Don't be a slow coach

2nd June 2006 at 01:00
Peer learning mentors are set to transform the motivation of young people, writes Helen Yewlett

Mentor, teach my son while I am away." With that, the Greek warrior Odysseus gave us the word "mentor".

He chose someone wise and experienced to guide his son while he was away on his legendary travels. However, had he said "Coach, teach my son", would there have been any difference in the outcome?

A mentor tells students what learning goals should be set. A coach helps the students identify the learning goals for themselves. It is a much more co-operative role than mentoring, and more likely to bring out the best side of many of our disaffected youngsters.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Assembly government's 14-19 learning pathways reforms is the concept of the learning coach - someone who will help pupils identify their goals and learning needs, and plan their learning route to qualifications.

Like Odysseus, we must ensure we choose wise people to be mentors and coaches to our children. But young people themselves could also take on these roles.

Members of the youth coaching academy based in the University of East London are definitely not disaffected. They have an enthusiasm for life which makes them a pleasure to meet. The academy offers an accreditation as a youth peer coach that is the equivalent of a GCSE. Learning mentors from London schools also attend the coaching academy's workshops to improve their coaching skills.

London, and several other large cities in England, have had learning mentors in many of their schools for several years.

Training youngsters as peer coaches is a brilliant initiative that really gives momentum to the mentoring and coaching agenda.

Being a peer coach improves young people's self-esteem, their values and standards, and allows them to work within their school environment helping others.

In our current "put down" culture, where negativity rules, giving youngsters skills that make them feel positive about themselves is vital.

Just smiling improves the way you feel, according to the academy - giving me justification for nearly always smiling at my pupils, and for telling the more morose individuals to do it too.

It makes them feel better and acts as a motivating force. Other skills developed include rapport and listening.

There are many coaching models. The academy uses one called IGROWC: identify the Issue, identify the Goal, do a Reality check, identify the Options, identify and act on the Way forward, Celebrate your achievement.

How many teachers forget to allow the pupil to celebrate their achievements? In the early stages of motivating someone, providing celebration steps is key to success. Later, when they are completely self-motivated, the need lessens.

Harry Singha, chair of the youth coaching academy, says: "Youth coaching is the powerful yet safe relationship between a coach and someone under the age of 18. It helps young people to raise their quality of life."

Working with a coach, they identify their ambitions and the challenges they face to achieve their dreams.

What are our dreams in Wales? We are training adult learning coaches. First Campus and a consortium of four universities, led by the University of Glamorgan, will train 220 of them during the next academic session.

The focus on learning coaches in learning pathways is excellent. We have always had a natural flair for teaching in Wales, and most of the best teachers I have met instinctively use good coaching techniques.

If we want teachers and leaders to become good and excellent practitioners, enabling pupils to learn to their full potential, then learning coaching skills is one of the most effective ways to do this.

Our newly-trained learning coaches should help us start turning the "put down" culture that is so cool on television, to the "you can do it" mindset. And there are close working partnerships between schools, youth networks, employees, probation services and other organisations working with young people.

But using youngsters as peer coaches has not as yet been flagged up here.

If they, as well as adults, are able to undertake accreditation, we could become world leaders in this field.

Helen Yewlett is an accredited life coach, and has just retired as head of ICT at Ysgol Gyfun Llanhari, Rhondda Cynon Taf.see

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