Co-Creating the Learning Alliance
Definitions and descriptions of coaching supervision vary in approach, but there is general agreement that the purpose is learning and development of the coach for the benefit of their clients and also strong agreement about the importance of the relationship between coach and supervisor to achieve this.
As coaches, how much thought do we give to supervision? How well do we consider and articulate our professional development aims, and think about the type of relationship with a supervisor which will support and stretch our learning? Or do we leave responsibility for shaping and holding the relationship with the supervisor? The latter option can be appealing: supervision is a time for me, a moment of ease, to relax, reflect and go with the flow. All of these are important and needful, but approaching it with just that mindset limits the potential of supervision, and of our learning.
Co-creating a contract
If review, reflection and learning are central to both the coach and the supervisor we come to the relationship as equals in our ability to think about coaching, to explore and consider how to develop our practice. As we meet to consider establishing a supervision relationship, making this shared desire to learn explicit in the contract will embed it as an aim and help ensure learning is articulated, as well as encouraging a fuller appreciation of what each contributes.
The supervisor will outline their approach and ways of working, and ask about expectations and experience. This enables mutual consideration of how to work and learn together, how the process will work, as well as the content of our specific skills or knowledge development, which will enrich the experience. Envisioning and describing the supervision relationship as an egalitarian endeavour, a partnership, contribute to creating a safe, respectful space, conditions for a quality thinking environment as described by Nancy Kline. This understanding underlines the mutual responsibility to create and maintain that safe space – an iterative co-creation exercise.
As coaches approaching this important developmental activity it may be helpful to consider our assumptions and expectations about supervision; what has shaped them and how do we want to reframe them as we negotiate (or re-negotiate) a supervision contract?
Can we identify other relationships, in any sphere, which have nurtured our development and facilitated learning – with a mentor, tutor, manager, or peer, and articulate the characteristics and features that made it fruitful and rewarding? We can also consider, what situations or circumstances have hindered our learning. How can we bring those insights about our learning to a discussion exploring supervision? The supervisor’s learning experience, and features which support it, it will also inform their approach.
There are risks for supervisor and coach as they commit to a learning partnership. Honestly sharing coaching practice, including ‘disappointments’, moments or interventions which stalled progress for the coachee or the relationship, can be disconcerting. ‘Not knowing’, or emerging awareness of something which may be hindering our growth, can be uncomfortable, but learning to accept, if not be comfortable in, that space can be illuminating and instructive. How do we notice and share moments of not knowing, or discomfort and lean into them? How do we notice avoiding them? And how do we share and work with them?
Viewing the supervisor as an ‘expert’ appraiser of professional competence may increase this unease or deter us from sharing some key concerns and limit our learning and development. The knowledge and experience of the supervisor is a resource for the development and learning of the coach and if we reframe the ‘expert appraiser’ (or similar description) to ‘learning companion’, trusting the supervisor’s intent to support our learning and improve our practice it can be freeing, emphasising the equality in the partnership.
Co-creating, that is, the making together of supervision allows a reviewing and revisiting of expectations and ways of working, broadening perspectives; prompting both coach and supervisor to explore the questions they could be asking and to think beyond the easy answers. It gives both permission to play with creative or unfamiliar approaches or tools – to try them for size and see if they suit them. As supervision sessions are reviewed, how alive are you and your supervisor to the evolution of the learning partnership? How is your sense of agency developing with the relationship?
Focus on learning
What can we observe and learn from our supervisor and their approach? How does their acceptance, attention, and curiosity contribute to creating a safe, developmental space? How do they share their learning knowledge and skills, experience and errors to support our learning? How do they function as a learning companion, sharing their explorations, unresolved questions and practice issues in response to the our needs and interests to support our learning. For the coach becoming a (more) reflective practitioner, (more) broadly curious, a willingness to be more trusting or vulnerable, (more) responsible for their own learning, and (more) aware of the system(s) in which they operate and the range and impact of interventions, enriches their coaching practice in service of clients and enables a growth in confidence of their coaching identity.
Preparation for supervision will involve reviewing coaching sessions in some way and this may inform a supervision agenda. Structuring this review will aid reflection and recognition of areas to be discussed and developed. Some of my most significant learning as a coach has resulted from the question on my session review sheet: What would I least like my supervisor to know about this session? This question is designed to develop the internal supervisor and help identify and articulate clunky moments or aspects of the coaching to explore in supervision. Honestly sharing these reflections can feel exposing and often humbling, but I (and I think, my supervisor?) are aware this sense of shared humanity grounds us, enabling us to own and articulate our development goals.
As you approach a new supervision partnership, or reflect on and review an extant one, how do you see it? How have you co-created a learning partnership in which (both) can articulate how your learning has impacted on your practice, your clients, and served the wider community?