A single conversation can change a life. From Freud’s single session treatment of Katerina, to the policeman who yelled at a man precariously standing on the rail of a bridge, ‘come down or I shoot’ (and he did come down) a single conversation is enough. Sometimes it is the only opportunity we have.
This article is not suggesting wellbeing programs do not work and that coaching conversations are the alternative we need. Both can work well. Although there is a common theme I hear among educators, when it comes to wellbeing programs. That is, “they are drowning in work sustaining them and sometimes, it can feel like it is not making a great deal of difference to students”.
What the research says about programs
Research shows that programs are making a difference but it is marginal. 0.16 effect size on social and emotional adjustment (ACER’s Research). For reference, John Hattie’s list of 257 influences on student achievement had an average effect size of 0.4 (see below).
Our research highlights two main challenges:
- Students (and staff) connect with all, some or none of the program content, i.e. it is tough to meet the unique needs of each student with a program
- Programs seem to have a shelf life no matter how great, year 1 and 2 enthusiasm can turn into a bit of a grind to sustain long term
Conversations are flexible to individual needs
In each classroom, you have a mix of identities going through all sorts of different phases on their quest to discover who they are and what they want to do. Add to this that we live in a world where ‘disruption’ is lauded as the marker for success. Rapid social, cultural and technological change means that what is current and relevant to the lives of our students also changes regularly. Creating and delivering content at a pace to keep up is next to impossible.
Coaching conversations are a flexible way for schools to meet students where they are at on their journey and unpack what’s relevant to their lives. It is not about instruction, teaching or telling. Coaching is about facilitating the conversations and conditions in which someone can utilise their strengths to increase their performance and improve their lives.
Conversations are sustainable long term
Having great conversations is as much to do with trust, compassion and kindness than it is to do with anything else. It’s not about being a subject matter expert on what is being discussed. The aim is to help students feel empowered to create and make the changes they believe will have the biggest impact on their life, i.e. student agency. Equally, it is giving staff the agency to have these conversations. In these conversations, staff are not operating within the confines of a set curriculum or program.
This means that whilst the contents of what is discussed will change, the guiding principles and techniques of facilitating great conversations will remain the same.
Making coaching conversations part of your approach to wellbeing
You don’t need special qualifications to be a great coach. To implement coaching conversations effectively, consider the following:
- Who would be doing the coaching? Most commonly, this sits with tutors, mentors or homeroom teachers.
- Logistics and frequency. We recommend a formal 1:1 student coaching session once a term. Newly acquired skills can be weaved into the day to day student-teacher interactions.
- Initial training of coaches to get buy in. It’s important to get initial buy-in and this can be done through a launch session/s with coaches.
- Progress. Follow up with staff to create a sense of progress, reinforce skills, acquire new skills, get feedback on the approach and discuss themes from students to inform future wellbeing planning. You might consider doing this once a term or once a month as an optional session amongst coaches. These touch points will help evolve the coaching approach naturally and maintain commitment.
Using Skodel’s software to support
Our wellbeing planning tool and emotional check-in help inform coaching conversations and support change. Skodel's check-in tool provides students with a comfortable outlet to share how they are going. These become helpful points of discussion that can be unpacked. From here, you might like to workshop an effective goal with your student to add to their wellbeing plan. This can be revisited in the next coaching session to see how they have been tracking with it and the difference it has made to their life.