Reflections from the SDF Coaching workshop

I was recently invited to a world café style event hosted by the Staff Development Forum around issues arising from mentoring and coaching. The event was excellent, with lots of tips being shared and lots of good practice emerging. There were different elements being showcased but I focused on elements that reflected technology practice, coaching and mentoring at distance and informal approaches. In this post I don’t differentiate between coaching and mentoring as this is about using the technology, for a further discussion on the difference have a look at the Coaching and Mentoring Network

Adding value with technology

1. Always test the Technology

Whether it is a telephone conference, Skype, Lync or a video conference system it is worth making sure that you can connect, and that the person on the other end has no barriers. In addition think about using a USB headset and mic, this makes it much more comfortable on longer sessions. Sometimes these can’t just be plugged in though, so make sure that whoever is using them as had a trial run with you before coming to the session.

2. Identify what you need to see and hear

Is this a group coaching session, an action learning set, or a one to one session? Coaching and mentoring often involves picking up on visual cues, you may need to ask more questions than you are used to, and take extra time so that you can be attuned to these practices. If this is a group session, think about tactics that will ensure everyone gets a turn to speak, and ask questions. This is especially useful if there is no video. If it is a group session you may also like to draw a ‘map’ of where people are sitting.

If the other person or team want to show you visuals make sure they are sent in advance and that you have them to hand in preparation.

3. Environment and ground rules

Doing this at a distance does have some advantages, but you should consider the environment in which you are doing it. Are you or the other person in open place office? Are you distraction free? When accessing through a computer screen it can be tempting to look at other things, such as email. Set some ground rules to overcome this. Treat the session as if you were in a room with no distractions.

4. Managing Sessions

There are several systems available to help administer coaching and mentoring.

Mye-coach tracks, monitors and supports interventions. It also manages requests, selection and matching processes effectively and efficiently and generates reports and evaluations.

SUMAC is a system developed at the University of St Andrews for the data management of the coaching and mentoring. A case study about its development is at

5. The Session

The technology puts something between you and person/people you’re working with. It can seem more difficult to make small talk and relax into a flow. Persevere, setting a clear goal for the session, and a time limit will help. Because there is sometimes less informal conversation the session may go quicker than you expected, don’t worry about trying to fill the time.

If possible, try and have at least one face to face meeting before using technology in to coach or mentor someone, it will make it easier online.

If you record the session, as an aid to reflection, ensure that you have everyone’s permission.

Finally, it is also worth considering using an e-portfolio for record reflection from both you and the person you are working with. These can be shared at a distance and can add value to the sessions.

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