Forget self-help books and look within

13th July 2007 at 01:00
I spend more time travelling on trains since leaving the teaching profession. Frequent delays mean that I often browse the platform bookshops. One thing that strikes me is that these small shops are packed with lifestyle and coaching books all telling us where we are going wrong in our lives.

They say we should embrace new ways of living that will catapult us to personal and professional success. Many such bestsellers validate themselves with testimonials and may seem good value for money, especially for members of the disillusioned teaching profession.

But while they contain inspiring stories and "top tips" they often provide no lasting change, rather just a fleeting feeling of hope. They may inspire just a few to seek the help of a life coach.

This may seem a strange view coming from someone like me who is actively involved in supporting people, including teachers and heads, with strategic career and lifestyle coaching, but I suggest people should look within themselves first before buying these books.

If you feel that you are simply plodding on, often playing catch-up with your professional life in the one hand and juggling aspects of your personal life in the other, then this could be the time to take the initiative.

For teachers, self-coaching can lead to a better work-life balance, less absenteeism during term time and fewer sick days during holidays. It will also lead to better interaction with pupils and above all job satisfaction. What evidence is there for such claims?

Clearly some of the greatest stories of achievement are about people who did it all on their own. What these people have in common is something that comes from within commitment. It is committed self-talk that enables effective self coaching.

There will be some difficult times, of course. But the challenge for the self coach is not to dwell on past failures, which can easily sow the seeds of self doubt, but to focus on past truimphs. The self-coach may sometimes need reminding of the benefits that achieving the goal or change will bring. They should then look to the people whom he or she admires: how did they do it? What pitfalls should they watch out for?

Even an effective self-coach can benefit from advice. It is only when certain specific changes are sought in a professional or personal life that it may be worthwhile to seek the help of another.

So, if you are an aspiring self-coach, look ahead to the next two weeks of your life and ask what it is that you need to do and what your commitment is.

On reflection, you may decide that you really need to spend time with you family or do more exercise. Professionally, you may need to update your CV with achievements from the past academic year.

Only you, with a little coaching from another, will ever really instigate a long- term life change not a book found on a train platform.

Andy McCann is a former assistant head and now director of AMCAN Consultancy and Training

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