What is coaching?

What if you took students on a journey of discovery where they became their own guides over time? What if, during your lectures, you could lead students to more self-regulation through focused interactions and feedback? What if, in addition to being a lecturer, you could also be a coach to your students? At its core, the coaching approach consists of facilitating learning through active listening and asking questions, while offering appropriate challenges and support (Griffiths, 2005). By coaching students in a targeted way, you can ensure that they plan, monitor and evaluate their own learning, so they get better at processing and applying the subject matter, while also increasing their problem-solving skills. 

Principles of good coaching

​So what are good coaching skills to use while teaching? Below we will discuss seven specific skills that contribute to good coaching, according to Clement (2015).

  • Explore – Assess each student’s situation. How are their learning skills? What are they already doing? What are their strengths?
  • Appreciate and empower – Try to create a positive learning climate with room for affirmation and appreciation.
  • Confront – Don't hesitate to confront students with critical feedback at regular intervals. After all, this feedback creates new learning opportunities for them.
  • Challenge – Encourage them to take the initiative and to push their limits, for example by setting challenging goals together.
  • Inspire – By asking specific questions, you can inspire students to think about alternative perspectives or possible new paths.
  • Allow – Students may experience certain emotions that interfere with their learning process. Acknowledge and allow space for those feelings, showing you care by regularly asking them how they're doing.
  • Relax – A relaxed learning environment is key for both the lecturer and the students.

The coaching conversation

Coaching skills are widely applicable in education, and can be just as useful when teaching large groups as when coaching individual students. The actual coaching conversation, however, focuses specifically on supervising smaller numbers of students (e.g. as they carry out group assignments) or individual students (e.g. as they write their dissertations). However, certain elements inherent to these smaller-scale coaching conversations can also be useful when teaching larger groups.

During a coaching conversation with a student, you discuss their learning skills by means of in-depth questions. You give development-oriented feedback, which is focused on the student's growth. Together, you look for the causes of success and failure and explore possibilities for improvement (Slooter, 2018). 

A coaching conversation is characterised by a specific conversation structure. A model that's still widely used today is Whitmore's GROW model (1992).

  • G is for Goal – Exploring the students' goals.
  • R is for Reality – Becoming aware of the current situation.
  • O is for Options – Identifying possible options.
  • W is for Will/Way forward – Determining the action.


Let's conclude with one last quote from Danny Wyffels (2014): "Coaching is getting the best out of your student by using the best of yourself as a teacher. It's a journey of discovery, orchestrated by the teacher."