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How You Can Use Coaching in Your ESL Classes

How You Can Use Coaching in Your ESL Classes to Boost Motivation?

As a coach, I have worked with several non-native ESL teachers who are striving to offer the best to their students. One common issue we run into is a general malaise around student motivation. The teachers I meet are often dealing with low student engagement. They usually believe this is because their English is not good enough for them to be a legitimate teacher.

They feel embarrassed or inadequate around native teachers or when challenged, ‘how can you have the ability to teach as a second language speaker?’ My experience also shows that this can occur any time we are expected to be the expert but our knowledge falls short. Even natives make mistakes and sometimes cannot answer questions. That is not a good feeling in front of a class.

Does This Sound Like You?

We can quickly get rid of that idea. In fact, many of the teachers coming to me have been focused on degree level English and speaking for years and years. Many of them are more knowledgeable about aspects of English than I am. The market is much tougher for non-native speakers and it is perhaps impossible for them to compete outside of their own national markets, but I definitely do not believe they speak English in a way that prevents them from teaching! The market for native teachers is a disheartening place for those on the outside looking in.

Yet, the teachers I coach have all been dedicated, impressive professionals and I do not believe for a moment should they be excluded from this profession. Even less do I believe that a teacher should never make a mistake or hold their hands up and say, ‘I don’t know.’ The fear of making a mistake is rampant. As this occurs way more often than it should, there must be a problem. A problem that does not just affect non-native teachers.

It affects us all. The problem is that we are treating the teacher as the all-knowing expert of English itself and not focusing on individual teaching ability.

Using the paradigm of the teacher as expert, ‘which places the consumer in a passive and dependent connexion,’ according to Robert Welker, is a recipe for poor learning and poor motivation. Yet, it is an all too common scenario for teachers who find themselves lost in the classroom environment.  A teacher is not the benchmark of what the student should become.

‘The typical model of expert relations, which places the consumer in a passive and dependent connexion to the professional caregiver, will not work for education.’ Robert Welker, The Teacher as Expert

A teacher is a facilitator, not a gate-keeper to knowledge. As a teacher, you want to make it as easy to pass through that gate as possible, to guide your students all the way by using their strengths and supporting their weaknesses. Think of yourself as an ESL Samwise Gamgee, a faithful friend on the quest to Mt. Doom!

So, What Needs to Happen?

Coaching teaches us we that have the answers within. Of course, with English, students may not have the grammatical and vocabulary answers within. Still, they are best placed to describe their own learning experience. So, how can you use the power of coaching to unlock that? How can you create engaged, positive learners?


1. Engage Them

Actually engage them in the process. Ask them what they want to learn. Ask them what benefits English brings to them. What does every conversation bring? Let them see that these positive, active interactions create life-changing transformation and abilities in them. As an ESL teacher, you offer a seriously valuable service. You give the gift of verbal communication. That is just about the biggest thing that sets us apart from other animals. Learn how that impacts each individual in your class. Value this in yourself and let them see how it creates value for them. Dynamic listening is so important, finding the deep drive inside a student will create huge engagement in the class and it is as easy as asking your students questions.

‘Dynamic listening involves sensitivity and the ability to perceive and listen to others as persons who are unique.’ Rev. Saundra L. Washington, D.D.

2. Understand Them

And let them understand themselves. Understand what motivates them to be in the class. What it is they like to do. Where they feel anxious and inadequate. Many teachers I speak with believe that they know this already but they are merely implying it from learner behaviour. The best thing to do is discuss it with the learners. This creates a bond of trust between students and teachers. In ESL classes, I frequently run entire lessons on understanding motivation, procrastination and habit formation. In these sessions, we honestly discuss this with students and they almost always respond positively. I would be more than happy to exchange ideas and share this lesson plan with interested teachers.

How You Can Use Coaching in Your ESL Classes

Human connexions create engagement. Credit: Sebastian Herrmann via Unsplash

3. Create positive feedback loops

Anyone familiar with the Matthew Effect will know how important this is, ‘[t]o those who have everything, more will be given.’ Human beings struggle to understand exponential and compound changes and growth. The echoes of these positive interactions in English class soon resonate into a cacophony of communicating voices living the opportunities they only ever dreamt of. English changes lives, and with a little daily investment, it changes them quickly.

Try asking your students to imagine a scenario where they are using English in a way that is a perfect ten for them. Perhaps they are living abroad, running an international business or studying at a world-class learning institute. Now ask them to rate themselves on the scale. Where are they? Then discuss what they would have to do to move up one step. That one step becomes a realistic action step that eventually leads them to wonderful places. Let them realise the things that have already moved them up from zero. Keep this mentality at the base of the class.

Let every positive interaction in your class be a catapult for growth. Keep curious about the progress and it will come naturally.

With these basic coaching questions and tools implemented correctly, you can transform student motivation, and increase teacher wellbeing and engagement in the class. Any teacher who notices low motivation in their class can improve the situation by staying curious. The sky is the limit if we keep this mind-set. If you are curious about testing coaching methods out on yourself you can check out this infographic we designed for self-coaching.

What other methods do people use to stay engaged in classes? Especially with the current online climate? Tell us in the comments below.

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