Masterminding for Learner Coaching and Empowerment

Claire VenablesAnother guest post, this time from Claire Venables, who is based in Brazil and runs Claire shares the principles of Masterminding, the framework she uses, and some examples of how her learners are transforming the way they learn English.

There is a quote that has been doing the rounds on Facebook that goes ‘You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.’ This only made sense to me after I started a Mastermind group with four other motivated and determined colleagues. As our group developed, so too did the careers of the women in it. For those of you who have never heard of Masterminding, basically, we are a group of supportive friends getting together to push each other to new heights. The Mastermind format gives us a framework to formalize that support, to give and receive feedback, help to brainstorm new strategies, and create an accountability structure to keep focused and on track.

Doesn’t this sound like the kind of environment you want to create in your classroom? It did to me and I started wondering if I could I adapt this same framework to empower my students.

In this post I’m going to share the principles of Masterminding so you can see how transferable these are to the language coaching context.  I’ll describe how my lesson is structured and the roles involved, and we’ll see examples of how learners are transforming the way they learn English with video diaries about their learning process, peer support, and learner-to-learner tips.

Principles of Masterminding

Here are a few points about my group and what our meetings involve. This is the information we share with every potential new member and that I have started using in the first session with a new group of students. It helps make sure that everyone is clear about what group is all about and the level of commitment that needs to be made.

Commitment and Accountability

One of the secrets to maintaining a successful group is definitely making a commitment to each other. That commitment comes in three forms: showing up to every class, being there for each other during the class and between classes when needed, and holding each other accountable for doing what you say you will between meetings.

Generous Two-Way Sharing

Masterminding 2.JPGThis is something that is essential in a Mastermind meeting and, when applied to my English lessons, has been incredibly empowering for the members of my group. Different from a traditional format where the teacher gives feedback to the students on their language production, the entire group gets involved with generating ideas and solutions and feedback. All members are there to ask for help and give help in a full and balanced way and this has transformed the dynamics of my lessons and really made the learners more actively involved in their own learning process and that of their classmates.

No Competitors – No Comparisons

Although this is something that should be obvious, saying this out loud in the first session makes such a difference. It is important to be able to make mistakes, share problems, goals, failures, fears and also celebrate success when we are together. We need to regularly remind each other that we don’t compare ourselves to the other or compete. These thoughts only serve to derail us from creating the mindsets you need to achieve your language learning goals.

Similar drive and attitude

The learners may have different goals and take different paths to get there but what they all need to have in common is a deep belief in their capacity and a drive to become fluent in English. We all know how important it is to surround yourself with people who are motivated and love what they do. If you can cultivate this attitude in your learners from the beginning, it will continue to grow as the course continues.

Different Skill Sets

It is impossible to be an expert at everything and when learners recognize their different strengths and weakness with the language they can begin to pool their knowledge and share resources to benefit from each other.


Do you believe that these are all things which you want or even expect from a group of students? Now, think about how often you actually make them explicit. I’ve found that by discussing these expectations at the beginning of the course, it puts them in the forefront of their minds and people make a conscious effort to follow them.

Student Roles

Note-taker – writes a summary of the session, key points raised, tips, resources, agreed upon action points and new language. This person will write up the notes and share them in the email the next day. My students have found that having the responsibility for taking notes for the group sharpened their attention and focus during the lesson. Summarizing the lesson afterwards was a great way to force them to review and process their notes. Something they rarely did on their own. For those not having to take notes, it frees them up to participate more fully in listening to others and contributing in conversation. The rotating roles means that everyone gets a chance to benefit from this role. This is a screen shot of lesson summary.Masterminding lesson_summary

Time keeper – makes sure people are respecting the agenda for the session and will give people a heads up when it is time to move on. I have always had a timing problem in my lessons. This has been a great way of solving this!

Hot Seats – The students in the ‘hot seats’ get to share their goals or challenges of that week. As there are only a maximum of 5 people in my groups, everyone gets to be in the hot seat fairly often. Students often have similar goals and challenges so, even when they are not in the hot seat, it’s often useful for them anyway. Aside from that, brainstorming and participating in discussions is great language practice and it helps to foster a learning environment where students support each other’s development actively.

Moderator – This is me. I get the ball rolling at the start of the session and keep us on track throughout the session, contributing with my input whenever necessary. I wrap up the session at the end. I also monitor language production during the conversation and written activities and provide feedback and input.

Running a Meeting

This is how my lesson is structured using principles of a mastermind meeting.

Meet and greet

Celebrate – What are you proud of? Creating a space to celebrate the small achievements really helps students reflect on and appreciate their progress. This in turn is great for motivation and makes the journey to proficiency much more enjoyable.

Action point – People in the hot seats take turns to share their goal or something that is challenging them. This might be a specific thing they are struggling with or something they’d like to improve. For example, Thais was panicking about having to give a presentation in English at university and Melissa was frustrated with how quickly she was forgetting new vocabulary.

Discussion – in the discussion phase the group then ask open-ended questions to encourage the person in the hot seat to find their answers. I model this a lot in the beginning with questions such as…

  • What do you think the main challenge is?
  • What choices can you make?
  • What’s your next step?

The members of the group can then offer their advice too. For Thais, they suggested ways she could improve her presentation and shared techniques for overcoming anxiety.  Some of the stronger writers in the group offered to review her presentation and so she organized to email it to them for feedback. Melissa decided to record new vocabulary on her phone so she can access it easily when she has spare time and review it more often. Someone in the group suggested she use Evernote. I was able to provide input here about different ways to record vocabulary and show a few examples on the board.


Here are some of the other activities that my students have been doing to improve their English between sessions.

Reflecting on learningManuela “Sometimes I feel like nothing can hold me back.”

Encouraging students to create their own video reflections helps them improve on several levels. Having an audience means that they will really work on what they are going to say, looking for the right words and expressions, even writing out a script. Then they’ll video themselves, watch it back, evaluate their performance and record it again to improve as many times as necessary. This is great practice! Then, there is the process of reflecting on their learning, which is a powerful activity in itself.

Peer supportGabriel and Rovena – “You feel more confident now!”

Masterminding 1Rovena was having a hard time finding the courage to record herself speaking in English until her classmate Gabriel offered to help her. His may not be as fluent as Rovena but he feels much more confident in front of a camera. They pooled their skills and supported each other and made this great video. Rovena has begun helping Gabriel with his writing, a goal he has for his English.

Learner-learner tipsAna Sara “When learning a foreign language, speaking can be the most challenging part. I decided to use strategy to improve even more”

When students are invited to share a tip for learning English, it really makes them reflect on what is working for them. The making of the video has all the benefits we’ve already discovered.   Watch the video to discover the strategy that Ana Sara has been using to improve her English at home.


Masterminding has been a tool that I have used to transform my career and there are many elements of it that I am now using to enrich my learner coaching. Obviously, this is still very experimental and certainly doesn’t suit every teaching context. My learners are all upper-intermediate to advanced and have already spent years studying English. The goal of my programme is to help them make the transition from being English students to English users.

What about your teaching context? What elements could you use from Masterminding to enhance your lessons and what would you have to adapt? Share your answers in the comments below and let’s discuss!

Regardless of whether you do language coaching or not, I hope you’ve been able to identify some elements of the masterminding framework which you can transfer to your lesson and empower your learners!

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Masterminding for Learner Coaching and Empowerment

  1. Dilyana says:

    Very interesting! Thank you for sharing this innovative idea. I am curious to try it out in our conversation classes. So far, we organize group conversation (7-8 participants) once a week and we have also started a study buddy program, where 2 students meet separately and help each other preparing the session, before we all meet in the group further discussing a given topic.

    I don’t monitor the study buddies, just help them with some questions that could facilitate their interaction, but your article inspired me to think more about further “coaching questions” 🙂

    I’ve known the mastermind concept only from a business point of view, but since I also work with advanced students, I am curious to try out the hot seat idea 🙂

    • Hi Dilyana, and thanks for your comment. It sounds as if you have the ideal situation to try masterminding: groups of 7-8, advanced students (although I’d be keen to try a light version of masterminding with lower levels and even with kids). I love the idea of the buddy program. Dilyana, would you tell us what that entails? Sounds intriguing!

  2. Amadeu Marin says:

    Great post! I do similar things, although not with this ‘mastermind’ approach… I’ll use one or two ideas. Thanks!

Comments are closed.