Coaching Through Questions

I recently posted a video clip regarding the important role that questions play in advancing the effectiveness of instructional coaching. Questions guide the critical thinking of the coach and teacher. As the coach poses the questions she is modeling/teaching the thinking process that empowers the teacher to apply the questioning process to future dilemmas and opportunities.

In a study guide from Plymouth University, I found the following description for critical thinking:

“Critical thinking then, is the attempt to ask and answer questions systematically. This means asking the most useful questions in the most productive sequence in order to yield a coherent and credible ‘story’ So thinking critically means asking questions. Instead of accepting ‘at face value’ what you read or hear, critical thinkers look for evidence and for good reasons before believing something to be true. This is at the heart of what it means to be a scientist, researcher, scholar or professional in any field. Whatever you are studying, critical thinking is the key to learning and to making progress.”

The study guide illustrates a model for critical thinking that works through three phases- description, analysis, evaluation.

Description: Introductory and background information to contextualize a problem

Analysis: Exploration of relationship of parts to whole and possible situations and alternative responses

Evaluation: Implications, Solutions, Conclusions, Recommendations

Think Critically 3d Words Cloudy Sky Understand Analyze Problem

This model from Plymouth University parallels my approach using, Questions For Life, for thinking through questions for coaching.

Gather Information with questions from row one.

Work with the information and evaluate the need for action with questions from row two.

Take action with questions from row three.

As you implement action, you return to row one to gather information on the impact of the action.

(Download Cue words here)

Example: A teacher shares with the instructional coach that while she is managing the classroom fine, her grade 8 Social Studies students are completing tasks with compliance rather than engagement. She is concerned that the increase in complexity in the new standards will not be achieved without greater investment of effort from the students.

Here are some questions a coach might use. (Note that the teacher’s response at any point would alter following questions.)

What do you see and hear that causes you to label a student as compliant?  (perception/analysis)

What do you see and hear that is different when the student is engaged? (perception/ same/different)

Think of a time that several of your students came closest to that picture of engagement, what was the learning task like? (analysis)

What generalizations can you make about students getting more deeply engaged? (induction)

What do you infer about learning tasks and student engagement? (insight)

What do you think are two or three most important things to consider when planning a unit with a desire for deeper engagement? (appraisal)

How much responsibility do you take as a teacher for gaining student engagement? Why? (evaluation)

[If teacher suggests a fair amount of personal responsibility, move on to row 3; if not back to row 1 to find out more about teacher’s belief system.]

What ideas do you have for our best approach to proceed in experimenting with learning tasks to gain deeper engagement? (ideas)

What if I (coach) arranged a discussion with several teachers who are working with the same grade 8 students to examine when engagement seems to be highest and then with that information we run an experiment?  (prediction)

[As the experiment begins, we return to row one]

What would be the first thing you’d be looking for from students that would signal you that you are on the right track? (perception?)

What Do I Need to Know Person Thinking Beside 3d Words

Here is another model I found in an article,  70 Awesome Coaching Questions Using the GROW Model, by Dan McCarthy-

GROW is an acronym that stands for:


Current Reality


Will (or Way Forward)

 “The key to coaching and using the GROW model is all about asking awesome questions. Coaching isn’t telling the employee what to do – it’s helping the employee come up with his or her own answers by asking the right question at the right time.”

 McCarthy provides 70 questions categorized under each component of GROW. Here are a few as examples:


What would you like to happen with ______?

What outcome would be ideal?

What would the benefits be if you achieved this goal?

Current Reality

What is happening now (what, who, when, and how often)? What is the affect or result of this?

What is working well right now?

What do you think was really happening?


What could be your first step?

What is the hardest/most challenging part of that for you?

What’s the best/worst thing about that option?

Which option do you feel ready to act on?

Will, or Way Forward

On a scale of one to ten, what is the likelihood of your plan succeeding?

What would it take to make it a ten?

What resources can help you?

How will you know you have been successful?

Models are not a script to follow but they can provide a guide for thinking about where you are in the coaching process and where you might go next. Take an opportunity to ask someone to observe your coaching or video a conference and examine your questioning.

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