In this #PLtogether Lounge Talk, Christian van Nieuwerburgh talks about how to coach teachers to support their performance AND well-being.

Read highlights in this blog post: What Positive Psychology Has to Do with Supporting Teacher Well-Being


This is part 3 of a 4-part conversation. See the rest here:

You can find the transcript below:

– Welcome to another PL Together Lounge Talk. I’m Adam Geller, Founder and CEO of Edthena, the platform that helps teachers streamline feedback by using videos of classroom teaching. They can collaborate with their colleagues or with their coaches. And today, we’re talking with someone who’s an expert in coaching, Christian van Nieuwerburgh. He is the Global Director of Growth Coaching International, and he’s also an executive coach with experience inside of schools, as well as in business, and the author of multiple books, including a forthcoming book, “Advanced Coaching Practice,” with co-author, David Love. Christian, thanks so much for joining us.

– Lovely to be here, Adam.

– Well, we’ve been talking a little bit about your, I guess your framework for coaching or kind of your view of the world of being a coach. And one piece of what you talk about and write about is how, let’s say, the act of coaching needs to be paired with an area of research called positive psychology. So I guess, first, for someone that’s watching this video, let’s start at the, what is positive psychology? Give us the 101 intro class version. And then we can kind of get to the place where we connect that up to the coaching process.

– So the 101 version. The definition is it’s the science of optimal functioning. So positive psychology emerged from the broader field of psychology. And in around 1998, Professor Martin Seligman, himself a psychologist based in the US, he said, “For too long, psychology’s been focusing “on what’s wrong with human beings “and how to alleviate weaknesses.” And he said, “Why don’t we spend a little bit more time “looking at what’s best about human beings “and what we can do to make life even better for people?” So that’s positive psychology. It’s a science about enhancing wellbeing. So that’s where I come in, Adam, to say, well, we do have a science around coaching as well. And the science around coaching is how can we help people to successfully navigate change towards what it is they want. So there’s a whole science around this. And I’m saying, if there’s another science which is about human beings at their best, it’s the science of how can we support human beings to flourish? It doesn’t make sense to me to say, well, that’s something completely different. That’s still something that’s within our area of interest. And I’ve been arguing recently that we should integrate the two because coaching should be not only how do we help teachers to perform better, but it should also be how do we support teachers to experience wellbeing while they do what it is that they do?

– Yeah, as I was preparing for our conversation, in my own notes, I described my understanding of how you were talking about this as the tension between the job of the coach to help someone and the job of the coach to help someone reach a goal. For me, I interpreted what you were talking about as that tension. And what I hear you saying is we have a way maybe to resolve some of that tension. So take us into maybe some of the kind of the world without thinking about positive psychology versus the world With, if you are a coach, approaching a conversation with a teacher. Make it tactical and practical for us.

– Tactical and practical is making sure that we’re never in a situation where we’re adding to pressures or tensions for teachers. So imagine that we have the role to support a teacher to achieve something. I think we have to be careful that we don’t get caught up in helping them to achieve that thing at the expense of their wellbeing. Now, we have to be highly alert to that in education because I think somewhere along the way, particularly in Western educational context, we’ve kind of accepted the idea that sometimes, to achieve certain academic outcomes there’s gonna be a cost to wellbeing. And I don’t agree with that. I think, well, that’s not necessary. Why don’t we find ways for people to achieve academic goals in a way that it actually enhances their wellbeing. And that’s where positive psychology comes in. So you said get practical. Well, practical is, and I’m an executive coach, and so when I talk to my coachee before we start the coaching process, I say to them, “I’m interested in supporting you to achieve your goals “but I also have an interest in your wellbeing.” That’s a very practical thing I say. And that allows me, when we’re moving forward, I could check in once in a while to say, “Okay, so it looks like you’re making progress “towards the goal, how about your wellbeing? “How’s that?” Because for me, the two things are strongly interrelated. And I think we have to be very careful that coaches don’t end up damaging the wellbeing of the people they’re working with.

– One thing I was thinking about as you were describing an approach for the coach that I think rightly addresses more than just one facet of the teacher in terms of achieving the goal. I was curious about how does a coach balance what they might perceive as the goal of their own role, which is to lead teachers to outcomes, right? I mean, it gets a little bit meta here. But it feels important to ask, like how should the coach be applying some of these ideas toward themselves?

– That’s wonderful, again. And I think this ties into what we were saying earlier about the need for the coach to be considering their own wellbeing as well. And I like the idea that the coach’s role, and it’s a way of thinking, isn’t it, Adam? But what is my role? If I think my role is simply to make sure that my coachee achieves this objective, I think it’s risky because then we seem to be in an evaluative role. That’s less about what coaching is for me. Coaching is a supportive role. So I’ll just talk about myself, Adam. When I’m a coach, I think my primary role is to create the best possible environment for learning to take place. So that’s my focus. And that means that the person I’m coaching is feeling comfortable in the conversations, they think they’re making progress. And in order for me to create that environment, I do need to look after my own wellbeing. So if you imagine a situation, Adam, two teachers, one’s coaching the other, and both of us are stressed, we’re overworked, we’re a little bit anxious, it’s gonna be difficult to create that climate. So I think climate’s important. Let me get practical one more time. What does that mean, integrating positive psychology? One is it means having what I call having a bias towards the positive, Adam. So as I’m listening to the person I’m coaching, I’m wanting to extract positives. Oh, it sounds like you’re really committed to this. Wow. You’ve really stuck with this for some years. Oh, it seems to me that you really care about the kids. I would extract that, that would be positive psychology, highlighting the positives. The other things from a positive psychology point of view is noticing wellbeing. So asking questions like, what do you need to be doing so that you’re at your best when you’re in the classroom? So the few examples, but positive psychology is a huge field of study. And I think there’s a lot we can learn from that field that would support us to bring a more human interaction into our coaching conversations.

– It sounds like you’re reminding us that we need to make sure we add that question of “How are you doing?” and then follow up with “How are you doing, really?” in all of our conversations.

– One time, the way that I know that the conversation is going well, Adam, is if I say “How are you doing?” and they actually tell me how they’re doing, I’ve created the right relationship. But you’re right. Most times we’re gonna say, “Oh, not bad,” “I’m okay,” “I’m managing.” But really how are you doing, excellent point.

– Well, Christian, we need to take a quick break. If you’ve had this video shared with you and you’re wondering what we talk about next, make sure to head to for the rest of this conversation as well as many more. Christian, thanks so much for being part of PL Together.

– I’m really enjoying it. Thanks, Adam.