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Developing mental toughness in young people: coaching as an applied positive psychology

Christian van Nieuwerburgh and Suzy Green

Coaching in education

Whilst coaching has been used in the corporate setting for decades, coaching in education did not make a real presence until the early part of this century. During the last decade, coaching in education has flourished in the UK, Australia, and the US (van Nieuwerburgh, 2012b). Within the UK, a landmark document written in 2005 (National Framework for Mentoring and Coaching) encouraged educators to broaden their interventions to include non-directive coaching. This was followed by an influential workbook entitled Leading Coaching in Schools which provided a rationale for the use of coaching in educational settings and offered “structured support for leaders who wish to embed coaching practices throughout the school” (Creasy & Paterson, 2005, p. 2).

Coaching in the education sector is an increasingly popular approach to the enhancement of staff and student performance and wellbeing. Whilst research is embryonic and further research is required, the results of scientific studies so far are encouraging and suggest that it is a promising approach for educators to consider (Green, Oades & Grant, 2006; Green, Grant & Rynsaardt, 2007; Spence & Grant, 2007; Passmore & Brown, 2009; Grant, Green & Rynsaardt, 2010; van Nieuwerburgh & Tong, 2013). In addition, coaching is increasingly being used as part of whole-school Positive Education Programmes that successfully integrate coaching with positive psychology interventions (Green, Oades & Robinson, 2011). There has also been a recent interest in exploring the use of coaching approaches and skills in primary schools (Briggs & van Nieuwerburgh, 2010–2011; Adams, 2012).

Through research and practice, it has been proposed that student performance and wellbeing can be improved through a number of coaching related interventions, including coaching of teachers (Ross, 1992; Shidler, 2009) and coaching students directly (Campbell & Gardner, 2005; Green, Grant & Rynsaardt, 2007, Passmore & Brown, 2009). This chapter aims to introduce the reader to the research and practice of coaching (as an applied positive psychology) for both students and teachers, with a particular emphasis on coaching for mental toughness.

What is coaching?

Whilst the term “coaching” has many definitions and uses, it is popularly referred to as sustained cognitive, emotional, and behavioural change that facilitates goal attainment and performance enhancement, either in one's work or personal life (Douglas & McCauley, 1999). A definition that is particularly resonant in the education sector is “unlocking people's potential to maximize their own performance” (Whitmore, 2009, p. 10).

The term “evidence-based coaching”, coined by Grant (2003), is also increasingly being utilised. It is defined as an applied discipline and is informed by knowledge drawn from multiple disciplines (e.g., psychology, sociology, adult learning, education, organisational behaviour, business management) (Green & Spence, in press).

It is also important, at this stage, to make a distinction between “coaching” and “mentoring”. In a new definition of coaching in education, van Nieuwerburgh highlights the non-directive nature of coaching, proposing that it is “a one-to-one conversation focused on the enhancement of learning and development through increasing self-awareness and a sense of personal responsibility, where the coach facilitates the selfdirected learning of the coachee through questioning, active listening, and appropriate challenge in a supportive and encouraging climate”
(van Nieuwerburgh, 2012b, p. 17). Coaching is more about facilitation than providing answers. Green and Spence (in press) describe coaching as a collaborative relationship formed between a coach and a coachee for the purpose of attaining valued outcomes. Central to the coaching process is the clarification and articulation of personal and professional goals, goals that are generally set to stretch an individual's current capacities (Spence & Grant, 2007). Whilst the coaching process occurs within a supportive, collaborative relationship, it is action-oriented and focused on creating purposeful, positive change. It involves talking, reflecting and most importantly, planning for action. The coach does not assume control of the coachee's change process (by telling them what to do), rather she uses questioning to build self-responsibility for change in order to discover (or rediscover) the latent strengths and tacit knowledge needed to create the solutions required for goal attainment to occur (Berg & Szabo, 2005).

Green and Spence (in press) state coaching assists individuals to enhance goal striving by: first, developing a positive or preferred future vision, second, identifying desired outcomes, third, establishing specific personal goals, fourth, enhancing motivation by identifying strengths and building self-efficacy, fifth, identifying resources and formulating action plans, sixth, regularly monitoring and evaluating progress, and seventh the modification of action plans (based on an ongoing evaluation of progress) (Grant, 2003). The use of simple coaching models such as the Goal, Reality, Options, Will (GROW; Whitmore, 2009) encourages coachees to take ownership of their goal striving and behaviour change by inviting them to set the agenda for each coaching conversation. The GROW model also forms part of an ongoing iterative process that includes the Review and Evaluation (RE-GROW) of goal-directed action over multiple coaching sessions, which permits modifications to goals or action plans as needed. This review-evaluate-modification component of the coaching process creates a “cycle” of self-regulation (see Figure 1) that is important for successful behaviour change (Grant, 2003).

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