Are we coaches?

There’s some interesting chat going on on the blog, though it’s hidden away in the ‘About’ page comments. You can read it here. It started with a reader, Phil, asking whether we knew any coaching courses to recommend and became a chat about whether what we do should really be called coaching. If people that work as coaches get upset at our use of the title (Duncan’s met at least one), I don’t think we need to worry too much – after all, it’s not as if we’re affiliated to any organizations from which we could be struck off.

It reminds me that there are lots of types of coach out there, from life coaches to sports coaches, all with their own methods and ways of doing things. We coined the term ‘learner coach’ for our own ends, to describe a way of encouraging teachers to look outside the classroom at what learners are doing, or could do, when we’re not around, and in that respect, we don’t need to conform to any established models of coaching. (By the way, I have no idea whether we first coined ‘learner coach’, but we weren’t copying)

Helen Waldron, on her terrific blog, has posted a very favourable review of our book , From English Teacher to Learner Coach – a must read for anyone who wrote the book. In it, she mentions her ‘absolute fabby moment’ was our comparison of language classes and Weight Watchers group sessions. As she succinctly summarizes: ‘Nobody joins Weight Watchers and expects to lose weight by attending the meetings alone’. I like that bit, too, Helen. In the same way, the progress that learners make in their English takes place in and out of the classroom, and we all see the greatest progress in learners who live a rich and varied English language life away from their teacher. The ‘meeting leader’ of a WeightWatchers group still strikes me as perhaps the closest role to what Duncan and I are trying to encourage. Yet most leaders in Weight Watchers meetings probably don’t think of themselves as coaches. So what qualifies them?

Interestingly, there are no formal qualifications needed to be a Weight Watchers leader, and certainly no coaching qualifications. On the British recruitment site, the thing at the top of the list is that leaders be role models:

It’s really important to us that our Members learn to be successful with their weight loss from someone who has been successful at losing with Weight Watchers and has learnt to maintain that weight loss. Our Leaders are role models for members to learn from.

That makes perfect sense for Weight Watchers, and I think it also makes a lot of sense from the point of view of a language teacher. A good teacher is a model that learners can look at and say: ‘I want to learn languages like he has.’ Unfortunately for me, I’m a rather lazy learner of Spanish, which makes me the kind of meeting leader who’s showing a bit of flab out of the bottom of my shirt, but I know there are millions of teachers who actively learn languages and use this experience to help their learners better. I should also say that this for me is why non-native speaker teachers have an inherent head start over native speaker teachers in their qualification to teach English.

Recently I have had a small group of three advanced learners who I’ve been coaching (you can see two of them here and here). The classes we held we ended up calling ‘meetings’; I didn’t plan as such but I did write an ‘agenda’. I emphasised that I was there for them at any time if they wanted to talk and we set up a WhatsApp group to communicate throughout the week. It seemed to work.

So I’ve decided that from now on I will call myself a ‘meeting leader’ and be done with coach for ever (well, until the next post anyway).

This was a post by Daniel

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2 Responses to Are we coaches?

  1. Hi Mathew,
    Thanks for your comment. I think the frustration you express here cuts to the core of what coaching is all about. So many teachers feel that they know how to learn a language, and if only their students could adopt a few of their strategies and techniques, they would get so much better.
    However, we have come to realise a few things in our exploration of coaching:
    a) learning to learn is not necessarily the most important factor influencing outcomes. Motivation is. This is not something you can ‘transfer’ but something that comes from within. Teachers ‘transfer’, coaches draw out.
    b) teachers may not be the best people to ‘transfer these skills’ to students. Often, students respond much more positively to what their peers are doing. This is not to say that teachers cannot be good language learning models for their students, just that telling students what to do doesn’t seem to have much effect on what they do outside class. I’d suggest that showing learners by example probably does make a difference.

    Thanks again. The link wasn’t working – did you mean this site?

  2. Mathew says:

    I have done what Jual and Elena do. What got me into teaching English in the first place was because I wanted to get out of the States and start using language. I studied at least 3 years of French, Spanish, German, Russian and Chinese. I always tried to juggle with maintaining them. It was always such a chore except with Chinese after I moved to China. I have plateaued at an upper-intermediate level, and sometimes there are breakdowns in communication. Usually I’m okay. I have found that no matter how confident I feel about studying language on my own, I cannot transfer these skills to my students. I feel like I would need to prepare a lot of tasks for them. I would like to get better at it. I used to use the forum at get ideas about how to help myself.

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