Be the Coach, Not the Horse

At the Cognitive Coaching Seminar that I attended last week, a metaphor was shared that clicked with me.


Coaching is “to convey a valued person from where s/he is to where s/he wants to be.”

(Cognitive Coaching Seminars Foundation Training Learning Guide, Arthur Costa and Robert Garmston, 2013).

I often find myself being the metaphorical ‘horse’, powering people along, both at home and at work.  I give solutions to problems; work with my kids on projects; work with my husband on farm plans; directly teach my kids about expectations and rules; and more often than not transfer my knowledge to them in what I believe is the best way for them as learners.

All of these things have a role to play in supporting the people in my family and the people I work with, yet they do not capture the essence of coaching.  As in most families, we support each other, we collaborate, and we consult.  We even evaluate each other’s performances (quite regularly when you have two small boys, it seems).  But the most powerful way to support someone in developing their personal (and professional) autonomy in a group is by coaching.

The mission of Cognitive Coaching is to

“produce self-directed persons with the cognitive capacity for excellence both independently and as members of a community.” (Costa and Garmston, 19)

When I consider this, what more could I want for my own family?  Costa and Garmston have us consider the term ‘holonomy’ and five States of Mind (22-25).  I interpret this as self-directed and independent people living and working fully in the world.  I would hope that I can coach people – my kids especially – to be more aware of themselves, others, and their own thinking (consciousness); to be more intentional and to keep wanting to learn (craftsmanship); to trust that they have choices and to be responsible (efficacy); to be open to others’ ideas and change (flexibility); and to care for each other and treat others with respect (interdependence).

How might my giving solutions affect my kids’ problem solving?  How does working with me on projects influence their ability to think independently?  How might I be ignoring their ideas and knowledge in preference to my own?  And how might all these questions relate to my professional life?

I’ll tell you what: even in the last few days my conversations with my kids and my husband have changed.  Don’t get me wrong – not every conversation is a coaching conversation.  Sometimes it’s necessary to work collaboratively on something, to deliver specific information, and to evaluate behaviour.  However, as I am more conscious of the States of Mind, the principles of paraphrasing, the impact of pausing, and the characteristics of mediative questions (54 – 65), I find myself being so much more intentional in the ways that I can support the thinking of my kids and my husband.  They are thoughtful, capable beings who deserve the opportunity to grow their own thinking.  I don’t need to carry them along and supply the power to said thinking.  And I certainly don’t need to do this for my valued colleagues.

After all… I am not a horse.  I’m a coach.


3 thoughts on “Be the Coach, Not the Horse

  1. Pingback: Learning Past June | Why I Will Coach #SAVMP

  2. Pingback: The Art of Coaching: Or, Disrupting the Echo Chamber | Principals in Training

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