By Tom Many, EdD
“Asset-based coaching strives to magnify strengths, and what we focus on grows.” – Elena Aguilar, 2016
At the very heart of coaching collaborative teams is the belief that focusing on a team’s assets rather than its deficits is a more productive way to improve their professional practice. What we focus on expands, so it matters whether our coaching accentuates a team’s assets or deficits.
We know a deficit-based approach to coaching is primarily concerned with pointing out what is wrong or what needs to be corrected. This approach is in direct contrast with an asset-based approach which identifies what is next or what is working. In the simplest terms, an asset-based approach unlocks a team’s potential by focusing on their strengths versus the more common deficit-based conversations that highlight a team’s vulnerabilities.
The question for principals, coaches and teacher leaders is how best to promote an asset-based approach to coaching collaborative teams. John Whitmore, Graham Alexander and Alan Fine created the G.R.O.W. model of coaching in the 1980s. The GROW acronym stands for Goal (What do you want?), Reality (Where are you now?), Options (What could you do?) and Will (What will you do?). For the last 40 years the GROW coaching model has been widely used in the private sector and has also proven to be useful in public schools. The GROW model offers school leaders a simple and practical way to promote an asset-based approach to coaching and school culture.
“The GROW model is a framework that contains all the core elements of an effective [team] coaching session.” – Emma-Louise Elsey, 2022
The first step in the GROW model calls for the identification of a goal. The goal can be short or long term but should be actionable and within the team’s sphere of influence. According to the developers of the GROW model, “Goals should be inspiring and challenging, not just SMART.”
Coaches should encourage goals that clarify what the team or individual teacher wants to accomplish; this helps establish a purpose for the upcoming conversations. This is also the time to remind teams that the best way to learn and grow is to resist the temptation to base their goal on what is wrong or what is missing and instead concentrate on what is next.
This second step in the GROW model provides an opportunity to gather data. The coach’s task is to help the team reach consensus on their current reality by using specific examples, including the impact the issue is having on teaching and learning, while being careful to avoid generalities.
Teams use clarifying questions as they seek to understand what is happening while steering clear of expressing their opinions about why it is happening. It is easy for the most well-intentioned teams to offer opinions about what is wrong or what is not being done, but when that happens, conversations quickly become deficit orientated and counterproductive. Coaches must be prepared to redirect the team’s dialogue to prevent any kind of judgmental thinking from creeping into the team’s conversations.
By the time teams reach step three of the GROW model they have set actionable goals and clearly understand what is happening; now they begin to consider potential options and opportunities. This stage of the GROW model offers school leaders their best chance to promote an asset-based mindset by capitalizing on the strengths of teams.
A great way to begin this conversation is by encouraging teams to reflect upon what they already know and are doing well. Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall (2019) believe, “Learning rests on our grasp of what we’re doing well, not on what we’re doing poorly.” Successful coaches ask teams to share what has worked in the past or what is working now that could be expanded upon, adapted or modified in some way.
The team’s language takes on a different tone in this third step. When considering what the team might do to move forward, statements like, “What is wrong here?” become “What is the next step?” Questions shift from, “What are the obstacles?” to “What are the opportunities?” Instead of wondering, “What weakness do you need to address?” coaches ask, “What has worked for you in the past?” Using asset-based language generates momentum, and teams are more willing to consider other possibilities when strengths and assets are recognized.
In step four of the GROW model, teams commit to a specific strategy or suggestion and agree to report on any progress at the next team meeting. It is important that teams have the wherewithal (resources, insights and support) to be successful. This is also a good time to identify what data will be gathered to determine if the strategy has had the desired effect.
School leaders must ensure the team takes action. This final stage is where asset-based coaching intersects with the notion of coachability. Coachability is the combination of a team’s receptivity to feedback and their willingness to take action so that even if the team has done everything right up to this point but fails to act, there is no impact.
Using the GROW model to promote asset-based coaching of teams not only improves collaboration but it can also be beneficial to a school’s culture. When an asset-based mindset is the rule rather than the exception, the school’s culture is focused on strength instead of weakness and teachers are more interested in finding solutions than identifying problems.
An asset-based mindset can also have a positive impact on the faculty’s belief system. When looking for answers, teachers in schools with asset-based cultures would rather look in the mirror than out the window and value ownership more than buy-in, commitment above compliance, and opportunities over obstacles.
It’s time to start looking at our schools through a new lens—an assets-based lens. What do I mean by this? I mean that we should focus on what our students and teachers are good at, rather than constantly dwelling on what they need to work on. – Whitney Rancourt, 2022
Aguilar (2016) argues that “Essentially, there are two ways that we can think about making change: we can focus on what we’re doing wrong and try to do less of it or we can focus on what we’re doing right and try to do more of it.” This choice is at the core of coaching collaborative teams. When helping teacher teams improve their professional practice, we can choose to focus on deficits and dwell on what is wrong or highlight a team’s assets and celebrate what is next.
Dr. Tom Many is an author and consultant. His career in education spans more than 30 years.
Aguilar, E. (2016). Asset-Based Coaching: Focusing on Strengths. Education Week. Available at http://www.edweek.org/education/opinion-asset-based-coaching-focusing-on-strengths
Buckingham, M. & Goodall, A. (2019) The Feedback Fallacy. Harvard Business Review. Available at https://hbr.org/2019/03/the-feedback-fallacy
Elsey, E. L. (2022). The G.R.O.W. Model Explained for Coaches. Available at https://www.thecoachingtoolscompany.com/the-grow-model-explained-for-coaches-questions/
Rancourt. W. (2022). An Asset-Based Approach to School Leadership: 3 Ways to Create a Positive Climate. Available at https://mamamanages.com/assets-based-approach
TEPSA News, May/June 2022, Vol 79, No 3
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