Developing confident, considerate communicators

How a coaching culture can support your child’s future by Gillian Panton, Deputy Head of Sydenham High Prep School

“How was your day, darling?” Through the crunching of a snack being savoured following an action-packed afternoon of geography fieldwork, netball squad and computer coding, a small voice utters a frustratingly underwhelming: “Fine.” This familiar response follows us into adulthood and often belies a need to “keep on keeping on” despite how we feel inside. Some grew up with the proverb, “A problem shared is a problem halved,” echoing the famous television advert reminding us that it is “good to talk”. However, when children show reluctance to expand on their day, share the worries or the challenges they face, how do we as parents and educators prise open these channels of communication to promote a safe space to converse, without judgement?

Cracking open problems begins with the bubbling of curiosity. The confidence to ask pertinent questions to better understand where each of us ‘is’ reveals a powerful, yet quiet, respect for the other person and their experience. However, it is arguably the space held between the responses that can be revolutionary, producing an ‘Aha!’ moment. Research has shown that often such revelations come because the mind has quietened and our consciousness is at rest. The power of opening up such types of conversations has seen a remarkable development in the communication skills of pupils at Sydenham High School. Creating a coaching culture, actively chosen to extend beyond the walls of the staff room and into the hands of our pupils in the playground and classrooms alike, has seen a sharpening of focus on the meaning of interdependence. For every pupil to flourish within our school gates, the resolve to respectfully listen to one another, and be heard, is the cornerstone of our pastoral care. As educators, we delight in knowing that the learning has truly ‘stuck’ when we witness the pupil-come-mini-teacher in action, regaling in the joy of sharing their knowledge and supporting others to access the task in hand. It is with this power of the peer, that “Kid-Coaching” was devised. Using a structured coaching question model, pupils and staff alike have been developing an awareness of the far-reaching impact of the coaching conversation to support positive growth and self-reflection. The introduction of the ‘Inner Coach’ concept has proved powerful in raising the self-belief and confidence of our pupils. Children are always eager to help their friends in times of need and offer supportive words of advice. It is with this in mind that we encourage the pupils to talk to themselves as they would their best friend. What this reveals is a compassionate, less rigid, fixed response to some of the worries or challenges that crop up in the sometimes choppy waters of school life.

A coaching culture equips children with the interpersonal skills to develop their questioning and listening. It also challenges children to reflect on, and uncover, thoughts and considerations they have within a safe space. Communication skills are the bedrock of the future. Being creative, adaptive, and in equal measure, resilient, is no mean feat; however, with the support of family, teachers and peers, unlocking the power of open-ended questioning and self-reflection, through tools such as the Inner Coach, the outcomes for pupils can be far-reaching. Reaping the rewards of positively connecting through coaching, saw our sparky year 7 pupils revisit the Prep School to lead Kid Coaching sessions and inspire the next contingent of pupils to take up the challenge of inspiring others. By remembering the power of the space between the question and response, perhaps we can support children to take ownership of their choices about how they manage their feelings and respond in moments of challenge leading to the ever-elusive, “Aha!” moment of clarity.

Top tips to open up a coaching style conversation with your child:

  • When listening to your child talking about their emotions or worries, try to suspend any reaction to the behaviour they may display and instead focus on the emotions they exhibit.
  • Try to support your child to recognise and label their emotions or worries as this will help them to build a greater understanding of what it is they are feeling.
  • Encourage your child to be kind to themselves, rather than critical. Model how they could speak to themselves more positively and compassionately.
  • Embrace the pauses in the conversation as this may be the space your child needs to find the way forward with their problem.