by Palmina La Rosa
The World of Better Learning blog


Those who knew me as a teenager wouldn’t have bet a penny on me growing up to work in a profession which involves giving presentations, leading teams, negotiating in public meetings, and making strategic decisions. I was always very shy but had dreams of being a different person, more confident. I had visions of myself as a successful businesswoman but was struggling to make it a reality. Then, along the path of my professional life as a teacher and educational manager, I came across the practice of coaching. I embraced my coaches’ practice and my life changed for the better.

This life event made me think, ‘what if I had known about these coaching strategies when I was younger? Would my goals have been easier to reach?’ Coaching has played a fundamental role in my life because it helped me to reach my full potential. We, as teachers, also have this power — to make a significant impact on our students’ performance and ensure they maximize their talents.

The teacher-coach approach

So, what can we do to fulfil this mission? The first thing that we must have clear is what our real objectives are. As language teachers, we aim to give our students everything they need to achieve a high level of language competence. We refer to the CEFR, which describes what students can do at different stages of their learning. We have a clear framework to follow and this makes the learning journey straightforward.

But being a successful student is not just about knowledge. It’s about being able to perform as responsible citizens and to communicate effectively, not just talking in a grammatically correct way. It’s about thinking critically and creatively to find solutions and opportunities. We should be able to support our students to enhance the life skills they need, no matter what their life journey will be.

Cambridge Life Competencies

The Cambridge Life Competencies Framework sets out the criteria of what a student should be able to master, according to their age. It gives guidance on what areas we should focus on and how to integrate life competencies into the language classroom — the perfect place to develop these skills. The combination of a comprehensive life skills framework and the knowledge of some simple coaching techniques is the language teacher’s trump card. I am not saying that you must be a qualified coach to teach soft skills, because you already practise most of these techniques in your lessons.

It’s just about scaffolding them and realising the connection between what you are using them for, according to the framework, and how. Coaching sessions can help you understand the role of the teacher and the student in this process of life skills acquisition. This awareness will lead you to extraordinary results.

Powerful questioning inspires the process of critical thinking. It pushes our students to start reflecting or asking more questions […].

We should be able to support our students to enhance the life skills they need, no matter what their life journey will be.

Teacher-coach coaching techniques
Let’s have a look at how coaching techniques can help you to enhance secondary school students’ critical thinking, as described in the Cambridge Life Competencies Framework.

During a coaching session, the coach and the ‘coachee’ have an understanding:

  • The coach will not give answers to the coachee’s issues
  • The coach poses the relevant questions that will help the coachee to find their own answers (as a teacher-coach, you will have to ask questions that will push your students to think critically and to move beyond the simple language process to the ‘what is behind the language?’ phase

The power of questioning

  • Use high impact, powerful questions
  • Use inquiry questions that will start the thinking process and will lead your student to understand and analyse ideas
  • Choose questions that will stimulate discussion, and encourage problem-solving and decision making

When talking about powerful questioning, I am thinking about those questions that go beyond the simple how, what, when, why questions. These answers can be found, for example, on the internet or in a piece of text in class. Powerful questioning inspires the process of critical thinking. It pushes our students to start reflecting or asking more questions to clarify the scope of the topic, and to investigate the facts to be able to offer their own point of view. Students will be pushed to ask themselves why this information may be important and how it can be used in the future. Some examples of powerful questions include:

  • What does this really mean to you? (to facilitate awareness)
  • What would be different if you had already achieved your goal? (to stimulate imagination)
  • How could you transform this problem into an advantage? (to foster creative thinking)

When answering a question, students should also be able to articulate why their answer is important to them as individuals, and also their classmates. As teacher-coaches, we should create a database of powerful questions. These questions should lead to meaningful discussion and motivate students to overcome obstacles and create solutions.

Your teacher-coach database of powerful questions should meet the following criteria:

  1. Is the aim of my powerful question clear?
  2. What kind of issue/problem/challenge do I want my student to face when answering it?
  3. What kind of resources do they need to analyse the issue/problem/challenge?
  4. Does my powerful question lead to an individual or collaborative task?
  5. Does my powerful question create curiosity and inspire my students?
  6. What is the reaction that the powerful question will provoke? (Will it facilitate awareness, stimulate imagination, create a paradox, put the pressure on, take the pressure off, motivate?)

What have we learnt?
As a teacher-coach, we can create the foundations and the right environment to develop critical thinking. But it’s our students who should take ownership of their own learning journey. Students should be taught to self-assess their critical thinking processes and find ways to progress. Download my Powerful Questioning Feedback Form and Student Self-Assessment Questionnaire to help get you started!

Powerful Questioning Feedback Form:

Student Self-Assessment Questionnaire:

We can do a lot to help our students succeed in this challenging 21st century. The Cambridge Life Competencies Framework provides us with clear guidelines and directions, but we need to be open and receptive to new approaches, to help our students master this fast-changing world. If you are reading this article, you are ready to embark on a rewarding learning and teaching journey.

Cambridge Life Competencies Framework

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Palmina La Rosa, The World of Better Learning blog. Palmina La Rosa has been involved in teacher training and education for 25 years. She founded Giga International House in 1997 and in January 2021, founded Coaching Training and Development (CTD). CTD aims at providing language teachers with useful coaching techniques to support students in practising 21st-century skills. Palmina became a qualified Coach, approved by the International Coaching Federation in 2018. She has since attended the High Impact Leadership Course, held at the University of Cambridge Institute of Sustainability Leadership.

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