Written by Janice Chan

In recent times, coaching has gained a lot of traction and many organisations and individuals have benefited greatly from having a coach. Organisations have seen marked boosts in many areas such as employee retention, engagement, team effectiveness, skill development, productivity and performance.

A recent global survey of coaching clients by PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the Association Resource Center concluded that the mean ROI for companies investing in coaching was 7 times the initial investment, with over a quarter reporting an ROI of 10 to 49 times1.

It is almost undeniable that individuals undergoing performance, personal or relationship coaching gain transformational changes in self-awareness, clarity and drive to accomplish their goals.

However, coaching can be very expensive and inaccessible to many due to cost, time constraints and even the ability to find a coach.

Seeing the great benefits and impact that coaching has for an adult, imagine the immeasurable benefits a child would gain from it if they received the support and have their potential unlocked through coaching techniques at a young age! Learning coaching skills is a lifelong learning game changer.

Seeing this need and transformational gap in the market, and working at the perfect place to begin implementing coaching for school students, my team and I developed and implemented a school wide coaching programme, for all primary 5 up to Diploma programme students, based on their developmental needs at an IB World School in KL.

Learning Objectives
This proactive programme is a personal growth and development programme which aims to help students cultivate a goal-oriented and action based mindset. We help our youth develop clarity about what they choose to dedicate their time to accomplish and then support them to turn these dreams into reality.

The programme focuses on developing 4 areas of leadership: setting a vision, self-awareness, effective communication skills, disciplined execution.

Setting a vision: Agency
Many of us have a general idea of how we want our future to be. To be successful, to be rich, to travel etc. However, many feel that they have not arrived at that point because these visions are so vague. They fail to plan out what it means to be successful or rich, or where and when they want to travel. The coaching programme guides our students to visualise a more concrete future and teach them how to set SMARTER goals in order to attain them. This is an important lesson because they are young and their future is uncertain as every little experience can change their course and help shape it. They must learn how to harness their strengths, learn from failure and each other, and be able to reset their goalposts. We help our students develop clarity about what they choose to dedicate their time to accomplish and then support them to turn these dreams into reality.

Each session starts with them sharing their goals, their journey, their victories and challenges. The process of preparing for coaching is a practice in reflective thought and to develop a deeper awareness of themselves and their emotions to gain clarity of thought and purpose. Through reflecting on their top victories and challenges and the emotions attached to them, students gain an awareness of themselves, their capabilities, strengths, limitations and emotions to grow their strengths, forge strong bonds with their peers through positive communication and gain a boost in emotional awareness.

Effective communication skills
Almost no one can attain success alone. It is vital that we are able to form strong bonds and  communicate our dreams in order to build our foundation and to learn from one another. Students learn how to respect and appreciate each other by listening actively and responding positively in a safe and confidential space. As coaches, we realise the importance of such a safe space as it helps our students realise their goals and dreams are important, and that it is OK to fail. The support they receive is encouraging and helps with accountability. Once they voice out their goals and action plans, they are held accountable for them.

As parents are a critical element of success for each child, we organise opportunities for our participants to share their hopes and dreams with their parents so that the family unit can successfully support one another in a virtuous cycle.

Disciplined execution
Setting goals is the first step, but one can be stuck at that stage forever! Achieving goals require disciplined execution and support and motivation doesn’t hurt either. Thus we also implemented a goal tracker template so that students can keep their eye on the ball and keep moving forwards. It also helps promote student agency and accountability as students report regularly on their progress and challenges.

Coaching structure
In order to ensure all students are given the opportunity to benefit from coaching and each other, the programme is structured in a small group coaching setting. Together with the coach, they set meaningful goals, develop and maintain their vision and motivation.

The coaching programme is designed in 4 levels, each a series of 8 group coaching sessions, biweekly over 1 semester (5months) with 3-6 students per group. Each level acts as a standalone but increases in sophistication.

For the coaching programme, the student is to set an academic and a personal goal and is encouraged to set a relationship goal too. However, the focus is on the academic goal. At the beginning of each session students will share their “5% Victories and Challenges” related to their goal(s). They share their top 5% most significant feelings, experiences and revelations, whether positive or negative in relation to their goal(s).

At the end of each level, students will be provided a coaching report card and an opportunity for their parents to meet with the coach to share their growth and development. They are also awarded with an achievement badge for the school’s character building programme.

Lessons from a school coach
The coaching programme journey started many years ago, and as I journeyed, I learnt many lessons and am constantly refining the coaching programme based on these lessons. The major challenge I faced as a coach was connection. Something I learnt fairly recently, even though subconsciously already knowing this is the change equation:

Change = Connection x Challenge.

Challenges are a given. We all face challenges on a constant basis but lack the determination and motivation to change or improve because there isn’t anyone to journey with us. Therefore, in order to help someone achieve meaningful change, I have to have a connection with them in order to challenge them for change.

When I first started the wellbeing department of the school, we hired counsellors to help address the students’ wellbeing. The start was rocky as there was stigma attached to counselling and students avoided the counsellors like a plague. It didn’t help that the counsellors also dealt with disciplinary cases which caused even more association with counsellors being people to go to when you are in trouble or when something was wrong. We set out to change this mindset by bringing in the concept of group coaching. Originally as a means to connect with them: to get more contact time with students, to get to know them and build a trusting relationship with them and most importantly, spot and resolve problems before they could even arise. But as I journeyed to obtain my coaching certification, we evolved to helping students identify and realise their goals and somewhere along the way, connection building became secondary. And as I reflect on some of the challenges I faced over the last few years, connection building was a major one.

Some of the biggest lessons were in the last few years as the Covid pandemic threw a massive spanner in the works. From a fully physical school, we went to a fully online platform. This created a lot of problems with students completing the programme as absenteeism and lack of connection with them became an even bigger challenge. For many students who were trying their best to adapt to the academic challenges the online platforms brought, the coaching programme became less important and something they could miss in order to fulfil other more “urgent” needs. For those who attended, many did not set meaningful goals as they saw these sessions as for fun and non-vital. They couldn’t see the benefit and thought it was just to obtain a badge or just to have some fun. They lacked the vision and self-awareness to take them through the programme and their lives meaningfully. However, I found that this was a time that students needed coaches most, to find a means to adapt, to find purpose and agency over their own learning and lives and most of all to find connection in a group of like-minded people.

Though we struggled to maintain the students attention throughout the virtual phase, upon returning to a physical setting, we learnt that many of the students who completed the programme treasured their time in coaching, maintaining contact with peers, and for some who started at the school during the pandemic, it was a great way to be with like-minded students and develop strong relationships before stepping foot in the school.

Another great challenge we faced even before the pandemic was time. Students already have a full timetable and asking them for more of their free time to connect with us and their peers by attending the coaching programme is time consuming and full of roadblocks. We learnt that the programme had to add value to their lives to make it worthwhile. We set out to help students realise their goals, but as I journeyed, I learnt that sometimes it wasn’t the fulfilment of the goals they originally set. The connection building, the effective communication skills they built through the personal sharing the students experienced, had a far deeper impact. The knowledge that they aren’t alone in facing challenges, the occasionally silent and occasionally loud encouragement they receive is a major factor to their success. They slowly learnt how to lead themselves as well as others to success.

The group setting also limits the amount of time I have with each student to build connections and challenge them individually. Many times, this led to my failure as a coach to help them keep track of their goals and their victories and challenges.

The age of the students is also a big challenge. In the CCA Coaching qualification training, we delved mainly into coaching adults and the maturity level is vastly different. Many students don’t have the maturity nor the independence to make many of their choices. This again was a challenge in connection and challenging them to achieve agency. There are many students from backgrounds where decisions and goals are set for them and the consequence of not fulfilling them was to let down their parents. This leads to a fear of failure. With the many expectations parents and peers set on them, students fear failing and dare not to speak of their expectations, challenges and failures. They are so used to having expectations set on them and being told what to do that they are unable to set their own goals, preferring to be told what to do. They then become fearful of setting goals for fear of not achieving them. This is a mindset shift for agency that we will continue to face and need to overcome.

The future
We live in a world of constant challenge. The world is going through major breakthroughs and at breakneck speed. The future is no longer what we expect it to be, but an ever changing, ever so different world to what I grew up to know. The students of today will be those bringing that change and they need to be equipped to navigate the constant barrage of challenges that are in their way. The future will be what the students of today envision. Their vision and goals will be the world’s future and they need to know how to manoeuvre through the ever changing world and challenges to make tomorrow bright for us all.

Through data analysis, we can conclude that a child who actively engages in our programme will increase their academic achievement significantly. Goal setting and an action-oriented mindset are some of the most powerful mindsets to acquire in any individual and we are happy to confirm its statistical correlation through the coaching programme.

Thus, seeing the programme’s success despite many of my own shortcomings as a coach, I am eager to learn from my own mistakes to take the coaching programme to greater heights. With building connections as my main learning, I now see the need to add on at least one individual coaching session on top of the group coaching sessions to build and maintain the connection with the students and to challenge them individually.

Beyond the connection between coach and students,  a far greater marker of success is the deep connection students developed with each other. For me, this was a great lesson in conducting group coaching sessions, students not only held each other accountable, but being in a group with like-minded individuals helped many achieve their goals.  The group coaching sessions also need to evolve to help them realise the need and the reward for being in a group of like-minded individuals. We are still striving to make this our priority and to help students realise this need. We are doing this by constantly encouraging the students to reflect on how they truly feel, share openly, to face their fear and overcome them together.

We persisted through the many challenges we faced and created a paid fully online course, using videos for them to watch and learn the concepts and prepare their reflections before each group coaching session then attend a virtual group coaching session with their peers to share their victories and challenges and to contemplate their own as well as their peers’ experiences.

The aim is to reach as many youths as possible, to promote self awareness and agency to realise their purpose as they develop their leadership skills for tomorrow’s challenges. The students I connect with and challenge today are the ones who will shape our futures. I see my role as one to help the youth of today achieve clarity of this future world and I am excited to see how far they will bring us.

Work Cited
Symonds, Matt. “Executive coaching – another set of clothes for the Emperor?” Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/mattsymonds/2011/01/21/executive-coaching-another-set-of-clothes-for-the-emperor/?sh=6aa094fa118b. Accessed 15 June 2022.

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