A Journey Towards Reflective and Reflexive Learning

Reflective Practice in Coaching

A Journey Towards Reflective and Reflexive Learning

It goes without saying that new coaches need to learn new skills.  That’s typically why someone joins a coaching programme.  To learn how to coach.

Yet, time and again, we hear that the journey is about so much more than learning to coach.  It also changes how the learner relates to others and how they understand themselves.

This is the difference between what, in transformative theory, is called: 
Instrumental Learning
Communicative Learning
Emancipatory Learning

Instrumental here is learning a skill or way of achieving something.  Communicative learning relates to how we make sense of and relate to others.  And emancipatory learning refers to learning that enables individuals to question the taken-for-granted assumptions they hold about themselves and the world.

Another way of thinking about learning also divides it into three kinds:

Practical Learning
Reflective Learning
Reflexive Learning

Practical learning maps closely to instrumental learning; it’s the acquisition of the skill. Reflective learning relates to our thinking about what we’re learning.  Reflexive learning relates to thinking about ourselves and our assumptions.


The Philosophy of our Coach Training

Our programme aims to take learners on a journey through all three domains and all three kinds of approach with an increasing movement towards reflexive practice and the emancipatory lens as the course progresses.

We believe as a transformative coaching school, it is critical we model the form and function of the subject that is being learned – namely critical reflection on our frames of reference.

It seems to me that with a focus so heavily on delivering skills, models and knowledge, most coach training programmes implicitly distrust the capacity of learners to learn in relationship with other learners and to make sense of their existing and emerging experience.  For all the talk of self-actualisation, such programmes often exhibit an anxiety over participants learning through exploration and emergence compared to the safety of delivering packets of strictly process-based exercises.  These latter ways of working have a place but, I believe, need to be only one part of a wider way of encouraging coaches to learn.


The learning journey on the Accredited Diploma in Transformative Coaching

The three stages of learning described above are mapped across the Accredited Diploma in Transformative Coaching where the new coach moves increasingly towards a deeper reflection on their work, their meaning-making within the group and themselves as an individual and as a coach.

The Animas trainer/facilitator’s role through the course becomes increasingly less focused on new models and theories and more on enabling individuals and the group to reflect on practice and engage in reflexive dialogue for greater self-awareness.

Let’s take a look at how we aim to move learners from learning new skills and knowledge to becoming reflective on their experience and reflexive on their beliefs.


Modules 1 & 2 combined

Modules 1 & 2 are about learning skills (instrumental learning).

It could be argued that, in many ways, these are the only core skills a coach ever needs.  The ability to ask questions, to reflect and to challenge are the bedrock of all coaching.

The difference between a coach who has only just learned them and a coach who has been practising them for years is not the specific set of skills but the maturity of practice and embodiment of the skills and the nuance provided by additional frames of reference – of which there are almost limitless possibilities.  Indeed, it is the vast body of additional frames of reference that allow us to treat lightly the acquisition of the ones we have chosen – we are less concerned with developing specific skills or ways of working as enabling a deeper understanding and mastery of the principles of coaching in practice.


Module 1 – Core Coaching Skills

Core Coaching Skills does exactly what it says on the tin.  It introduces learners to the very basic assumptions and skills of coaching (instrumental learning)

For many, this will be the first time they have encountered them in this format and so the first module can often present a challenge around the use and the application of concepts that feel foreign and awkward.  If coaching felt wholly natural we probably wouldn’t have to teach it!  

Whilst there is a degree of reflective and reflexive practice with explorations of the experience and a self-assessment, the emphasis is very much on learning skills – taking on, understanding and playing with new ways of working.


Module 2 – Thinking and Beliefs

Thinking and Beliefs picks up where Module 1 left off, layering in further skills (instrumental learning) this time based on cognitive behavioural concepts.  

The real learning here is not the specific models – although these provide the focal points for the training – but the concepts provided by cognitive behavioural theory around the multiple causal relationships between thoughts, feelings, behaviours and outcomes.  

Coaches are learning how to spot, surface, challenge and evoke change in ways of thinking and behaving that contribute to someone’s challenge.  These same skills will later find their place in investigations of deeper beliefs structures. 

Reflective practice is brought in through group exploration of the work but the focus is very much on how this improves the acquisition of these new skills.


Module 3 – Transformative Presence

Transformative Presence moves the new coach away from the foundational phase of instrumental learning to support them in experiencing new ways of relating, communicating and being in partnership with clients.  

We have now entered the communicative learning phase. Here reflective practice will become more important.

Models give way to an exploration of the experience of being with (sometimes called withness), of holding space, of silence, of noticing and of intuiting.

New concepts are explored not as a way of gaining additional skills but as ways of being with a client and the stance coaches may take in relationship to their client based on concepts from humanistic psychology.  

The emphasis is on enabling experiences and evoking discussion within the group.


Module 4 – Narrative Transformation

Narrative Transformation calls on the learner and facilitator to dance together through a journey of new concepts that add to the core coaching skills and the gradual move towards a reflexive space.

The introduction of narrative as a concept and the specific focus on transactional analysis allows for our first significant move into an exploration of the self through the conversation.  Coaches will be asked to look inside themselves to think about how ideas such as ego states, patterns of transactions, life positions and the Drama Triangle are being experienced by themselves as individuals.  

This is the first time that the idea of self-as-coach and the importance of looking at our unconscious patterns gets raised in a deliberate manner, providing a chance to engage in both reflective and reflexive practice and opening the door to the emancipatory learning stage.


Module 5 – Transforming Paradigms

Transforming Paradigms moves to a more fully reflexive space where coaches will be asked to explore their structure of  deeper beliefs, assumptions, expectations and so that make up their worldview.  

Whilst introducing the concept of worldviews, and sharing dimensions of the worldview that may be explored, the journey will be one of reflexive practice and dialogic learning as coaches explore with each other and the group their experience and conceptualisation of worldviews and routes into it in coaching.  

This remains a relatively untapped approach to coaching and it is not our wish to design a procedural model around it since this defeats the very notion of transformative practice – namely, critical reflection on one’s own ideas and the trying on of new possibilities. 

The focus on module 5 then is for coaches to emerge with a greater awareness of what they assume to be true that may then show up in their coaching and their coaching relationships.  We are in a fully emancipatory stage of reflexive learning.  


Module 6 – Professional Practice & Ethics

Professional Practice & Ethics comes full circle back to skills – not to learn more but rather to demonstrate the acquisition and application of the skills needed to successfully enter the coaching profession.  

It provides an opportunity for dialogue and reflection around ethics in coaching alongside ensuring an understanding of the core ethical stance of the profession as they begin to embark on their next phase of their development as a coach – from training to professional practice.

Finally, it provides a chance to celebrate the journey of becoming a coach and the changes and learning along the way.  In a sense, it is a form of celebratory reflexive and reflective practice coming together to end the initial stage of learning.


Mentoring and Supervision

As the learner progresses through the courses, they engage in a both mentor coaching and supervision.  These serve different purposes.

The mentor coaching being more skills oriented and ensuring the new coach is able to understand, apply and demonstrate the ICF core competencies of coaching.  Thus, it could be said that the mentoring is mostly focused on instrumental learning, or skills acquisition and development.

The supervisory spaces, by contrast, offer a more fluid and varied approach to the learning available to the new coach.

The Practice Cafe, though focused on practising coaching, is essentially a reflective space, building the new coach’s capacity to notice what is going on both in their practice but also for themselves.  It provides the coach with a space to play and then safely explore their experience.

The Coaching Clinic is more deliberately reflective and reflexive, encouraging the new coach to examine what’s going on for them, for their clients, and for the wider systems they are coaching in.  In the truest sense of the word, this is super-vision that provides a chance to look at self, other and systems.

Finally, the Competency Conversations, creates a space to make sense of the ICF competencies that shape our approach to coaching.  However, this is not a taught space but a reflective one in which the new coaches get to explore what these ideas means to them.  It encourages ownership and meaning-making allowing for a form of communicative learning and emancipatory awareness of the new system the coach is operating in.



We believe in our learners.  We believe that they are the best sense-makers of the experience of being a coach, not us.  Our role is to layer in skills that are essential to being a professional coach but then, in some ways more importantly, to create the conditions in which reflective and reflexive practice can take place.

All learning, done in groups, has the capacity to transform through the way it confronts us with our way of being with others.  However, at Animas, we aim to be deliberate and purposeful in creating the journey that confronts the new coach with themselves, with their meaning-making and with their unconsciously held beliefs and values that could show up in their coaching.

To be a transformative coach means being willing to go on one’s own transformative journey.







Author Details
Nick is the founder and CEO of Animas Centre for Coaching and the International Centre for Coaching Supervision. Nick is an existentially oriented coach and supervisor with a passion for the ideas, principles and philosophy that sits behind coaching.
Nick Bolton Avatar
Nick Bolton

Nick is the founder and CEO of Animas Centre for Coaching and the International Centre for Coaching Supervision. Nick is an existentially oriented coach and supervisor with a passion for the ideas, principles and philosophy that sits behind coaching.

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