The Art of Strengths Coaching

R is for Helping People Learn By Focusing On The Importance Of Relationships, Relevance And Results  


Today many people talk about the new Rs in education. These include the importance of relationships, relevance and results. Some educators also focus on respect, reflection, resilience and rigour.

Writing for the website Edutopia, Bob Lenz describes how the schools he works with focus on these themes. Bob is the Executive Director of the Buck Institute for Education in Novato, California.

Here is an excerpt from his article. You can discover more via the following link. 

In my next several blog entries, I will highlight how we at Envision Schools interpret and use the new four R’s of education: rigor, relationships, relevance, and results. Broadly, we define these principles as follows:


We employ a rigorous project-learning college-preparatory curriculum that sets high expectations for everyone, and we give our students the skills and motivation to meet them.


Our schools are small, personalized learning environments. Class sizes are also small, and teams of teachers and peers provide students with academic and social guidance.


Education must have meaning every day. Our faculty creates curriculum around current events, personal backgrounds, and historical realities while emphasizing competency in twenty-first-century skills.


We focus on the results of student learning using multiple indicators so our teachers can adjust their practices and our schools can offer personalized support to students.

At Envision Schools, we believe that rigor does not mean simply taking college-prep, honors, or Advanced Placement courses.

We believe curriculum becomes rigorous when students are pushed not only to know information but also to apply and demonstrate their understanding of that information.  

We believe that requiring students to reflect on and analyze their thinking and learning might be the most challenging task you can require of a teenager.

Finally, in a rigorous school, students not only learn, do, and reflect, they also master such twenty-first-century skills as critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, collaboration, project management, and written and oral communication.

This article concentrates on relationships, relevance and results. Looking back on your life, can you think of a time when somebody helped you to learn by focusing on these steps? They may have been a teacher, coach, manager, mentor or other person.

What did the person do to encourage you? How did they focus on what you wanted to learn? How did they help you to achieve success?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to take the following steps.

Describe a specific situation in the past when you were helped to learn by somebody focusing on relationships, relevance and results. 

Describe the specific things the person did to focus on these steps and help you to learn. 

Describe the specific things that happened as a result of them focusing on these steps when helping you to learn.


Many educators follow the old maxim that: “The learner learns what the learner wants to learn.” They also recognise that sometimes: “The learner learns from whom they want to learn.”

Good educators try to create an encouraging environment in which the student feels valued and able to explore. Henry Pluckrose followed this approach when running Prior Weston Primary School in London.

The school was successful because the staff believed in the educational – rather than engineering – approach to running a school. Whilst it was important to deliver certain results, these could be achieved by treating students as individuals.

Parents were asked, for example, to bring their child to school at least 12 times before the official starting date. Why? This was the child’s first introduction to an ‘institution’, so it was vital to get it right. By visiting the school – and tasting different lessons at different times of the day – the child was more likely to feel safe, valued and excited about starting.

The school became famous and attracted thousands of visitors each year. You can learn more about Henry and Prior Weston via the following link.

Henry Pluckrose

Adult learners are also more likely to learn if they have an educator, coach or mentor who takes an interest in them. During the past fifty years I have asked many people the following question:

“What has helped you to grow most in your life?”

Different people give different answers, but one common theme emerges. They often say:

“I had somebody who encouraged me. They showed an interest in me, listened and asked about my goals.

“They then shared ideas that I could use in my own way. They helped me to work towards achieving my personal or professional goals.”

Similar characteristics emerged when I ran workshops for people who wanted to become Trusted Advisors in their particular fields. I started by inviting the participants to do the following exercise.

Describe a person who acted as a trusted advisor for you at some point in your life.

Describe the specific things they did – the principles they followed – to act as a good trusted advisor.

Here is the exercise. This is followed by some of the themes that emerged from their answers.

My Trusted Advisor

They helped me feel the centre of their world. They listened to my story and clarified my goals. They played back what they believed was my picture of success. They then asked if it was okay to share their ideas.

They began by outlining what it was possible to control in the situation. They then focused on how I could build on my strengths, manage any weaknesses and work towards reaching my goals.

They shared the possible options for going forward. They explained the pluses and minuses of each option. They also, when appropriate, shared their knowledge and recommendations.

They underlined, however, that it was my decision and gave me time to reflect. They then, once I had made my decision, again explained the implications. They explained what I could expect to happen at each stage of the process going forwards.

They explained the various roles – their role, my role and other people’s roles – as we worked towards the goals. They then used their knowledge and skills to do what their best to help me achieve my picture of success.

Good educators often follow similar principles to build good relationships with their students. They also focus on the following step.


Great educators make the learning real, relevant and rewarding. They start by making people feel welcome and then clarify what they want to learn.

Sometimes they spark a person’s interest by providing a stimulating environment. Sometimes they provide an overview of the topics they can help the person to explore. Sometimes they simply ask some of the following questions.

“What would you like to learn about? Are there any particular topics or challenges it would be good to explore?

“What are the goals you want to achieve in your life or work? Are there any particular tools or ideas you would like to take away to help you to reach your goals?

“Bearing these things in mind, what for you would make this a successful session?”

Good educators also recognise that individuals learn best when the learning is:

Personal. It must relate to the person and their goals

Practical. It must be practical and provide tools that help the person to reach their goals.  

Profitable. It must be, in the widest sense, profitable and help the person to achieve their goals.

Adult learners, for example, want to learn things that can help them to achieve their personal or professional goals. They are then more likely to embark on the learning process of awareness, application and achievement.

Young people also often learn best if they have good relationships with their educators and see the relevance of what they are learning. They are then more likely to develop the rigour required to deliver results.

Today there are many educational projects that give young people the opportunity to follow their interests and develop what are called the Four Cs of Twenty First Century Skills. These are Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Creativity and Communication. You can learn more about such skills via the following link.

Good educators pass on knowledge that people can use in their lives and work. Such educators study what works, simplify what works – in a profound way – and share what works. They then provide practical tools that people can use to follow these principles in their own ways.

Good coaches, for example, often like to watch the person in action or see examples of their work. Before passing on ideas, they ask themselves.

What are the person’s goals? What are the real results they want to achieve? What is their picture of success? 

What are they doing well? How can they follow these principles more in the future? What can the person do better and how? What are the skills they need to learn? 

What are the key messages I therefore want to give them? What are the practical tools I can use to help them to achieve their goals? How can I pass on this knowledge in a way they can use to achieve their picture of success?


Good educators help people to master certain skills, find solutions to challenges and reach their chosen goals. Different educators do this in different ways. One approach is to help people to go through the stages of awareness, application and achievement.

People start by clarifying the goal they want to achieve. They then raise their awareness about how to reach the goal. They gather information, learn from experts, study best practice or whatever.

Awareness is a good starting point, but it is vital to translate the ideas into action. People then apply the knowledge. They develop their skills and build on what works. They find solutions to challenges, reach their goals and gain a sense of achievement.

Some people, of course, become awareness junkies. They simply want to collect more ideas, but seldom translate these into action. This can lead to frustration, both for themselves and other people.

Many employers, for example, want their people to develop their awareness, but they actually pay for application and achievement. People who apply their learning – and who are persistent – are more likely to achieve their goals.

If you work in the coaching profession, for example, you may be judged by your ability to provide people with practical tools they can use to achieve success. One business leader expressed this sentiment in the following way.

“Many people are aware of the guiding principles for living an enjoyable life, leading a business or running successful teams.

“People can surf the web and see these principles repeated time and again. There are thousands of experts on organisations, for example, who want to market their latest idea.

“What leaders pay for, however, is application. They want people to be helped to apply the ideas in real life situations and deliver success.”

Different educators pass on this knowledge in different ways. Many focus on the 3 Is: inspiration, implementation and integration.

They create an inspiring environment, provide implementation tools that work and help people to integrate the learning in their daily lives and work. You will, of course, have your own way of helping people to develop.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to take the following steps.

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to help somebody to learn by focusing on relationships, relevance and results. 

Describe the specific things you can do then to focus on these steps and help the person to learn.

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of focusing on these steps when helping the person to learn.


    C is for Concentrating On Your Craft

    There are many ways to do fine work. One approach is to concentrate on your craft, do creative work and get concrete results.

    Sometimes this can also be a way of coping during difficult times. A person may find solace in pursuing their craft and doing work that inspires both themselves and other people.

    There are many definitions for the word craft. Originally it applied to making things by hand. More recently it has expanded to include other activities that involve the pursuit of excellence. One definition is:

    To create or make something with skill and careful attention to detail.

    This often involves a lifetime quest. The aim is to learn, develop and master the skills involved in carrying out your work.

    Dave Gamache wrote an excellent piece on this theme for the lifehacker website. Here is an excerpt from his article.

    Craftsmanship: Doing what
    you love and doing it right 

    Craftsmanship is doing what you love and doing it right. No matter what you do – designer, baker, electrician, architect, author – your job is your craft.

    Learn to think of your work as practice towards becoming an absolute expert at what you do. Craftsmanship is not a destination; it’s a life-long discipline.

    Craftsmanship is universal. Designing a product (or site) shares the same core values as any other craft.

    Quality, passion and experience are still the ingredients, the difference is the outcome.  

    Love your craft everyday. Designing a product, web site, or workflow shares the same core values as any other craft. So design the simplest, most delightful product you can.  

    Watch people use your product and make it better for them. Improve your work by learning from others and from your own experiences.

    Dave Gamache

    Looking back, can you think of a situation when you pursued some of these steps in your own way? You may have done this when doing a piece of work as an artist, writer, teacher, gardener, singer, leader or whatever.

    If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

    Describe a specific situation in the past when you concentrated on your craft, did creative work and got concrete results.

    Describe the specific things you did to follow these steps in your own way. 

    Describe the specific things that happened as a result.

    People sometimes start following this path early in life. They begin by throwing themselves into a particular hobby or interest. They get into the habit of doing this activity deeply and well.

    The next stage comes later in life. They settle on a particular passion they want to pursue. They then aim to follow certain principles and master certain skills to achieve their picture of success.

    Pursuing this path becomes a lifetime journey. They may aim to become the best they can be as an artist, athlete, teacher, designer or whatever.

    Alan Cooper, a pioneer in modern computing, has described some of the qualities involved in this journey. Below is an excerpt from a keynote speech he gave at the Interaction Design Association conference in 2008. You can discover more via the following links.

    Alan Cooper Talk

    Alan Cooper

    An insurgence of quality

    Best to market, particularly in high tech, comes about only through craftsmanship. And craftsmanship is all about quality

    The goal of craftsmanship is to get it right, not to get it fast. The ultimate measurement of craft is not speed. It’s quality. It’s a pure measurement. And a delightful measurement.

    Craftsman – craftspeople – do it over and over, until they get it correct.  

    And in their training, in their apprenticeship, they build things over and over, learning how to do things correctly, so they can bring enormous expertise to create successful products, and thus the training of craftsman is a long and drawn out personal process. 

    People who pursue their craft sometimes go into what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called a state of flow. They become so absorbed in the activity that time goes away. They flow, focus, finish and, as a by-product, find fulfilment.

    Different people do this in different ways. Malcolm McCullough described some of the steps that people take in his book Abstracting Craft. Below is a brief excerpt from the book.

    This quality of engagement is personal. If you are like most people, you probably work well only when your attention is focused on the task at hand.

    Something must draw your interest. This might be the pleasure of handling a material. It could be the concentration required not to ruin a piece of work.  

    At a more abstract level, it could be the intricacies of solving a problem, whether technical or conceptual. It could be the anticipation of a finished product. It might be the ambition to succeed, or the fear of failure.

    Or it could simply be the calming effect of routine, based on soothing motions, habitual expertise, and a sustaining commitment to practice.  

    If enough of these engaging qualities are sufficiently strong, nothing will distract you from your work – the hours will fly by, and you might not even hear the phone ringing. 

    Concentrate on a craft that
    you care about pursuing

    Seth Godin, the marketer and blogger, believes that it is important to focus on the things you really care about. Taking this path is more likely to produce excellent results. Here are two pieces that he wrote on this theme. You can find the originals via the links at the end of the pieces.

    When we care enough, we raise the bar

    Starting at the age of nine, I played the clarinet for eight years. Actually, that’s not true. I took clarinet lessons for eight years when I was a kid, but I’m not sure I ever actually played it.

    Eventually, I heard a symphony orchestra member play a clarinet solo. It began with a sustained middle C, and I am 100% certain that never once did I play a note that sounded even close to the way his sounded.

    Practice is not the answer here. Practice, the 10,000 hours thing, practice alone doesn’t produce work that matters.

    No, that only comes from caring. From caring enough to leap, to bleed for the art, to go out on the ledge, where it’s dangerous. 

    When we care enough, we raise the bar, not just for ourselves, but for our customer, our audience and our partners.

    It’s obvious, then, why I don’t play the clarinet any more. I don’t care enough, can’t work hard enough, don’t have the guts to put that work into the world.

    This is the best reason to stop playing, and it opens the door to go find an art you care enough to make matter instead. Find and make your own music.

    As Jony Ive (Designer at Apple) said:

    “We did it because we cared, because when you realize how well you can make something, falling short, whether seen or not, feels like failure.”

    In search of your calling

    I don’t think we have a calling. I do think it’s possible to have a caring. A calling implies that there’s just one thing for you, just one thing you’re supposed to do. 

    What we most need in our lives, though, is something worth doing, worth it because we care. There are plenty of forces pushing us to not care. Bosses, systems, bureaucracies and the fear of mattering.

    None of them are worth sacrificing something as important as caring.

    Seth 1

    Seth 2

    Looking ahead, what is the craft that you care about pursuing? How can you translate this into a specific project? How can you keep doing creative work? How can you get the desired concrete results?

    If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

    Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to concentrate on your craft, do creative work and get concrete results. 

    Describe the specific things you can do to follow these steps in your own way. 

    Describe the specific things that may happen as a result.


      E is for Doing Work That Is Effective, Excellent and Extraordinary  

      There are many models for doing fine work. One approach is for people to do work that is effective, excellent and then extraordinary. Different people do this in different ways.

      Maria Montessori did Read more


        P is for Following Your Principles When Dealing With Provocation  

        Looking back, can you think of a time when you followed your principles in the face of provocation? This could have been in your personal or professional life.

        You may have stayed calm Read more


          D is for Delivering High Standards On The Way Towards Deserving Success  

          There are many views about success. One view is that people are more deserving of success when they deliver high standards rather than when they rely on others falling short.

          People do not always Read more


            R is for Romantic Realists Who Deliver Remarkable Results

            During the past fifty years I have studied many positive realists. Such people have a positive attitude, but are also good at reading reality. They are not blind optimists.

            This approach led to studying Read more


              E is for Enjoyment Spreaders rather than Enjoyment Suppressors

              There are many ways to look at people. One approach is to see them as enjoyment spreaders or enjoyment suppressors.

              Some people believe in spreading enjoyment. They want to encourage people and enable Read more


                B is for Choosing To Tackle Big Challenges Where You Can Be At Your Best

                Great workers choose to tackle big challenges where they can be at their best. They may take this step in their work as educators, athletes, mountain climbers or in some other role.

                Such people Read more


                  F is for Creating The Foundation And Framework That Enables People To Do Fulfilling Work  

                  There are many models for encouraging people to do their best. One approach is to create the right foundation and framework that enables people to do fulfilling work.

                  Good leaders implement the right Read more


                    D is for Desire, Discipline And Delivery

                    Looking back, when have you had the strong desire to do something and then followed daily disciplines to deliver the goods? This could have been in your personal or professional life.

                    You may have Read more