Core Skills – Designing Actions

Core Skills – Designing Actions

This skill is one that teachers have reported as being their most well-developed coaching skill. There are however ways for you to further develop this vital skill. One particular direction that usually needs consideration is how to share the design process with the students.


Part of the ICF description of this skill reads “The ability to create, together with the students, opportunities for ongoing learning, during coaching and in other life situations, and for taking new actions that will most effectively lead to agreed-upon coaching results”

One way of generating ideas for actions is to brainstorm. And in this case it is the student or students who are expected to generate the ideas. As coach you need only set up the activity and later assist in filtering the ideas for those actions that will most likely enable the student to “demonstrate, practice and deepen their new learning”.

You could us questions such as, “How will you discover what is needed for this part of the syllabus?”, “How can you increase your chances at getting this work done in time”, “In what ways could you practice this kind of equation?”. These questions encourage the students to start their process of brainstorming. If this is the first time that you have brainstormed there may be an expectation that the teacher provide the answers as well as the questions. That is the teacher’s role. It is not the coach’s role. As coach, you don’t need to provide any answers.

Early success
In order to provide the first-time brainstormers with support for early success you can show them an “old” brainstorm from a “previous group”. By that I mean the student can use and further develop a brainstorm session that is written on paper, for example in the form of a Mind Map. Of course, you can create the first Mind Map yourself as an example.

Letting good ideas go
When designing the actions starting from an ocean of potential ideas you will want to help the student to “focus on and systematically explore specific concerns and opportunities that are central to the agreed-upon coaching goals”. That means you can ignore ideas that might take the students too far from their goals. There may well turn up an absolutely fascinating idea… that risks taking you on a long journey to someting other than the agreed goals. Let that idea go.

What’s the best path
As coach you will need to engage the student to “explore alternative ideas and solutions, to evaluate the options, and to make related decisions that support them in their learning”. Basically this means asking questions like “What else?”,”How else?”, and “Which path seems to be the best?”. If the student is new to this coaching process they may expect – or even ask out loud – that you tell them What else, How else, and What’s the best path. Resisting all temptation to give them what they are asking for makes it possible for them to make a choice, and learn from it.

What if…
Which brings us to another aspect of designing actions. Life does not come with an Answer Key, until perhaps the very end. As coach you will be promoting “active experimentation and self-discovery, where the student takes what has been discussed and learned during sessions and applies it immediately afterwards in their life situation.” To this end you might want to introduce some Trial and Learning activities that allow the students to realise that mistakes are simply learning opportunities. A session that includes questions like “What if you do / What if you don’t?” can bring the experimentation to a safe level, where the consequences of a proposed action can be discussed rather than acted upon.”

Assumptions and Perspectives
When discussing “What if… ” you will probably encounter the student’s assumptions and perspectives; which gives you the opportunity of respectfully challenging them.
Assumptions and perspectives are key to how we experience Life. By changing our assumptions and perspectives we can experience Life in another way.

This process is likely to provoke evidence of resistance as well as new ideas and potentially uncovering new possibilities for action. Most of the discovery will happen outside the coaching session – when the student has space in which to set aside their assumptions and perspectives and look at new ones.

Evidence of resistance is an indication that alternatives are being tried and tested. You are unlikely to easily upset deeply held assumptions and perspectives by asking these simple questions. You are offering the student the chance to look at what can be changed – not commanding them to change. That’s useful to remember if you should come into a heated discussion with the student’s parents at a later date.

Whenever possible, pause and celebrate any and all successes and proofs of their developing capabilities, and indications for their future growth. As a teacher you will of course celebrate high test scores, good results and good behaviour. As coach you will do the same for whatever changes are coming about. A student who turns up for a test rather than staying at home and avoiding it is to be celebrated for taking a step in the right direction!

The Coach’s Experience
Sometimes you will want to bring your experience to the benefit of your student. There is a way to do this whilst still wearing your Coach Hat. Firstly, check that your point of view is aligned with student’s goals and, without attachment, invite them to consider them. You could say “I have heard that … “, “If it’s useful to you, by all means use it, otherwise just forget it.”

Do it Now
Once the actions have been designed there may still remain some reluctance or fear regarding actually doing it. Give whatever support is needed for them to do it now since the reluctance and fears are likely to grow when the coaching session is over.

I once encouraged a client to make a phonecall (one that they needed to make, and dreaded making); and I suggested that I go and fix a cup of coffee in the meantime. This created a sense of expectation that the call would be made within the next few minutes. When I returned the call was over. The client was equally delighted by the fact that they had made the call, as they were by the positive results of the call. This made the next calls much easier for the client.

In closing
​The previous example is also a description of how to encourage, stretch and challenge the student; and at the same time maintain a comfortable pace of learning.

I am sure that you, as teacher are already capable of doing that.

This is part of a series of 12 blogs about the ICF Core Coaching Skills