A Coaching Power Tool By Josh Bolland, Teen and Parent Coach, BRAZIL
Adult Coaching Learning Theory
When I first started my training as a coach, I was excited, as a high school guidance counselor, by the prospect of having a powerful tool at my disposal to help the teenagers I worked with. When I learned that coaching was largely based on Adult Learning Theory, I worried coaching might not help teenagers.
Adult Learning Theory, or Andragogy, is a learning theory developed by Malcolm Knowles that attempts to identify the unique needs of adult learners. According to this theory, adults need to know the reason behind what they are learning, their learning needs to be experiential, they prefer problem-solving approaches, and they appreciate more what they are learning when it connects to their life. (Instructional Design.Org)
Coaching fits well with andragogy because coaches help adult clients to discover their why during the sessions, the coaching process is experiential and requires clients to think through their problems, and the sessions all revolve around real-life situations that the clients bring.
Pedagogy, or Child Learning Theory, has traditionally held that students are dependent on their teachers. The teacher is responsible for what, when, and how the child will learn. Not only this, but the reason for learning is established by parent or teacher figures as well and so the motivation doesn’t come from the student. Learning subject knowledge is more important than problem-solving. (Pedagogy ) Students are seen as containers to be filled with the correct knowledge rather than builders of their own experiences and understanding. So, it makes sense in this light that coaching might not be a good fit for teenagers as a coach is not supposed to provide the answers for their clients.
However, pedagogy and andragogy are beginning to converge, and studies like those done by John Hattie have shown the effectiveness of Adult Learning Principles in helping children to increase their learning. One example is the move from monologic teacher talk to dialogic talk, which “aims to promote communication with and between students, to demonstrate the value of the views of students, and to help participants to share and build meaning collaboratively.” (Hattie, 82) This new perspective in pedagogy is very much aligned with the collaborative nature of coaching where the coach asks questions that deepen the client’s exploration of their own thoughts and behaviors.
Teen Coaching vs. Adult Coaching
In schools, no two students are ever at the same place in their learning. Often, teachers are asked to prepare lessons for a class of students who are at different levels pedagogically. In order to do this, teachers will often use a technique called scaffolding. Whereas one student may be able to work independently with minimal instructional input from the teacher to complete a task, another student may need more resources and for the task to be broken up into many smaller ones, each building on the other to accomplish the same task as the more independent student. When coaching teenagers, I have found that some of them participate in the coaching session just like any adult would. However, others have sometimes needed a bit more scaffolding.
The first suggestion I would like to make for coaches working with teenagers is to pay close attention to the vocabulary being used when summarizing what a teenager has said or when asking them follow-up questions. Often we adults use terms or expressions that when used may generate confusion, especially for younger teenagers. Pay close attention to their expressions and if you notice they look confused, check in with them on what you said. “You looked confused by what I said/asked, would you like me to rephrase that?” or “Did you understand what I meant by the word ‘____’?”
An additional suggestion I would make is for when a coach encounters a moment when a teenager’s only response is, “I don’t know.” There are a number of reasons why a teenager might give this answer during a coaching session. First, a coach may not have built up enough trust for the teenager to feel willing to share their thoughts. Or, they may not have the vocabulary to adequately describe what they are thinking. And sometimes, their brains just go blank and they don’t know how to access the information that will help them move the conversation forward. In any of these cases, asking a question that provides multiple options for them to consider could provide a scaffold that moves them past the “I don’t know.” For example, you might say something like, “I heard you say…which of the following is most important: A, B, or something else?” (Reynolds) In this case, providing two options, A and B, that relate to what you heard may be the spark needed for the reflection process to continue. Additionally, providing the “Something else” option gives them the opportunity to go their own way if neither A nor B triggers additional thoughts.
Adult Coaching Learning Theory and Child Learning
From both research and more than 18 years of experience in education, I can affirm that Adult and Child Learning theories are converging. Both adults and teenagers want to know the why behind what they are learning. Both learn better when what they are learning connects to their personal lives. And opportunities to explore and make mistakes are important for both to learn. And since this type of learning aligns well with the principles of coaching, we can feel secure that teenagers can be coached just as well as adults. But since they may not have the same level of vocabulary, life experiences, or brain development as adults, providing a scaffolding of sorts when coaching can make the process more fulfilling for both the teens and their coaches.
Hattie, John. Visible learning for teachers: maximizing impact on learning. Routledge, 2012.
Instructional Design.Org. “Andragogy (Malcolm Knowles)”. InstructionalDesign.Org, Acessado 18 de novembro de 2022.
Pedagogy, Andragogy, & Heutagogy | University of Illinois Springfield.Acessado 18 de novembro de 2022.
Reynolds, Marcia. Coach the person, not the problem: a guide to using reflective inquiry. First edition, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2020.