Embodying a Coaching Mindset

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Are you looking to dive below the surface in your coaching conversations? Miriam Guerrero Cheuk, district IC in Virginia, highlights four ways to build a genuine connection with teachers through life-giving coaching conversations.


etting ready for a new school year made me reflect on why some coaching conversations seem effortless while others require more intentionality to build rapport. What I have learned from my 15 years as an instructional, executive, and leadership coach has been that building rapport and psychological safety requires full presence and unconditional positive regard.

It's like having a conversation around a campfire on a beautiful summer night, where you feel cozy and comfortable sharing your truth because you know the person across from you is not judging you but truly wants to understand and connect with you.

In coaching, we can attain magical moments and evoke new awareness when we're connected heart-to-heart and mind-to-mind with those we work with—but only after developing a coaching mindset.

Embodying a coaching mindset is, at its heart, connected to enhancing your emotional intelligence (self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills). Self-awareness starts with reflection and metacognition to grow personally and professionally. Confucious said it best "Learning without reflection is a waste. Reflection without learning is dangerous."

Practice mindfulness

Embodying a coaching mindset starts with self-awareness and self-reflection. It's important to begin with self-analysis, taking an inventory of our own emotions and feelings, and keeping our thoughts from getting in the way of truly listening to the other person. When we listen to others, we should not listen to respond, but rather to understand.

Ponder these questions: How are you showing up and coming across to others? How well do you know yourself and what triggers you? How often do you request feedback for your own growth and development, personally and professionally?

Another element at play is the way we communicate. How was your message crafted and received? Did the intent match the impact? Just like in teaching, another key factor is knowing what coaching tools or models to use in order to maximize the thinking partnership. All of these components affect the coaching outcome or lack thereof.

Embrace lifelong learning

Nurturing a coaching mindset requires learning, unlearning, daily practice, and intentionality. In my journey as a professional coach, there's been some transformational professional development that has left an imprint on me, to name a few: Advanced Cognitive Coaching, Fierce Conversations, and going through the International Coaching Federation credential process (first to ACC, then PCC, and now finalizing MCC, which represents the top ICF level). The accreditation process has been a lengthy practice of metacognition. Still, it has forced me to constantly reflect on my practices and how they measure against the ICF's Professional Certified Coach Markers. A core competency described by the ICF is that "Embodying a coaching mindset—a mindset that is open, curious, flexible and client-centered—is a process that requires ongoing learning and development, establishing a reflective practice, and preparing for sessions. The development of these qualities throughout a coach's professional journey cannot be fully captured in a single moment."

Establish positive relationships

Two main factors affect the effectiveness of a coaching exchange. First, your coachee must feel you're trustworthy and will keep in confidence whatever information is disclosed during the session. Second, a coach can't show up in a condescending and judgemental way.

Full presence is not letting your assumptions and world lens affect the data you filter and the conclusions you draw. Think of a time where you felt safe and comfortable right away in a new relationship. What characteristics made you feel that way? The chances are that the other person was fully present, listened attentively without interrupting, and their non-verbals were congruent with the words uttered. The atmosphere probably encompassed warmth, acknowledgment, validation, empathy, respect, positive regard, and kindness that made you feel like they were assuming the best of you. The person was not judging you and was asking questions out of genuine interest and radical curiosity.

Coach holistically

Another revolutionary approach that has enhanced my practice is the ontological, systemic, and whole-person coaching approach. This approach requires coaching below the iceberg, focusing on the who: beliefs, values, ways of being, assumptions, habits of mind, blind spots, feelings, and emotions. This type of coaching has more impactful effects than staying at the surface level of behaviors and just coaching the problem or situation. Coaching the whole person allows us to understand better the coachee's thoughts and emotions that in turn affect their actions. Masterful coaches raise up the blinds to shine a light on limiting mental models. For transformational coaching to occur, one has to listen to what is (and what is not) said.

Experience coaching from the other side

When was the last time that you were coached at a deeper level? The best way to enhance our coaching mindset is to experience coaching ourselves. As part of the ICF accreditation process, I developed and relied on a powerful Professional Learning Network (PLN) for peer coaching.

Please note that coaching is different from therapy. Coaching is a present-to-future focus, whereas therapy is more about the past (further exploration of the similarities and differences is best for another blog post!). Therapy is like archeology (i.e., digging up the past), whereas coaching is like architecture (i.e., designing and building).

When we develop and embody a coaching mindset, transformational coaching—versus a transactional experience—is more likely to occur. If you want to hear more about the process of coaching, here's a podcast interview I did recently.

Another invaluable tool to improve your coaching mindset is to hire a mentor coach. A mentor coach can listen to a coaching recording and provide feedback against the core competencies and markers. As educators, we know the importance of ongoing formative assessments versus just waiting for the high-stakes summative assessments or evaluations.

Two important people in your professional coaching network would be: first, having a coach who regularly helps you reflect on your feelings, values, beliefs, assumptions, biases, narratives, stories, and the way you are showing up for others; second, having a mentor who conducts ongoing growth talks and provides you with the targeted feedback that perhaps on your own you can’t see.

Final note

Do you want to get better at coaching or improve in the coach approach to leadership? Work on embodying a coaching mindset. Surround yourself with a network of support that includes an ICF-certified coach and a mentor coach, preferably outside your job community. Trust yourself, trust the process, and serve others by conducting life-giving coaching conversations.

When we experience genuine connection, we are fully present for others; sometimes you won't know what it meant for someone to be heard and seen until later. But people remember a kind heart more than a brilliant mind. One day, one of those teachers or leaders you coached will return to tell you how you made a difference in their life. As the American poet and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou so beautifully stated,

"People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

About our Guest Blogger

Miriam Guerrero Cheuk serves as a District Instructional Coach for a large school district in Northern Virginia and is the founder of EmpowermentCoachingMC.com, where she offers Executive, Life, and Leadership Coaching to corporate clients. In addition, Miriam serves as a Fellow Coach for BetterUp.

As a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) with the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and an experienced instructional designer and trainer, Miriam provides mentor coaching and professional development on topics related to coaching and leadership. Miriam is trilingual and an avid learner. She is currently working towards Master Certified Coaching (MCC) Accreditation with the ICF. Miriam is passionate about coaching and helping people tap into their greatness and gifts in order to heighten their awareness, build self-efficacy/grit, and design actions for follow-through.

Be sure to connect with Miriam on Linkedin, Instagram, or on Twitter @MiriamCheuk!

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