Call me Sensei?

Written by Amanda Forbis, Service Coordinator, Mecklenburg County CDSA

As my Master Coach Training experience is coming to an end, I find myself reflecting back on what I have learned over the last few months, and what I will continue to do with the knowledge and skills I have gained through this experience.  This journey started out with a question…“Who wants to volunteer to participate and learn how to be a Master Coach?”  Since I truly love what I do, part of me is always up for a challenge and an opportunity to learn better ways to interact with children, families, and other early interventionists.  Admittedly, the other part of me (the part which has stirred rumors around the office of my competitive streak) heard the term “Master Coach” (with emphasis on Master), and I thought to myself…wow…will there be some sort of award? Will there be a special title? Can I call myself Sensei Forbis when I am finished? This could be exciting!  And so, I headed out with several colleagues on this adventure to become a Master Coach.

Our six-month-long journey started by attending a day-long training in Morganton, NC at The Family, Infant and Preschool Program (FIPP) with M’Lisa Shelden and Dathan Rush.  Right from the start, I was hooked!  When we refer to coaching, we describe it as an interaction style.  I felt from the beginning that I understood what coaching should look like and why it should be used, but I hadn’t completely figured out the how.  From the start of that day-long training, the pieces began to fall into place.  I was beginning to understand how to do this: how to ask the right questions, and how to get this coaching thing to work.  My brain began to swirl with the new information that was being delivered.  Master Coach…I’m eyeing you like that jumbo bear hanging at the county fair!

Following that day-long training, I discovered the next leg of the journey would involve completing a coaching session each month, writing it up in a Coaching Log, and then analyzing it for content.  This was beginning to feel like school, so of course I was shooting for an A! Is that competitiveness or perfectionism? I’m not sure, but either way, I knew I wanted to do well!  And so, I went forth and completed my first couple of logs.  It seemed to go ok, but I still wasn’t sure exactly how to ask those reflective questions and how to balance those questions with feedback and other appropriate information.  Then came my next log, and it began to click! (I hear that particular Coaching Log set a record at 19 pages…just sayin’)  Although we use the term coaching, it really helped me to think of it more as reflective thinking…helping someone (by coaching them) to reflectively think about an issue they need to resolve, and then balance that with other appropriate information and feedback.  This could include something like helping a parent work through ways to support their child at mealtime, or helping a co-worker develop strategies to address an issue with a family they are supporting. I was learning that my role as the coach is not to solve a person’s problem for them or simply do the activity for them, but instead help them solve their own problem, or help them do the activity, thereby increasing their overall confidence and competence.  After all, children age out of the Infant-Toddler Program at three years old – what will families do then if all my time was spent telling them what do or simply doing it for them?  Are you confused? Scared? Don’t be…you can be a Master Coach too and get that jumbo bear for yourself!

So, let me explain. When I am “coaching,” my goal is to use reflective questions paired appropriately with information sharing and feedback in order for us to solve a problem together.  For example, a mother says to me, “I can’t get Susie to sit at the table when we have dinner together.”  In this scenario, Susie’s mother is looking to me for support around mealtime with Susie, and we are going to figure out a solution to this mealtime routine together by using the interaction style of coaching. Both the Coach (that would be me) and the Coachee (Susie’s mother) bring our expert knowledge to this situation – I bring expert information such as developmental milestones, and Susie’s mother brings expert information on Susie and their mealtime routine. As the Coach, my role is to ask the right reflective questions of the Coachee (Susie’s mother) so that she can reflect on things such as, what has she already tried, why has it worked or not worked, what else could she try, and what does she think will happen if  she tries something new?  While I ask these reflective questions of Susie’s mother, I also need to balance that with sharing appropriate information (like next steps in Susie’s development) and appropriate or supportive feedback.  Information-sharing with Susie’s mother around this routine could include things such as research-based child development, complications that can arise from Susie’s prematurity, information about her medical diagnosis, or resources available in the community.  Appropriate feedback could include things like reassuring the Coachee (Susie’s mother) of the progress Susie is making at mealtime (based on those developmental milestones and her prematurity), or reminding her that it’s ok to make mistakes as they try new things together as Susie’s learning capacity increases.  Susie’s mother and I are working together, each bringing what we know to support Susie at mealtime.  All of this is coaching!  You just have to tailor it depending on whether you are the service coordinator or a different type of early interventionist.

Am I winning that jumbo bear?  Actually, this whole experience is “winning” because, although I know I still have a lot to learn, I am feeling more confident through this journey as I learn how to coach…or is that Master Coach?  Speaking of….is anyone interested in engaging in a reflective, informative, and feedback-filled conversation?   I am hoping to continue on my quest of becoming a Master Coach as I work towards achieving fidelity in my coaching practices….wanna join me?

One Response to Call me Sensei?

  1. Andrea Matias Lemoine September 2, 2014 at 8:35 pm #

    Good job Amanda! great article! I got the help I needed when you coached me. Like you said, you were not given me answers, you gave me those reflective questions that made me think about me own performance. Like you, I always look for new ways to improve in my job because I love what I do. Glad that we have you as an additional support!

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