Professional Development Opinion

How Do You Plan a Coaching Conversation?

By Elena Aguilar — March 07, 2013 3 min read
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My book, The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation, is now available!

This week I’m sharing excerpts of it. Today’s selection comes from Chapter 13, “Technical Tips and Habits of Mind.”


Planning for a coaching conversation is similar in some ways to planning a lesson--we construct a couple clear goals, design a route to meet those goals, anticipate the challenges that might arise, and review material that might be helpful. As when you design a lesson, when you plan a coaching conversation keep in mind that you may need to change course, modify plans, or even abandon the directions and activities you planned because some other skill gap becomes apparent or a more pressing need presents itself.

Planning for a coaching session is essential. After some experience, we might be able to walk into a meeting with a client and wing it, but we will be much more effective if we have a plan tucked into our coach-minds. As we move through the conversation the client won’t notice when we subtly guide the conversation, the thoughtful questions we seem to pose on the spur of the moment, or the way we calmly react to whatever comes up. If we are planned, then we might have anticipated that the client could need a particular resource and we’ll have a copy of that resource copied and ready to hand over. If we are planned, then we walk into the coaching meeting with the big picture fresh in our minds--the needs of the client and his goals, as well as the needs of the students and community he serves.

So how do we plan this meeting?

Step 1: Where Does My Client Need to Go?

The first step to plan a coaching conversation is to identify where my client needs to go in a particular session. To do this, I read over the notes and reflections I made after our last meeting. This helps me remember where my client was in her learning the last time we met. Then I consider where the conversation might need to go to move the client toward her goals. In order to do this, I review the work plan and my notes from recent sessions. I consider the evidence that my client is making progress and speculate on remaining gaps in skill, will, knowledge, or capacity. I look through my notes to see if there are any patterns in the holes--are there topics or issues that the client seems reluctant to address?

Based on the client’s goals and recent sessions, I plan for the upcoming meeting. What might be a meaningful outcome for this meeting? What might be helpful for my client to think about or do? Which coaching approach might be the most effective? Might it help to engage in some action together? Or have we been doing a lot of activities but not spending enough time reflecting on them?

Here’s a tool to help you plan coaching sessions: Coaching Session Planning Tool.pdf

Step 2: Who Do I Need to Be?

Once I have determined where the client needs the conversation to go, and I have some ideas about how we can get there, then I figure out who I need to be as a coach. This is the second step in planning a coaching conversation.
I know my clients need me to be grounded and present when I walk into their rooms. Simply by conveying a sense of calm a reflective space is opened that invites others to slow down and learn. I consciously, regularly cultivate a grounded state of being. There are many ways to do this. Some are daily habits such as getting exercise, prioritizing eight hours of sleep, and eating nutritious food. I encourage coaches to consider how they attend to their own emotional, physical, social, and spiritual needs--doing so will definitely improve a coach’s skills...

...When I knock on a client’s classroom or office, I know that a large part of what will make the meeting successful is my disposition: If I’m confident, compassionate, grounded and present, I know I can create a learning space for someone to explore his beliefs, behavior and being.

Coaches: How do you prepare for coaching sessions? What habits help you get grounded and present?

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