Coaching in the Classroom

March 07, 2023

I’ve been at the University of Saskatchewan for 20 years and have taught both graduate and undergraduate classes—some with as few as 10 students, and others with over 300.

Regardless of the size or levels, using a coaching approach has been instrumental in creating a rich learning environment to help students excel in academia and in the workforce.

Using a coach approach in the classroom requires instructors to follow four principles: engaging with students, enlightening them of their potential, empowering them to grow, and holding them accountable for their choices. 

I also use a variety of resources, readings, examples and assignments to give students ample opportunities to build their emotional intelligence.

Principle 1: Engagement

I teach a variety of economics courses that are most often required in the curriculum. To ensure the students find the material useful and relevant, I must first learn their interests and educational goals. 

I ask students to introduce themselves, to engage with each other and with me on a personal level. That way, I get to know what they want and need, their reasons for attending university and what they want to get out of the class. Engagement is about making sure students are seen, heard and understood—skills they can also use when working with each other.

From an emotional intelligence perspective, this requires students to be aware of their own emotions, perspectives and biases. They learn to appropriately express themselves and to build interpersonal relationships—all skills that are transferable beyond the classroom.

Principle 2: Enlightenment

Any level of education is about enlightenment when it comes to the curriculum. Students will learn new skills, theories, models and approaches to help them master a subject.  

While learning new information is important, I’m talking about enlightenment of self. My focus is to support students in learning about themselves: how they learn, how they rise to challenges and how they deal with conflict. 

Teaching “what” is essential, but focusing on “how” can help students advance more rapidly because they gain a deeper understanding of themselves.

Being enlightened to possibilities can also help students realize what matters to them, how they approach problems, and what their specific skills and talents are. Such learning promotes a sense of well-being, self-actualization and of course, confidence.

Principle 3: Empowerment

Being empowered is… well, empowering! 

Knowing you have the mental and physical ability to accomplish something can be potent. Students who are empowered through scaffolded training—where they learn small steps along the way—can accomplish more and are generally more successful.  

To empower students, I post weekly assignments that require them to apply theories they’ve learned to topics they enjoy. By building on the material each week, they learn how to approach each subject in a stepwise fashion and achieve success along the way. The inevitable missteps are also an important part of the process. They teach students that failures are opportunities to learn and grow, and that it’s possible to overcome disappointment.

Empowering students for success allows them to build their problem-solving skills and to better tolerate stress. Students learn to be flexible in their approaches to learning, and again build confidence with each small success.

Principle 4: Accountability

The last step to using a coach approach in the classroom is to hold students accountable, which helps them excel in their studies and achieve their goals.  

Being accountable means showing up, taking ownership of their behaviour and making a commitment to their own learning. I always tell all of my students that I, as their instructor, am responsible for setting up the learning environment to help them flourish. It’s not what I teach them, but what they choose to learn.

Being accountable helps students enhance their emotional self-awareness, to be critical thinkers, and to become more self-actualized. Setting goals—and achieving those goals—also prepares them to be life-long learners.

Overall, using a coach approach in the classroom helps students master technical skills and their emotional skills to grow and succeed in a more holistic manner.

Hayley Hesseln, Ph.D., is the co-founder of EI Advantage and is responsible for developing all e-learning courses and training curricula. Catch her at the Seachange in Coaching in Education virtual gathering on Wednesday, March 22, where she will be speaking more on coaching in the classroom.