Refreshing one’s practice framework
By Andrew Scott and Jan Allon-Smith
One of the best books we have read on coaching supervision is Hewson and Carroll’s Reflective Practice in Supervision. Along the way, and almost in passing, Hewson and Carroll remark that one of the key purposes of supervision is to help the practitioner to review and revise their practice framework. A practice framework, they explain is ‘the complex network of theories, principles, roles and procedures that you draw on when acting in a particular situation.’ More often than not (like the engine of a car) it is under the bonnet, as it were, and we don't attend to it. We merely drive (to push the analogy about as far as it will go) and it all works.
But to become better coaches, we need to look under the bonnet; to learn how the engine, and all the related parts work and interact, to tune it up, replace components that may no longer work as well as they used to, and so on. So the supervisor's job (among other things) is to help the coach to make explicit all those implicit aspects of the work, to examine them, improve or replace them, and so on.
This aligns very well with the idea of unconscious competence. When we are skilled at something (like driving a car) we do a lot without thinking. But to improve (to take the Advanced Motorists’ test, for example) we need to bring our knowledge and skills into conscious competence and work on polishing them.
Therefore, one of the things we do in supervision is to encourage coaches to articulate their practice framework; to become more fully conscious of that network of theories, principles, roles and procedures that inform their work. Then the coach can evaluate and work on them, and describe them more accurately to potential coachees, which is also both important and valuable.
For example, I often hear coaches say that they are non-judgemental in their practice. That sounds fine, and indeed praiseworthy. But in a supervisory conversation, I would want to explore that further, and invite the coach to develop a more nuanced understanding of the issue of judgement. Once they start reflecting, coaches often realise that they are making many judgements, and indeed are required to do so, to be a good coach. These may include judgements about what is the best intervention at any point in the conversation, or about whether a coachee really needs therapeutic support rather than (or as well as) coaching; and even judgements about the wisdom or propriety of the coachee’s behaviour.
So in what sense is the coach non-judgemental? Typically, coaches arrive at the position of being clear that they do not pass a negative judgement on their coachees as people. This more precise and clearer understanding of the ‘non-judgemental’ label is valuable, both as a guide to practice, and when explaining one’s approach to potential coachees.
And it is that sort of work, teasing out the coach’s network of theories, principles, roles and procedures, and really challenging the coach to examine them, that results in an improved practice framework. This is a key part of the formative, or developmental, aspect of supervision.
As ever, questions are hugely valuable in exploring this territory. Here are some questions which may support the exploration of theories and principles, roles and procedures:
What coaching interventions do you use most frequently?
How conscious are you of a model, theory or principle when choosing coaching interventions
Which coaching theories most influence/ inform your coaching interventions/ practice? what principles underpin them?
Reflect on two specific pieces of coaching:
One which you thought was effective: how did you support that thinking? What theories or principles informed your thinking and your interventions?
One which you thought was ineffective: how did you attempt to support thinking? What theories or principles informed your thinking and your interventions?
How do you prepare for and structure coaching sessions? Which models inform this?
How attuned are you to ethical issues? Consider how you became aware of and approached an ethical issue; what did your coachee learn from it? What did you learn/ how is your learning influencing your practice?
It can be demanding and time consuming to look under the metaphorical bonnet of our coaching and examine the equipment we have been taking for granted. Supervision provides the time and opportunity to ask challenging questions of ourselves and our practice; to revisit and reconsider, reframe and refine our understanding. All of the questions above have a formative function, serving the development of a coach; in some there is also a focus on the normative or restorative functions of supervision.
That is because it is not the only the formative function that the supervisor attends to. The other two (normative and restorative) are also vital. The normative function, is about ethical and professional standards. The restorative function is about monitoring the wellbeing of the coach, helping the coach to process and deal with the emotional weight of his or her coaching client relationships and the issues discussed. And of course, all of these intertwine, even though it is helpful to consider them separately, for the sake of focus and clarity.
In writing this blog post we are aware of the complex interconnections between theory and principles, roles and procedures and how as coaches (and supervisors) we are using them as scaffolding within which each coaching conversation is co-created. Examining them and their connections through the window of our practice helps us to integrate them. That in turn allows us to enrich and enhance our understanding and our practice. Otherwise some aspects of this complexity may remain invisible to us and then potential learning is lost.
With thanks to Kunle Atekoja and Sven Brandsma for sharing their images via Unsplash