The 3 Pitfalls to Avoid when Coaching Educators

The 3 Pitfalls to Avoid when Coaching Educators

By Gavin Grift

If you’ve been appointed to a coaching role, it’s a fantastic opportunity to genuinely support staff – and indirectly, students.

But there are some very common mistakes I routinely see rookie coaches making.

Here are three things you should not be doing.


When you’re still finessing your coaching skills, it’s important to remember that you’re not yet at the pinnacle of your craft. Like teaching, coaching is an ongoing process of development.

You’re a coach, not a mentor

Newer coaches often assume that others need to always draw on their knowledge and resources to be successful.

But we are first and foremost coaches – not consultants or mentors.

A consultant or mentor takes the role of informing people about the kinds of things they might need to be thinking about, applying or practicing.

Whereas a coach’s job is to help others access and understand their own thinking.

Believing in your coachee

A successful coach must have a steadfast belief that their coachee has the inner resources to be successful.

This is the case no matter whether you’ve just met them, or you’ve been working together for 20 years.

Enlarging someone else’s container

High-level coaches understand that capacity building – or transforming thinking – is about enlarging someone else’s ‘container’, not having them fit into ours.

This approach can play out in the way we listen and ask questions.

A coach might say: “When you think about teachers you admire, what might be some of the ways they build student agency that can be valuable for you to consider?”

That’s very different to: “Have you thought about using student feedback as a way of building student agency in your classroom?”

The first question asks the person to dip into their own ‘container’ to think about what’s possible.

But the second question enables a reliance on you to help them.


When someone starts training to be a coach, they often sound like a different person – even changing their usual speaking voice and language.

For example, they might say: “So tell me more about how that looks.”

If you’re speaking in a way you feel uncomfortable with, your coachee might not see the conversation as an authentic one, but as some kind of awkward role-play.

Signalling your intention

To have an impact, you must have genuine belief and trust in others.

But you also need to signal the intent of your conversations.

You don’t have to say: “Would you like to have a coaching conversation?”

A better approach is “OK, I’ve heard what you’ve got to say. Can I help you with your thinking on this, because I think you’d find it valuable?”

This way, you’re signalling to the coachee that you’re not here to save the day, but to help them with their thinking.


It’s crucial to take yourself out of the equation so your coachee can stand on his or her own two feet.


Take a few minutes before each conversation, so you can be conscious of your approach and heighten your self-awareness about who you need to be in the coaching space.

Remind yourself that your own sense of self-importance and feelings of self-worth need to be set aside.

Unlocking change

As a coach, it’s all about letting the person you are coaching unlock the gates of change from the inside.

You’re effectively handing the keys to the gate to the coachee. But rather than asking them to guess which key is the right one, you’re helping them to think about what they might need to do to unlock the gate.

 And that can only happen if you’re self-aware enough to be truly present with the person you’re working with.

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