An Interview with Eileen Carnell and Susan Askew: Transformative Coaching

Sep 9, 2011 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

1) First of all could you each tell us a bit about yourselves and your background and experiences?

Susan Askew is a lecturer and MA course leader at the Institute of Education, University of London (IOE).

Eileen Carnell is a freelance writer and educational consultant.

Both the authors have designed professional learning courses, taught, researched, facilitated and set up coaching groups and advised other organisations in setting up a coaching service.

2) How did you first get involved in the field?

During the last four years we have had a central role in running the professional learning programme for the group of coaches who work in the coaching service across our organisation. Additionally, we acted as consultants to support the setting up a coaching service elsewhere. Importantly, we are coaches ourselves. The ideas in this book are developed from all these experiences.

3) What exactly do you mean by “transformative coaching”.

We call this book ‘Transformative Coaching’ because it embeds a view of transformative learning that leads the learner, at whatever stage of learning (young person or adult), to re-evaluate past beliefs and experiences, which had previously been understood within assumptions derived from others (Mezirow, 1991).

We believe that for coaching to be effective there needs to be an emphasis on self reflection, leading to change in oneself, change in behaviour and change to practice (rather than change in goal achievement or change in the situation). We call this change ‘perspective transformation’ borrowing the ideas of Mezirow (1991). We also focus on  ‘meta-learning’ in transformative coaching. This is about helping people making sense of their experience of learning (learning about learning), a concept not widely discussed in coaching or in education generally in our view.

4) How does it differ from mentoring?

When the coaching service was set up in our organisation it was called ‘Coaching and Mentoring’. This was in response to people’s varying interpretation of the different terms. After much discussion and research regarding the underpinning values and principles of each concept, we decided to call our work ‘coaching’ (there were still some in the group, however, who felt ‘coaching’ was a rather mechanistic term, implying a process of getting from A to B). We are still not entirely happy with the term ‘coaching’ but are unable to find a word that is more appropriate and would appeal to people who use the service.

Our reason for calling the work we do coaching rather than ‘mentoring’ relates to a fairly common idea that mentoring involves an ‘expert’ leading a novice through ‘good’ example. When we talk about ‘coaching’ we do not have this model in mind. Our aims for coaching are more closely aligned with Rogers’ (2004) definition in that:

• learning and change, both for the coach and coachee, are at the core

• the coach and coachee are in an equal relationship

• resourcefulness and responsibility is encouraged

• the coaching and learning process attend to the whole person.

5) What are some of the main issues that you are trying to address in your book?

The central issue that we address in the book is about how we learn, and how we can facilitate the learning of others. We are interested in helping the coachee, the coach, the coach-learning group and the organisation learn in a particular way.

Our book starts from the premise that the role of the coach is to support people’s learning at work.

6) Increasingly, many countries are dealing with many different races, ethnicities, and cultures – does your text address these issues?

Yes. Cultural issues in relation to coaching are discussed throughout the book.

We start from the premise that all ideas are culturally imposed and all ideas are open to question and challenge. However, as educators, we believe, with Rogers, that human being are programmed to learn and that there is ‘an evolutionary tendency toward greater order, greater inter-relatedness, greater complexity’ (Rogers, 1978: 26).

Even were we to question the evidence for human beings naturally progressing toward greater, inter-relatedness or complexity, we suggest that in any educational endeavour, it is better to ‘act as if’ this is the case – this stance, we argue, is more likely to lead to individuals moving in this direction. Of course, our approach is also based in specific values and beliefs – and in the book we consider different cultural dimensions to clarify those cultural values that underpin our approach.

As we have identified our approach has cultural implications. For example, our purpose is to facilitate personal decision-making, foster empowerment and encourage responsibility. It is possible that people who look to external agencies to guide their decisions, such as a parent or another authority figure, for example a religious leader or higher ‘being’ may find our approach to coaching lacking direction or advice. Their beliefs and view of the world may not be congruent with reflective learning, making their own decisions or taking responsibility for their actions.

7) What about students with special needs?

Many implications for coaching arise from different cultural dimensions and these apply equally to special needs, particularly in relation to power, status and control, which we discuss further in relation to self-identity and empowerment. While our approach to coaching is underpinned by the values we identify in the book, coachees may not hold the same values. Additionally different coachees may hold different values from one another. The coach needs to be aware of these subtleties and learn to recognise these when supporting people’s learning.

Where appropriate, the coach might ask the coachee to think about what helps and hinders their learning in relation to the cultural dimensions outlined in the book. For example:

• the degree to which the coachee feels controlled by others

• whether the coachee feels a display of emotions is acceptable

• whether the coachee feels threatened by uncertainty

• views on the separation of their private and working lives and the emotional distance that is kept between them.

In our model coachees are asked to think about how their beliefs and ideas affect their actions and choices. Advice is not given; judgements are not made. The model is based on facilitating the coachee in bringing long-held and possibly unconscious beliefs into the ‘light’ for re-evaluation as part of learning about the self before lasting changes can be made.

8) Can you provide an overview of some of the chapters?

Chapters in the book:

• present a critical theory of coaching that foregrounds reflective learning (chapters two and three)

• argue that the professional learning of the coach is based on learning how to support others in becoming reflective learners (chapter four)

• discuss the necessity of developing a supportive climate for coaching as part of a learning organisation (chapter five)

• explore fundamental themes in coaching such as self-identity and empowerment and relate these to learning (chapters six and seven)

• explore issues in practice (chapter eight)

• make explicit our own meta-learning about the theory of coaching and coaching practice and consolidate our argument that coaching can be transformative (chapter nine).

9) Increasingly students take on line classes, then appear in some classroom, with minimal interpersonal and people skills – does your text address this issue or problem?

We do not address this issue or problem explicitly. However, we do discuss at length learning about the self through reflection on the self – reflective learning. This is for perspective transformation, that is, a change to the way we perceive our contexts and ourselves and how we relate to others. When applied to coaching the reflection is on the self in practice. This is concerned with an interest in self knowledge ‘ … including interest in the way ones history and biography has expressed itself in the way one sees oneself, one’s roles and social expectations’ (Mezirow, 1981: 5).

The key word relating to reflective learning is ‘consciousness’ – reflective learning is centrally about bringing something into consciousness that was not there before (Mezirow, 1981). When people are working together in any context there is an increased need to bring into consciousness an understanding of how a person sees themselves and their interactions with others.

10) Do you have a web site?

The book is published by the Institute of Education, University of London. Susan works there and can be contacted through the IoE website. Eileen is a former member of staff (see: www.ioe.ac.uk/publications).

The Institute of Education is an autonomous graduate school of education within the University of London. During the last Research Assessment Exercise in 2008, the IOE was judged to be the best Higher Education Institute in the country for education research. (www.ioe.ac.uk).

11) Where can people procure your book both in Great Britain and in the U.S.?

This book is available to order in North America from Stylus Publishing (www.styluspub.com) and can also be ordered from all online book retailers such as Amazon.

In the UK it can be purchased from John Smith’s Education Bookshop ioe.johnsmith.co.uk and all good bookshops and online retailers.

References

Mezirow, J. (1981) ‘A Critical Theory of Adult Learning and Education’. Adult Education. 32(1): 3-24.

Mezirow, J. (1991) Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco.

Rogers, C. (1978) The Formative Tendency. Journal of Humanistic Psychology. 18: 23-26.

Rogers, J. (2004) Coaching Skills: A handbook. Berkshire: Open University Press.

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