Using Coaching Techniques In ELT

Using Coaching Techniques in ELT

I have been a language trainer here in France for over 20 years now, having started by learning Lozanov’s suggestopaedic method back in the early nineties at the Ecole française de suggestopédie run by Fanny Saféris. That experience was extremely rich and allowed me to be the successful freelance trainer I am today. After five years at L’Oréal’s RAD Centre in Aulnay, where I set up intensive immersive English courses for their engineers and scientists, I have continued applying my methods to other satisfied clients in media (TV, radio, outplay), big pharma, transport and humanitarian action until now.When did I begin using coaching techniques in ELT?

Two years ago , I started a training course to become an executive coach. Why, I hear you asking? Well, even though my clients were (and still are!) very happy with my services, as well as the fun activities, the positive feedback I give and the progress they make, I was unable to seriously address the problem of lack of motivation and commitment on the part of some of my trainees. How many times have I heard them complaining because they couldn’t find the time to practise outside the classroom, that they were over-worked and had to cancel because of other, more pressing deadlines? I was helpless in these situations, feeling in the dark, but not very successful in dealing with the very real concerns of my trainees. That’s when I heard about coaching.

What I discovered was a method that really holds the client (we’ll call them the “coachee” or the person being coached) responsible and accountable for the success of what they want to achieve. The parallel with my trainees’ problem with English was striking. One of the main problems I had was getting my trainees to commit to regular practice in order to reach their objectives. Usually, the imperatives of the job and conflicting priorities lead trainees to slacken the pace of their training and thus the progress they’re making. If you add that, in France, at least until recently, training is a right and training managers rarely checked the impacts or the return on investment, there is very little encouragement to help the trainee motivate themselves, leading to discouragement and demotivation. With coaching methods, there is a real opportunity to reverse this situation and maintain a high level of commitment to the initial goals, therefore speeding up the learning process. How is this possible? Well maybe a little background information about what coaching is.

When a coach and a coachee (usually with the presence of the HR manager or Line manager) enter a coaching agreement, it is the coach’s responsibility to first discover, clarify and align with what the coachee wants to achieve. Secondly, the coach encourages coachee self-discovery, elicits coachee-generated solutions and strategies and finally holds them responsible and accountable. By using coaching techniques, I thought, my trainees might have more chance of reaching the goals in English they had set themselves.

All very well, I hear you saying, but that’s what (good) trainers do already. Yes, intuitively, we all strive to do so, but maybe not in such a structured way, especially when it comes to generating goals and keeping the trainee on track. Let’s take it from the top. How does a coach generate inspiring goals and help their coachees stay on track?

First, coaching is self-directed learning, i.e. coming up with your own answers rather than the coach giving them to you. This gives the coachee ownership of the process which is always much more motivating for the coachee.

Secondly, it is a process whereby we focus on solutions rather than the problem. This positive approach will help the coachee dare to think and so allow them to find solutions themselves instead of looking to the “expert” for the solutions.

It is also a structured process that ensures the coachee stays on track and progresses towards their desired outcomes. This structure makes sure the coachee has a safe, nurturing environment which is going to allow them to explore and ultimately, take risks without fear of the unexpected.

Finally, coaching should be challenging and “stretching” so the coachee gets the most out of their coaching. This is a way for the coach to get a greater commitment from the coachee (actions to do, follow-up activities, etc.) which the coachee usually finds rewarding. We call this “hard-wiring” the habit.

So, that’s coaching. But how can we adapt these coaching methods to language training and acquisition? Well, here are a few pointers:

  • By agreeing on prerequisites such as:
    • a minimum level (minimum intermediate levels)
    • being supported by line manager and/or HRM
    • the coachee taking ownership of their learning path by completing actions
    • regularity (e.g. once a week or fortnightly sessions)
  • On the outset, by helping the coachee:
    • analyse the existing situation (i.e. their language needs, objectives, etc.)
    • check objectives and define clear, measurable, challenging, but achievable goals (e.g. speak more fluently, negotiate a deal, feel more self-confident when speaking in public, chairing meetings, troubleshooting on the phone, etc.)
  • During the sessions, by letting the coachee:
    • decide what they want to work on
    • find the answers,
    • offer solutions,
    • choose their preferred teaching method
    • practise
  • After the session, by encouraging the coachee to:
    • define and set concrete actions for the following session
    • practise daily to move towards completing those actions
    • note down insights, changes, paradigm shifts!

 

Of course, this means the trainer/coach must have the necessary training to be a coach, i.e. train and then pass an exam or admission test that is officially recognised by the major existing coaching federations, such as the International Coaching Federation (ICF) or the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) to name but two. This might seem obvious, but how many language schools offer English “coaching” lessons, when in fact they are just offering one-to-one sessions, maybe specialised, certainly worth every cent they cost, but in no way using coaching methods and given by a recognised coach? This can be a problem for language trainers and coaches alike when the definitions are vague and used abusively. A physiotherapist cannot call themselves a medical doctor (at least not in France), nor a legal assistant a lawyer, so I think we trainers must take care how we call ourselves.

A coaching session is usually sold between €200 and €750+ per hour here in France, a one-to-one English class, less than €100. This is due partly to the fact that coaching is sold mostly to decision-makers and top executives for the moment and this fee will probably come down when coaching becomes available to a larger circle of clients, but also because the coach’s training is expensive and on-going. They must also keep paying for their own “supervisor” to check progress and answer questions (just as a psychologist does), and prepare longer and spend more time following up after the session.

To conclude, coaching is a formidable tool to improve motivation and commitment for the trainee. It is a conversation, so can be adapted relatively well (given that coaching isn’t at all directive and this means a major change of mentality and approach for some more “classic” trainers) to language acquisition.

If you would like more information on the subject, the teachers’ organisation I belong to here in Paris, The Language Network (affiliated to the Franco-British Chamber of Commerce), is currently organising training to become a coach. Please feel free to contact me for further information or for details concerning their training offer.

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EFL MAGAZINE (5)

  • Thank you for sharing your experiences as both a successful EFL language teacher and positive experiences as a language coach. Beyond the reframing, it appears that the shift places more responsibility on the client to both set and meet agreed upon objectives.

    The article states:

    “On the outset, by helping the coachee:

    – analyse the existing situation (i.e. their language needs, objectives, etc.)
    – check objectives and define clear, measurable, challenging, but achievable goals (e.g. speak more fluently, negotiate a deal, feel more self-confident when speaking in public, chairing meetings, troubleshooting on the phone, etc.)

    During the sessions, by letting the coachee:

    – decide what they want to work on
    – find the answers, offer solutions, choose their preferred teaching method
    – practise

    After the session, by encouraging the coachee to:

    – define and set concrete actions for the following session
    – practise daily to move towards completing those actions
    – note down insights, changes, paradigm shifts!

    These best practices, however, can and perhaps should be standard features in both tutoring and quality, small English classes. What am I missing? The addition of the word “paradigm shifts”?

    • Greg Williams

      Hello Eric,

      The paradigm shift is in the coaching methodology. And here’s where the parallel between coaching and training ends. The coach helps the coachee define what they really want to get out of first, the whole training course, say 30h over a year, and then, every session. It’s important the coachee sets their own goals, this in turn should inspire them enough to keep at it. Secondly, the coach’s job is to make sure the trainee/coachee agrees to a certain number of actions for the following session and those actions will be followed up by the coach next time to see how far they got with their actions. Congratulations if they managed to finish the actions, questions and introspection if they didn’t. It’s not a question of making them feel guilty, but just reflect on the whys and wherefors of the unaccomplished action to help them think it thru, find out what stopping them, how they might get round those problems/obstacles etc.

      • “Congratulations if they managed to finish the actions, questions and introspection if they didn’t. It’s not a question of making them feel guilty, but just reflect on the whys and wherefors of the unaccomplished action to help them think it thru, find out what stopping them, how they might get round those problems/obstacles etc.”

        Thank you, Greg, for spinning out that coaching philosophy a bit more. This approach could certainly encourage more personal responsibility from clients and students.

  • Phil Wade

    And there, Eric, you have hit the nail on the head. Teaching, training, tutoring, coaching, mentoring and possibly therapy, are all part and parcel of ‘education’ or ‘development’. I would also add the teaching vs learning paradigm too and consulting. For me, the more I can learn about how to help people, the better. I first learned the pull type of coaching where I was almost a therapist just asking odd questions and expecting miracles. Then I found that perhaps 75% of coaches seem to be giving answers i.e. teaching. If you are interested, I suggest you look into the ICF and the latest coaching charter but be fully aware that those associations are private and have their own standards. From my coaching research, I’ve found equally good, if not better, people coaching or teaching with a coaching slant with no accreditation and so completely free to do what their clients wish but having a recognised qualification and accreditation will get you into the decent pay bracket.

    More recently, I’ve been doing semi-structured interviewing as part of my studies and it is very similar to coaching at my old beginner level. Perhaps unstructured is the same but without the push and challenge to accomplish and break through barriers. This for me is the main purpose of coaching and is why a soccer coach or tennis coach seem to be good examples as they push their clients to achieve new levels of performance. This is not for all though and certainly not for all language students.

    • Greg Williams

      Hello Phil,

      I think there’s a little confusion here between sports “coach” who is really a trainer, and a pretty directive one at that and an ICF-recognised coach who is coaching according to fairly strict rules that include not giving answers among others. Yes, I agree, everyone should have a look at what the 11 core coaching competencies are (you’ll find them on their website), but you’ll find similar principles on the EMCC and other coaching federation websites.

      Hopes this clarifies things.

    • Phil – Thank you for connecting the dots. Semi-structured interviewing does seem to be an essential, if often overlooked, aspect of the education enterprise. It’s also why student-professor conferences remain so crucial in high school and university courses. Coaching – or a learner-centric approach – seems like a practical way to help English language learners develop their own skills in their own way. I really like the distinction between a good tennis coach vs a bad high school football coach.

  • Phil Wade

    Hi Greg,

    I do wonder that myself but I’d say that sports coaches do push people to break through barriers and, a good one, helps them help themselves. A bad highschool one would just train you and work on skills i.e. “keep hitting that ball”. I had a coach at one point and he’d spend a lot of time asking me questions, calling me and even saying I wasn’t ready for the next step and to go away and figure things out. It started with intenses sessions and ended with more kinds of checkups. That was 1-2-1 though.

    I looked at most of the competencies and to be honest, found the ICF rather internal i.e. you had to do their courses by their people. The didn’t seem to want to take my Cambridge university training. This though seemed common with other organisations too and part of the whole ‘professional accreditation’ aspect. There is a big difference, it seems, between academic and professional training. Personally, I did both and found the first better.

    I applied to about 3 coaching associations to test the waters. I got the ILM for free but am yet to see any real benefit or recognition, even from HEC and INSEAD MBAers. Prices for the others varied quite a lot but I do like the idea of progressing upwards, recording sessions and being professionally-minded which they provide and I believe is essential. Far too many people call themselves coaches maybe and 1)have no qualification 2)have no affiliation 3)are playing with fire. But then again, there are enough examples of people branching into coaching with neither 1 nor 2 but becoming famous to explain the blooming appeal. Doing it without insurance would be very risky too.

    Most coaches I see or read about are either business people who then become consultants but call it coaching or life coaches who do a short course or non and help people with their lives. I think confidence and talking the talk will open doors and networking too as with one old client who paid 200 Euros an hour to a Thai man to coach him for his CV. Another bloke with a BA rebranded and talked his way to ‘coaching’ directors but I think they paid for the name rather than the service which might just be language teaching with a few questions.

    I’ve heard some say coaching is already dead and I know that my French clients no longer demand it as they used to.

    What do you suggest as a ‘good’ qualification for newish coaches and how about accreditation? Your opinion would be useful for myself and I’m sure other readers.

    I spoke to https://apecs.org/ once and they seemed very professional and interested in quality. This is the kind of group I believe we need more of.

    Thanks again for the article and reply.