Coaching from panic zone to learning zone

Many people assume that a coaching approach can only be effective with one-to-one teaching. In this guest post Gabriella Kovács, a trained coach, describes a coaching technique she uses with group classes.

Gabriella KovacsGabriella is an ACC, ICF-accredited  language coach (Associate Certified Coach with the International Coach Federation) and business communication trainer. Her declared mission is to add dimension to ongoing language learning practices by introducing language coaching to organizations. She is currently supporting teachers to implement a language coaching approach in their day-to-day classes in Budapest, Hungary.

A bit of background

Having worked as a language teacher for many years I felt it was necessary to specialize (which led to my holding business training sessions in corporate settings) and then move towards coaching. I have obtained international ACC accreditation by the ICF, currently the world’s leading coach organization. I coach and work with teachers in workshops, showing them how language coaching can be blended into the language teaching framework. I also have a series of interviews with language coaches on LinkedIn, including with Duncan Foord.

I wouldn’t say I teach now, at least not in the sense that a teacher enters a classroom and works through the lesson plan, is satisfied that all points were covered and feels there has been a lot of teaching going on.

My interpretation of language coaching

Five things are crucial in a language coaching framework:

  • support of learner goals
  • identification of learner skills and strengths
  • focus on what the learner does beyond the sessions
  • increase in learning awareness
  • development of learner independence

If these five are fully satisfied, the learning will take place at a faster pace. Obviously this does not mean teaching is unnecessary and coaching is a magic wand to wave and hey presto. Of course not.

From panic zone to learning zone

If language users (rather than learners, because we are all learners, constantly learning, in all aspects of our lives) are aware of what is actually going on in their minds, what it is they need to achieve and what is preventing them from achieving more – then, by applying a coaching framework, by supporting and probing, they will find the missing pieces of their language learning jigsaw. They will realize that there is a learning zone out there where they can look for new challenges without flipping into a panic zone. The learning zone is everywhere and recognizing this is when true, intense development will take place in the mind of the language user. A new mindset will ensure that language issues will no longer be represented in the mind of the language user as problems and errors, but rather as challenges that can be overcome and option-seeking will become second nature.

What is important to emphasize is that teachers can influence what is happening in the classroom and coaching can support what goes on in and outside the sessions.

A Coaching activity to try out – SWOT cubes

Prepare SWOT cubes for the number of pairs in your group. Something like this :

Gabriella's SWOT cube

Each letter corresponds with the letters of a SWOT analysis. S = Strength, W = Weakness, O = Opportunity/Option, T = Threat. The additional two sides of the cube will be Es, E = Experience.


In pairs or small groups, participants take turns to  throw the cube. If they throw an S they relate a strength in their English communication, if they throw an E they talk about a language learning experience and so on. They can also ask each other questions of course. After a few turns they can relate something interesting they learned to the whole group.

This activity creates a positive atmosphere, increases awareness of skills and can focus participants on where they are currently and where they wish to get to. This can provide a great springboard at the start of a course for students to formulate goals.

Respond here or contact me on Linkedin – I’d love to hear how it went!

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