Terms of Engagement

terms of engagement image

In discussions about coaching with colleagues and members of my PLN I frequently find myself talking about clarity of intent and the terms of engagement associated with the coaching process.

In John Campbell‘s tweet below, the key word for me is expectation. In this instance he was responding to a question about the distinctions between coaching and mentoring. For me, the issue here is about clarity around what is expected, invited or solicited when entering into any collaborative engagement with another.


How well do we clarify the terms of engagement when we enter into coaching relationships?

When I coach teachers in my school, a significant proportion of the first session is devoted to setting the foundation and establishing the coaching agreement. The International Coaching Federation (ICF) recommend setting the foundation as the first component of their Core Competencies. Incidentally, the ICF competencies and their detailed descriptors provide a helpful framework for all aspects of a coach’s work.

Christian van Nieuwerburgh (2014) provides a useful reference table to assist with the formulation of a coaching contract and he stresses the importance of establishing these professional parameters before embarking on any coaching conversation. My adaptation of this table is provided below.

Coaching Contract Table Lo

This checklist has morphed into a Coaching Agreement that is now used at the start of each coaching cycle. This might seem quite formal and business-like but the agreement provides a point of reference for the first coaching session, and when reviewing how the process is going. The use of an agreement, or at least discussing the terms of engagement with the coachee, is perhaps even more important in a school context. I say this because a coaching conversation is a managed professional conversation distinct from the more familiar day-to-day conversations about practice that may occur with colleagues with whom we already have a level of comfort and familiarity. These more convivial conversations often lack the level of challenge and accountability that are part of an effective coaching conversation. Generally, in polite interactions with one another we shy away from the level of challenge that might occur in a coaching context. A coaching conversation is not just a conversation.

Coaching Agreement Unbranded small

  • Is there anything on the checklist or the agreement that you would change or add?
  • How do you set the parameters for your coaching interactions?

Please feel free to leave a comment or question to expand the conversation.


van Nieuwerburgh, C. (2014). An introduction to coaching skills: A practical guide. London, England: Sage.

Companion website with video illustrations of practice:




The Know-how Continuum

Whitmore Quote

The recent #educoachOC chat on Twitter explored the key differences and similarities between coaching and mentoring as strategies to support teacher learning. I might tease out a few of the issues covered in the chat in future posts but for now I’ll concentrate on the issue of advice giving in a coaching or mentoring context.

There was a lot of discussion around the giving of advice versus not giving advice, and the expectations of both parties when entering into a coaching or mentoring relationship.

I liked Mary Jones‘ use of internal v external expertise and Kerron Worsdell‘s “revelation/epiphany” response. A mentoring relationship (not necessarily with the coach) could be an appropriate form of “external” learning that emerges in response to a need identified within a coaching cycle.



Sam Boswell shared the image below. It’s clear that the ownership and responsibility of the coachee increase as we move to the right.


This brought to mind something that was introduced to me during my coaching accreditation training and that I’ve referred to many times since when trying to explain the coaching process.

The Know-how Continuum

The know-how continuum can be a helpful way of thinking about how we frame our coaching questions in order for the coachee to generate options for moving forward. Ideally we want to stay, as long as possible, with the coachee’s own context, experiences and successes. Having fully explored this line of enquiry, or if it turns out not to be fruitful territory, we might move along to another – someone else who they know is good at this or has faced similar challenges or is in a similar context to the coachee. Finally, the last stop on the know-how continuum is the coach. The coach will almost certainly have ideas of their own to help the teacher move towards their goal. However, that’s just what they are – the coach’s ideas – and who’s to say that they are the best ideas? At this point, seeing the coachee struggling to find enough options, the coach might ask “would you like some suggestions?“. Caution and restraint are required on the part of the coach at this stage. A “yes please” response is not a license to immediately flip into full directive mode!

Whitmore advice & blame

The aim is to keep responsibility and ownership with the coachee. Introducing a suggestion with something like “What I’ve seen work in the past is….“, to some degree, puts the idea out there in neutral territory without the coach claiming ownership of it. This is very different from “Well, what I think you should do is…“. For (teacher) coaches (or perhaps just humans in general!) this can be a difficult thing to do. As Whitmore puts it:

It may be harder to give up instructing than it is to learn to coach

In my own experience as a teacher-coach, maintaining faith in the capacity of the coachee, and resisting telling, have at times been the most challenging aspects of the role. The faith is in their ability (supported by the coaching process) to reflect, think deeply, commit and act. It is not necessarily about surfacing specific knowledge or skill (although it may be there). Effective coaching helps the coachee to realise that they have the capacity to find a way to solve the problem or address their need. It is not always about knowing the answer there and then – “know-how” in this context can be knowing how to find their own answers.

So how does this sit with you? What’s your experience as a coach or coachee? What questions would you ask at different points on the know-how continuum? How do designated Instructional Coaches (more common in the US) manage to keep responsibility and ownership with the coachee when operating in a more directive way around specific instructional strategies?

Further Reading:

Mark McKergow discusses the “know-how continuum” as a Solutions Focussed approach in these two great articles:

Manager as coach – gathering know-how for improved performance 

Manager as coach – introducing the coach’s know-how Part 2

Thanks to Jason Pascoe (@jpgci) for sharing these.


Whitmore, J. (2009). Coaching for performance: GROWing human potential and purpose, the principles and practice of coaching and leadership (4th ed.). London, England: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.