Instant Ideas and Collaboration
Emma Burnett is a Chartered Librarian who has worked in libraries since 2003, mainly in academic liaison roles. In 2014, she moved from the University of Westminster to Royal Holloway, University of London. She has a keen interest in information literacy, and has been an active member of the CILIP Information Literacy Group for several years.
In preparation for this month’s #uklibchat, Emma has written a post sharing her recent experience of training to become a Coach.
My journey to becoming a Coach
Having enjoyed helping others in the Library world through being a CILIP Chartership Mentor, I wanted to expand my skills to include coaching. Then, in Summer 2015, my workplace asked people to express interest in embarking on a CMI Level 5 Award in coaching, with the view to setting up an internal coaching pool. They received many applications but I was one of the lucky ones to be selected. I think this was largely thanks to my experience as a Mentor, plus the skills I could bring from being a Librarian.
Having been elated to be selected, the introductory session was a bit of a shock to the system, as it became apparent that this course was going to take up a lot of time during an already busy academic year. When I took the PGCert in Supporting Learning, that mostly fitted in around things I was already doing as part of my day job. This, however, would involve me finding time to meet my coachees whilst still doing all the teaching and other work my job involves. Luckily, I was in a room of colleagues from across the College who were facing exactly the same issues. We all decided to commit to undertaking this challenge.
The taught element of the course was two days in September, two days in January and a final day in April. Between these days, we were required to build up a least 18 hours of coaching, plus attend co-coaching and supervision sessions. A call for coachees was put out around the College and we were lucky to receive volunteers. In co-coaching, we were in small groups, and could practise techniques on each other. In supervision, we were with the course leader, who would talk us through any difficulties we were having with our coachees (whilst maintaining confidentiality).
It soon became clear that coaching was much more challenging than I’d expected. With Chartership mentoring, my role is to guide the mentee through the process and recommend areas to develop, with the goal of becoming chartered. Whilst the mentee is often from a different sector to me, they are a librarian. As an internal coach, I am not allowed to coach someone with my own department. The goals people present are very varied and my role is not to guide in a directive way, but to ask questions or introduce appropriate tools to enable the coachee to reach their own solution. Many people think that coaching is directive (probably due to sports coaching) but this is more what mentoring is for. The distinction between coaching and mentoring is something I make sure the coachee understands before we start. I recommend they watch this short video, which gives a good introduction to what coaching is https://youtu.be/UY75MQte4RU
Another challenge I found was to do with my professional identity. This has been “librarian” for most of my working life, and then gradually “teacher” since teaching was a key element of my role and I completed a couple of qualifications. I found that mentoring fitted well within my existing identity, because I was doing it as part of my contribution to the profession. I found that the “coach” role jarred with my existing professional identity. I think that part of this was because I was at work, so having to quickly change from one role to another, especially in the initial stages when I lacked confidence in my coaching skills.
The assignment was more difficult than I expected. I’d have much preferred to have written an essay on a particular aspect of coaching. It was very structured, asking a series of questions with a specific word count allowed for each one. Some required referring to the literature but others were based on our limited practical coaching experience, plus more strategic management aspects which I had to try to figure out.
In June, I received the news that I had passed the course and was now a Coach. I’ve found that my coaching sessions since qualifying have run more smoothly and I feel more relaxed during them. I’ve also tried to incorporate coaching into my liaison work. In classes, I have tried asking some transformational-style questions at the start to get students engaged and in the right frame of mind. However, I feel a coaching approach can really pay dividends in a one-to-one session. It’s early days but I am excited about developing this further, so I can fully integrate being a coach into my teacher librarian professional identity.
One of the most fantastic things about the course was the opportunity to work closely with people from outside the library. We were all in it together and helped each other through the difficult times. We are going to continue meeting up, as it is important for coaches to have a support network in which we can share experiences and try out new tools in a safe environment.
If you are looking for a new challenge and some new skills, I would recommend doing some form of coaching training. I’m not a manager, but I know that coaching techniques can be really useful for managers to adopt. My institution offers a two day coaching conversations course, which sounds perfect for those who want to start developing coaching skills without committing to a long programme.
I am very much looking forward to participating in the #uklibchat discussion on leadership, mentoring and coaching on Tuesday 1st November.
Association for Coaching http://uk.associationforcoaching.com/pages/home/
Royal Holloway, University of London https://www.royalholloway.ac.uk/humanresources/organisationdevelopment/coachingmentoring/coaching.aspx