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Learning Objectives: The Second Step in Building a Coaching Plan

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February 4, 2016

By Joel Kreisberg, DC, ACC

(The coach) consolidates collected information and establishes a coaching plan and development goals with the client that address concerns and major areas for learning and development.

-ICF Core Competencies

“Seeing the whole person as intrinsically healthy, whole, and wise—empowers the client to become the ultimate expert in their own healing journey, “states physician, coach and educator Dr. Karen Lawson, in Four Pillars of Health Coaching. David Drake, in his seminal work Narrative Coaching, offers “Trust that everything you need is right in front of you,” as the first of the six principles of narrative coaching.  Marilyn Atkinson offers “People already have all the resources they need within them,” as the second principle of the Ericksonian Method.   Fair to say, a central theme of coaching is empowering the client to lead the change, often called self-directed learning.

Yet, learning theory does not fully support this conclusion that the most effective method for growth and transformation is self-directed.  In our coaching method at Teleosis, we emphasize a learning model based in transformational learning.  Specifically, after the healing topic is set in the coaching process, the coach’s task is to set the learning objectives with the client.  This blog will briefly introduce learning objectives as a key element in creating a coaching plan, with a focus on how they are developed.

To begin, it’s important to review a basic model I call the cycle of learning.  Among many versions of the cycle of learning, I’m familiar with work of Theo Dawson at Lectica.org for whom the Virtuous Cycle of Learning encompasses simple four-step learning cycles that include (a) setting learning goals that are tailored to the needs of the individual learner, (b) acquiring [seeking] and evaluating information, (c) applying knowledge, (d) reflecting on performance outcomes, and then (a) recalibrating goals for the next cycle.”  Considerable evidence exists that setting, seeking, applying and assessing is a powerful learning model.  In our model, setting essentially occurs with the creation of a healing topic.  Seeking— acquiring and evaluating information, is best engaged with clear learning objectives.

Just what are learning objectives and how are they developed?  The process begins with the coach’s considering what new skills or tools the client will need to learn, develop or master in order to achieve the goal of the program — the healing topic. To do this, the coach must understand the current capacities and skills of the client.  While there are many lenses or perspectives through which to understand capacity, with origins in Integral Coaching, our method subjectively evaluates four domains: reflective capacity, physical or somatic intelligence, relational capacity and situational intelligence.

Briefly, reflective capacity is the ability to reflect on one’s experience including information, feelings, and outcomes. Physical or somatic intelligence is the capacity to access and skillfully draw on behaviors including fitness, nutrition, energy and body awareness. Relational capacity assesses one’s capacity to communicate and relate with others, such as taking, seeking and coordinating perspectives beyond one’s own in a manner that increases shared meaning and value.  Situational capacity refers to the functional fit of the structures and systems of any given circumstance, such as whether it’s a healthy situation or a situation with limited resources.

It is essential that the coach, as he or she explores the healing topic, explore these four domains in an effort to assess strength and weakness. This assessment becomes the cornerstone for developing the learning objectives that will provide the most accurate and specific milestones for ‘seeking’ in the learning process.
A brief example: a new mom, Sherry, came to me for care with anxiety and exhaustion due to her lack of sleep and time for herself with her 5-month-old child.  Her husband works long and hard, so Sherry is often taking care of her son alone.  She sought my care due to her reluctance to take either sleeping pills or anti-anxiety medication.  By the conclusion of the initial visit, we had shaped a healing topic: “To be more able to trust that everything will be OK for me and my family without me having to do anything.”

Being unable to let anyone else take care of her son, Sherry often checks for safety in her home and worries excessively. Without having her husband around, she has no one with whom to share her feelings.  My assessment includes:

1) Reflective Capacity: Sherry was rather strong.  She understands her feelings well, she is articulate in seeing and feeling herself returning to the same feelings and behaviors.

2) Somatic Capacity: Sherry is a massage therapist who knows how to take care of herself and would like more time to have her energy return.  Yet, her physical energy is low due to lack of sleep and childbearing. With a bit of space, she would easily return to a healthier physical state.

3) Relational Capacity: her weakest area.  Sherry moved away from her life in another state to start a family. She basically lives alone most of the time, and is not used to making new friends.  Before this relationship she lived close to her family or was dating.  She seems to lack skills in making ties with other women.

4) Situational Capacity: Sherry has limitations here as well.  Her partner travels extensively and when he returns home he is extremely tired.  Sherry gives the child to him, needing time for herself.  Basically, there was little time for their relationship, which also didn’t help Sherry recharge.

The learning objectives I created for Sherry were:

  • To be more able to connect with other women who care for children
  • To be more able to feel how safe your child is
  • To be more able to let others care for you and your child

The first builds relational and situational capacity, learning how to more effectively have relationships with women who share childrearing.  The second objective relies on reflective and situational capacity, learning to recognize the overall health of her child and her life circumstance.  Finally, the third objective is about relational and situational capacity, learning to be more trusting that with healthy relationships, others will help take care of family. Is it clear how the assessment of Sherry’s strengths and weaknesses, in combination with the goal of learning and strengthening the skills required to learn to trust others with her child, will allow her to have more energy and a feel more secure in her situation?

This brief discussion on learning objectives considers how assessment is required in order to tailor learning objectives.  From the assessment the coach proceeds to create learning objectives considering what skills must be learned to achieve the healing topic.  These learning objectives become the basis for growth practices that enable the client to apply the new skills and knowledge. As well, clear learning objectives allow for effective assessment. From these experiences and assessment, clients spiral through learning cycles applying and assessing new growth.  With each cycle, goals and intentions can be reset and scaled to maximize learning and effectively succeed in the healing topic.


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