This blog was created to share experiences and discuss ideas about how teachers can help learners practise English more outside class and learn more effectively in class, through taking a coaching approach in the classroom. We hope that the activities and ideas discussed here will be of practical use to teachers who want to see their students take steps towards independent learning.

But the issue of learner autonomy touches on fundamental beliefs and methodological stances in education, and we welcome the chance to explore these more theoretical concepts, too.

We wrote a series of six articles in ETp magazine about this. Click on the pages above to read short versions of the articles. We have also prepared some material which helps students practise English on their own outside class. You’ll find these on the ‘Activities’ page. We welcome feedback on the activities and suggestions for improvement.

Daniel Barber. I am a teacher, teacher trainer and ESOL writer based in Cádiz, Spain. I’ve come to realise the limitations of our role as teachers in the overall learning process, and how motivation is the wonderful and mysterious key. My main interests in this area, then, are to what extent and how we can help learners discover what drives them, and how, or whether, we as teachers can shape the independent learning curriculum. danieljamesbarber72@gmail.com

Duncan Foord. I am the Director of OxfordTEFL a teacher training and language school with centres in Barcelona and Prague. I am based in Barcelona and am author of The Developing Teacher, published by DELTA Publishing, and co-author, with Lindsay Clandfield, of The Language Teacher’s Survival Handbook, published by iT’s Magazines.

My main interests are in teacher training and development and as well as the business side of TEFL.  I am fairly convinced students could get further with their English if we teachers could let go of teaching a bit and see ourselves more as coaches, taking an interest in the whole of our students’ “language life”, in and out of class.  Like Dan, I am interested in hearing other views and experiences on this and getting some feedback on materials we are producing to facilitate a coaching approach. duncan@oxfordtefl.com


21 Responses to About

  1. Pingback: Are we coaches? | Learner Coaching ELT

  2. duncan says:

    interesting discussion guys. I was challenged about using the term “coach” by someone at the BESIG conference a couple of years ago. She seemed to be suggesting it was misleading to use the term outside her understanding of it as life coaching or professional coaching done by qualified coaches. But the term coach has been used in sport for example for years. For me, like you Phil, the ELT coach draws on sports coaching as much as life coaching, if not more so. I see language as a skill that needs a lot of practising , like sport. I haven’t done a coaching course, but if I did I might choose something more sport related I think. Also I could then get a job at Man Utd if the teaching doesn’t work out.

  3. phil Wade says:

    Hmmm. Now there’s an idea….For the Coachng stuff, either Mickey from Rocky springs to mind or some kind of Freudian therapy. I have seen videos and demonstrations of coaching but it is hard to define and seems to be somewhere between therapy and sports coaching. I’d love to walk in to a class with a whistle and tell them all to “get down and give me 20 cos Mickey loves ya” 😉 or ask one to “now tell me about the present perfect” whilst chewing on my pen sat in a comfy chair.

  4. ‘ELT Maker’, hmm. Maybe you should copyright that, sell training courses in it ;o)

  5. phil Wade says:

    Thanks Daniel

    It is all a bit messy as I don’t think I actually teach 100% much if ever. The CELTA style is a mix of different things which work well together but then when you get a job, you start getting workshops and grammar lessons and conversation lessons etc. I wouldn’t say they are teaching. In fact, I failed miserably at them as I tried using the CELTA method. Students wanted lecturing, training, coaching, helping etc. Whatever name you stick on it, as long a sit works, wonderful.

    I don’t know if I’d recommend a coaching course, tbh. I did 2 and they were similar. An MA would be better but that is a real investment and a step into business or life coaching. The latter is very trendy but not for me. I’m not that type of person. Where I really think the traditional pull coaching fails is that the coach just helps the coachee understand their issues and create their own solutions. Whilst training, this always followed the same route and I couldn’t say anything even when I knew the solution was just plain daft. For instance, coachee 1 says they don’t like their job, it comes out that they have dreamed of being a lumberjack and they’d love to jack in their plumbing job and become one, they rank it as the best step forward and create an action plan. If I stepped in and say “oy, yer daft apeth, NO!”, I’d go against the charter and get into problems but that is what is needed. I also see a LOT of push style which is just consulting in a less formal way and always has business experts. In fact, it seems more like mentoring.

    For me, my colleagues always said coaching is just helping a person beat a problem on their own through support. This is exactly what we do and with a motivated TEFL school student, it would work like a dream. An unmotivated highschool or uni one? Nope. A client sent by his company who just wants to chat? Nope.

    I know a guy who rebranded from teacher to coach and put his prices up and just chats with students mainly. Clients are happy though and keep paying. On the other side, I know expert coaches who have no clients and they didn’t give them what they wanted and pushed them to deal with real problems which is hard but rewarding.

    Due to all this, I think ‘educator’ is really the term for me at the moment.or even ‘helper’. Whatever can get us to being the best we can be is great.

    I agree on the Neuroscience ‘revolution’. The same criticisms have been made of NLP too which has been taken by many coaches. Next week there will be something new. I’m still waiting for the ELT Maker movement where we get students making shoes in class. Maybe illegal 😉

  6. Hi Phil, Thanks for all your contributions – really appreciate the feedback and info :o)

    I can’t be sure about Duncan, but I have never taken a course in coaching, neither do I feel comfortable calling myself a coach. I know that professional coaches, your good self included, might argue that until I invest the time to be evaluated properly, I should not ‘devalue’ the job title!

    As teacher trainers running professional TESOL courses, we respect that opinion. One difference between TESOL and coaching accreditation is that TESOL is very well regulated through the examining bodies of Trinity and Cambridge. I am not aware of similar long-standing and widely recognized organisations in coaching. Like coaching, the quality of training can differ widely, so people looking to qualify need to go into choosing courses with their eyes open.

    I’d like to say that Duncan and I have come to coaching very much through our experience in the language classroom; I am still very much a teacher rather than a coach. Perhaps we can say that what we advocate is coaching with a small ‘c’ – we’ve taken from the world of coaching elements that we think address the sphere of language learning and teaching without ‘buying into’ coaching fully.

  7. phil Wade says:

    I completely agree. There are many associations and private trainers. Not to mention experts. It is quite uncontrolled. The associations seem to be helping but some will only take you if you do a course with one of their members.

    Anyone can brand themselves as a coach, cite some psychology, make up an approach and start touting themselves as an expert on their website. I saw some young women in her early 20s doing it and making lots. That may just prove that courses are useless and you are either good at it or not i.e. helping people work through problems. I feel I can call myself a coach now as I have completed a recognised course BUT I don’t feel I am. I would need at least another 50 hours to create my own style.

  8. Hi Sabrina,
    I’m glad you’re finding the book useful :o) I’m afraid Duncan and I aren’t planning on running courses for coaching in the near future, though we often give talks at TEFL conferences.
    I don’t know anything about the course you have found, but I have to say I was very skeptical when I looked at their website – it looks like a lot of neuro-babble to me. Many such companies give their courses credence with a veneer of scientific langage, but when you examine what they say more closely it is far too vague to be accurate. For example, they say that ‘language coaching… ensures the constant awareness of how the brain works, ensuring brain connections;’ but of course we all have brain connections -billions of them, and anything you do exerts changes on the brain, from coaching to watching TV. So ‘ensuring brain connections’ means nothing at all without further qualification.
    If you do find a course to your liking, then please do let us know how it goes.
    All the best, Daniel

  9. phil Wade says:

    Hi Sabrina,

    I did an Executive Coaching course and the ILM Coaching certificate. Both are for business but can be transferred I guess. The problem is that most courses want a pull approach where you never suggest or tell the coachee anything. Thus, that makes teaching a problem. They all were on 121 coaching too so groups is another issue.

  10. Hi Phil,
    Did you ever come across a course? I’d love to have any information you could pass along.
    I’d really prefer to take a course run by Daniel & or Duncan.
    I bought their eBook a few weeks ago and am reading a bit each day and find it really interesting. I did a bit of searching and came across a course which claims to be the only accredited training course for language teachers wanting qualifications in coaching. http://www.languagecoachingcertification.com/

    Please let me know if you’ve heard anything about it or know about something similar.
    I’m organizing & volunteering in an online teaching/fund-raising project this summer (recorded skype conversation practise with the money going to an animal shelter) and would like to provide learner coaching via social media for the students/learners.
    Sabrina Wilson (Remote English)

  11. Pingback: #iELT15 Innovate ELT Conference Barcelona - Reflections - english and tech

  12. phil2wade says:

    Thanks, Dan.

    I recently taught a coach and she wanted help to coach in English. It was fascinating discussing teaching and helping her perfect her English. By far the most interesting client/student.

    If I think back to when I started out and learner training was trendy, I think we were trying to do similar things in a way. In EAP too when I helped students make plans for homework and self-study. I guess this idea has been building up for ages.

    Do you know of any online courses?

    I have lost track of how many EFL teachers I know who are now coaches but don’t have any certificate. The amount without the CELTA is getting quite high too.

    A client hired a coach and he was useful as he had connections and so could help finding jobs. That may be hard for us to do.


  13. phil2wade says:

    Me too. Actually, I think more than half of our clients want coaching as they are directors and have very specific needs. The other general staff mainly want English for holidays.

    • A lot of the business teaching I did was very much on a coaching basis, though I didn’t realise it at the time. It’s clearly a fine line between teaching and coaching, more of which you’ll read about in the book! ;o)

      Good luck with your students, sorry, I mean clients ;o)

  14. phil wade says:

    Hi Daniel and Duncan.

    I just came across this brilliant blog and I will be getting your ebook soon. I have been interested in the idea of coaching far ages but now clients are kind of demanding it. One BE client asked for CV help and then got a coach. Apparently, he pays a lot more but is told exactly the same as I said in our BE lessons. Now he’s come back to me and asked for coaching.

    It seems perfect for all the clients who want help getting jobs, doing training in English, speaking at conferences etc.

    I am digesting your posts and plan to start incorporating the ideas into my courses.

    On a personal note, I stayed away from coaching for years as lots of people seemed to be calling themselves coaches but didn’t have any or limited qualifications. I admit I am an TEFLer but I would like to give coaching ago and study it at some point if it is feasible.

    Thanks again.


    • Hi Phil.

      Glad you’re finding it useful. Yes, I wonder how much of the information, guidance, life skills practice that we as teachers naturally offer our students could be sold at a much higher price if it was packaged as coaching?

  15. Clara Espelt Coll says:

    Thanks for the quick answer and for the post; Will read! And keep you posted as well!

  16. Clara Espelt Coll says:

    Hi, I just wanted to say thank you for such nice work. A very good read, indeed. And it brought back some memories as well. I rummaged through my shelves until I found a book called Learning to Learn English. A course in Learner Training, CUP 1989. I flick though, read lines I’d underlined back in the 90s, and that got me thinking: how come teachers are still so focussed on the “perfect” lesson plan and so little on helping students become independent learners. It’s an issue that hardly ever crops up in the staff room. And I wanted to ask if it’s the same everywhere. Sometimes I’ve got the feeling “planet ELT” is up in the “cloud” rather than down in the classroom.

    I remember trying out some of the activtities from that book without much success. I guess I was rather inexperienced and had had little training. Still, I’m convinced it’s the way forward.
    I also wanted to ask about the students. How do they respond to spending class time on tutorials and drawing up “action” plans?
    I was thinking of using your book next course. Any word of advice?

    • Thanks for your comments, Clare. We’ve had some interesting reactions. Mark McKinnon did a great guest post about an experiment he did with the coaching approach which had some resistance initially. You can check it out here:
      His solution to the criticism that all this talking about learning is wasting time actually learning was to ensure students were aware of the language they were learning and practising doing the activities.
      I would add that we need to introduce techniques little by little, over time, that we don’t overload learners with it every lesson, but aim to get a little further ahead each week. Also, that we make sure they are benefiting from it all. Perhaps instead of starting with 6 metacognitive activities from the book, you do just one or two, interspersed with plenty of practise activities from the book. THere are plenty of other ideas in the book ;o)
      Anyway, good luck with the plan – let us know how it goes!

  17. Hi, I just nominated your blog for the Sunshine Blogger Award.

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