Hey, When Is It Coaching And When Is It Supervising?

I taught myself how to swim when I was a young girl. How? I watched others. Then I tried. I managed to coordinate my body in a way that kept me afloat and moving through the water. Yet, I never felt I swam efficiently. When I decided recently to change my exercise routines by adding swimming once or twice a week, I hired a swimming coach.

“Let’s see what you got,” she said as she watched me swim in the pool. “Not bad.” She now knew where to begin. She told me I could become a better swimmer by keeping my knees from bending and learning how to breathe properly as I swam. I appreciated the feedback, and our lessons began. I’ve been practicing between sessions. She keeps seeing progress.

Our sessions are working because I was ready to learn. I had a goal. I requested coaching.  James Flaherty in his marvelous book Coaching: Evoking Excellence in Others calls a request for coaching an opening. These openings can also include performance reviews, the need for a new skill or finishing a project. We as coaches need to understand that the opening exists with the client and how a potential client interprets how coaching may support him or her.

The tricky part to openings in coaching is not letting the opening be centered on ourselves as coaches when we feel it is time for us to help improve a person’s performance. I already see this happening in education with all the teacher evaluation mania occurring these days. I received a call recently from a school asking me to coach teachers who were receiving scores of 2 or 3 rather than a 4 on specific criteria on their teacher evaluation instrument. What they were requesting was an intervention and calling it coaching. Flaherty points out that what I was actually being asked to do is “behavior modification with all the accompanying techniques and coercive force of that approach”. I also view intervention as a supervisory issue, not a coaching issue.

So let’s be careful what we’re calling coaching.


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