Using coaching-based questions to foster engagement in the classroom

In a coaching process, nothing is more effective and powerful than a coaching dialogue, profitable conversations prompted by the coach that can truly impact the coachee’s results. These compelling chats are usually guided by questions based on a coaching model such as GROW (Goal, Reality, Options and Will), for example:

Goal: What is your goal?
Why is it important to you?

Reality: What is happening now?
On a scale of 1-10, where are you regarding this goal?
What have you done so far to achieve the goal?
What resources do you have and which ones do you need?

Options: What can you do to achieve your goal?
What has stopped you from doing that?

Will: What, when, where and how you are going to take action?

Here’s an example of how a simple teacher-student interaction can become the perfect moment for a coaching dialogue. Another day I was checking Paulo’s homework, a private business English student. The topic of the lesson was negotiation and he was supposed to write down sentences saying what he would do in some given situations. In one of them, there were 3 words he did not know, but instead of looking them up, he tried to understand their meaning by the context. Since his sentence was completely out of context, I asked him to explain the situation in his own words. His explanation did not make any sense. Then I asked him to tell me how he had gotten to that conclusion, in an attempt to understand his rationale. It was clear that he had not understood the situation correctly. At this point, I could have simply asked him to look up the words in a dictionary and try to explain the situation to me again, but I wanted to promote more lasting changes, so I started a coaching dialogue with the following questions:

Paulo, remind me again of your learning goal.
Why do you want this goal?

Where are you now regarding this goal?
Describe the situation and your feelings when you were doing your homework. (He ended up telling me that he had done his homework late at night, feeling tired from a long day at work and that he had done it only not to disappoint me.)
To what extent do you think doing your homework this way will help you achieve your goal?

What can you do to profit more from homework time?
What distractions can you avoid?

What will you do to be more engaged when you do your homework?
When, where and how will you do this?

By helping Paulo to reflect upon his goal and his behavior towards it, as a teacher-coach I am supporting him to develop better resources to deal with difficulties in the future. Instead of only accepting his apology: “I’m sorry I didn’t look up the words, or I didn’t pay attention”, I can help him realize how these ordinary choices affect his learning and consequently his goal.

We constantly have coaching moments in class; to recognize them we need to keep eyes and ears open. Through active listening, we can spot these opportunities to foster students’ engagement in the learning process and promote more effective results.

Marcela Harrisberger

Marcela Harrisberger has been an English teacher for over 17 years, she is also a teacher trainer and a professional coach certified by the International Association of Coaching. She holds a CELTA, a degree in Educational Psychology and another one in People Management. She is Brazilian and she is based in Germany, where she teaches adult students face-to-face and online.

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