s response: they sit back and think this question through. Sometimes, the question is enough for her to spot some new learning is percolating even before an answer comes out of her mouth. The sounds “hummmm,” or “hunh,” or a lightness of being in voice or demeanor, or a smile can readily happen. This is an exciting point in a coaching session because the question got the client thinking and new insight is brewing, the lightbulb goes on, and the verbal translation is coming. Whether it is a response generated from the rational mind, or the emotional heart, or the non-rational gut instinct, the client moves forward in some manner. As humans, we rely on our thinking, our emotions, and our intuition to take us to the next stage, to move our lives forward out of the stuck position sensed about our life or situation. In coaching we call this ‘creating awareness’ and it is transformative. The question of the coach gets clients to this point, but the client is doing all the work towards this aha moment. Then the coach and client explore what that moment means. Once this coach-client partnership has honed in on the significance of this new learning about the situation or themselves, then the client is ready for action steps to get her closer to her goal.
The third and final stage for this model is to set up the action. What will the client do to reach their aspiration? With the aha moment already navigated out and pointing the way, the coach and client continue to spring from that into action steps. Through careful planning and decisions around what is the next best action to take, the client knows she is moving towards making this goal an actuality, that they are unstuck because of the aha moment. When students or educators talk through how and when they will do some action, the coaching session begins to feel successful. It is the coach’s role to build up these action steps with the client so that the most progress is made between sessions and that the actions are realistic and doable. The aha moments bear fruit by taking concrete action.
We may not become an Archimedes (or maybe you will), but why not try to influence the world forever or at least the world around you and within you. When a student or educator has an “I have it” moment who knows where it might take them. They may get into that college of their dreams or teach a fantastic lesson that changes a student’s career path or, as an educational leader, to set up a school-wide system that positively affects all students and all teachers. By aspiring to, honing in, and acting towards, any client can find the meaning in their aha moments and move their precious life deeper into their unique purpose.