GROWing your colleagues

GROWing your colleagues

I often get asked about the coaching methodology I use in my work as a mentor / coach / staff development lead / consultant. So I decided to write about it. Let me know your thoughts.

Many people, books, organisations and experiences have shaped my approach. ‘Coaching for Performance’ by the late, great John Whitmore was an early source of inspiration and guidance. He introduced me to the GROW model and now this is undoubtedly my modus operandi and has been for a large number of years now. Here is how I use it.81prZLAvxUL

The GROW model is a coaching framework used in conversations, meetings and everyday leadership to unlock potential and encourage individual growth. It has become the world’s most popular coaching model for problem solving, goal setting and performance improvement. Rather than just use the GROW model for structuring conversations, I use it to structure my approach to improvement.


GROW is an acronym for Goal, Reality, Options, What next?

The purpose of G in the GROW model is to, in the words of Stephen Covey ‘start with the end in mind’. That is, define the end goal that you would like to achieve clearly and precisely. Establishing a goal is essential as without one we have no direction of travel, no purpose and no focus for practice – the essential ingredient in professional growth alongside feedback.

Picture2Gary Keller in his book ‘The One Thing’ says ‘Achievers always work with a clear sense of priority’. Don’t fragment your attention. In addition, the clearer the goal the more likely improvement is going to happen.

Dan Pink in his book ‘Drive’ says ‘Unless people care about a goal, theyPicture1 aren’t likely to achieve the goal.’ So therefore it is important that the individual sets their own goal although recognise that some colleagues you work with may need help with establishing the most effective goal.

It is important to realise that goal setting here could refer to an individual’s work or a specific aspect of your organisation’s work you wish to improve. For example, in the trust I work for we ask schools to establish their own goal, often in the form of a driving question, prior to undertaking school to school reviews. This then forms the focus of our evidence collection in the visit – R part of GROW – Reality.

Read more about our Growing Great Schools here.

If you are working with an individual colleague, at the start of the improvement process you could ask these questions or similar:

  • How would you describe yourself when you’re at your best?
  • On reflection, what do you see as your next steps in terms of your own development?
  • What are the learning needs of the class you would like to focus on?
  • What do you feel that you could develop further in your own practice to enable all students to make even better progress?

When exploring the goal, encourage your colleague to build a detailed vision of future success.

  • What specifically do you want to achieve?
  • What difference will it make to you and your students?
  • How will your goal support whole school/subject/phase priorities? (Use if you wish to define any parameters)
  • What’s the real challenge for you here? How challenging is this goal?
  • What will you need to consider to make this goal realistic and achievable?
  • Where will your support come from? How can I help?
  • Imagine you are successful. What would be different? What specifically would be happening when you are successful? What’s 10/10 look like? What are the benefits for you and what are the benefits for your students? How will it feel like to achieve this goal?

These last questions will help your colleague imagine the world without the problem, envisage themselves being successful and give themselves a clear sense of direction and destination.

At the end of this initial conversation it would be prudent to establish a sense of commitment by wording the goal thus;

By… I am… so that…
Eg. By June 2021 I am live modelling writing so that my students know what success looks like and can work more independently.

As part of the Growing Great Teachers approach we have in our trust, staff are asked to commit to their goal by completing a Professional Growth Plan. See here.

The purpose of the reality phase of GROW is to identify the gap between your current reality and the goal you have set to achieve. It is a time to challenge assumptions and limiting beliefs and to identify potential resources that could be used to achieve the goal. This is an opportunity too to identify current capabilities, achievements, successes and circumstances that help you better understand your current reality and the strengths you already have and can build on as you move forward towards your goal.

In my work I establish the reality by providing an objective reality check (often by focused observation and factual recount) and/or asking my colleague questions.

Reality check through observation:
I use factual material which I then present to my colleague for them to reflect upon and establish a more accurate check of current reality.

In my daily work I use one, some or all of the following as a way of collecting invaluable information to enable reflection:

  • Photographs
  • Video
  • Audio

wpid-notability_startupDepending on the focus, I find the latter especially useful. I use an iPad to record this ‘reality check’ and an app called ‘Notability’which conveniently has an audio function built in. I would then ask questions about what they can see and hear.


Reality check through questions:
In a conversation, you might ask some or all of the following questions or similar in order to establish what is working already, and any strengths and successes that can be built on.

  • Where are you on a scale of 0 – 10, where 10 is your ideal?
  • What is happening now? What is working well at the moment?
  • How confident are you of achieving this goal?
  • What have you tried so far? Was it helpful? What have you seen or read about that might help? What’s working already? Make a list of what works. Consider how these achievements could potentially assist you in achieving your new goal.
  • Tell me about the last time this was more manageable. What were you doing differently when it worked better?
  • What do you think is stopping you at the moment?
  • What have you tried that hasn’t worked? What stopped it from working or helping?
  • What might get in the way of you achieving this goal? How will you overcome any barriers?

The latter issue of addressing potential barriers is an important one. In my mind I often have the acronym of WOOP as devised by Gabriele Oettingen in her excellent book ‘Rethinking Positive Thinking’.woop

WOOP stands for Wish Outcome Obstacle Plan. Have a clear wish or goal and understand the benefits it brings but remember that some things can get in the way. If you can control any of these obstacles then, in the early stages of goal setting, establish a plan to overcome them.

Frequently, when establishing the goal or thinking about what’s working, I use prompt cards to remind me and my colleague of all the possibilities. I place them on the table between us and together we identify, sort and prioritise. I wrote about these here.

Sometimes, the goal can change as a result of the reality check! It might therefore be worth asking some of these questions or similar:

  • Knowing what you now know about the current reality, is your goal still relevant and achievable?
  • Should you focus on only one part of my goal instead?
  • Should anything change?

So far:
Establish the goal – through a brief meeting
Check reality – through focused factual based observation, presentation of your findings (not opinions) and/or questions to your colleague.

Having established a goal, had a reality check and made any necessary alterations to the goal, it is time to explore the possible options and opportunities available to you to achieve the goal. The purpose is to generate several possibilities and options as this creates a greater sense of autonomy. This exploration would take place during a conversation in which I may ask some or all these questions or similar.

  • What are your options for achieving this goal? How might you approach this goal?
  • What have you thought about?
  • What else could you do? And what else?
  • If you are 5 on your scale now, what does 6 involve?
  • What approaches do others take in similar circumstances?

The AWE question (and what else?) is worth repeating to really delve deeply into possible options. If you feel the need to provide some possibilities to your colleagues, then ask first; ‘Would you like some ideas or suggestions from me?’ Always present at least two possible options as this enables a sense of choice and, again, autonomy.

When people generate options, I pay close attention and often write them down. This shows the person I am listening carefully and it helps accurately catch their exact words. I repeat back their exact words to make them feel heard. Repetition of their own language by someone else helps develop clarification.

Focus on what the coachee is saying and how they are saying it; not the next question that you might be thinking about asking next. Embrace silences and always allow plenty of thinking time. Sometimes, I may even leave them for a while so that they can mull over the options.

As options are being generated ask ‘what if’ questions. These enable people to think creatively about the goal that they would like to achieve.

  • What if you had…? What would you do?
  • What if you had unlimited time? What would you do?
  • What if no one would judge you? What would you do then?

It is also useful during this phase to examine the pros and cons of each approach so a more informed decision may be made.

  • What are the pros and cons of each option?
  • What might you do next? Best option?

Considering everything you have both identified and acknowledged, now it’s time to select the best option that will move your colleague forward towards the attainment of their goal.

What is one option that will move you forward?

This phase is about confirming the focus and establishing how to get started. Your colleague will need to consider the first step they will take towards the goal; the next ‘plus one’ as I call them. For some it helps if this is a simple step that is too small to fail. Small steps feel manageable and help build much needed momentum. They will also need to remind themselves of the benefits of taking this action as this can be motivating.

To do this ask some of the following questions or similar:

  • Which option excites you the most? Which option will you take?
  • How will you do that? What could you do that could enable you to move one single step towards your goal?
  • When will you achieve it by?
  • When are you going to start?
  • What one small step will you take now? What will you do first?
  • What precisely would be the first signs that things were moving in the right direction?

To make them aware they are not alone:

  • What support might you need? How and when can you get that support? Could I be of assistance?

Teachers who can continue to set and monitor learning goals in the absence of the coach are those who will continue to improve their practice. To ensure some accountability:

  • How will you monitor your progress, evaluate impact and identify area for further development? When will we revisit and review this?

Get commitment and clarity:

  • Confirm and summarise the goal as described earlier (By… I am… so that…)

Further coaching questions available here.


Now your colleague has established the detail, they need an intentional focus on practice and frequent feedback so that effective habits are being formed and success is encoded.  I will write about feedback next.

Let me know your thoughts on this process and if I may be able to help your organisation in the future.

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