Learning about Learning Agreements

by Sue Johnston, MCC (IAC)

This week, I'm tackling something that's been on my To Do board for almost two years. I'm putting together my first Learning Agreement. And I'm excited about it.

In August of 2010, when the IAC introduced its members to Learning Agreements, it looked complicated, or it seemed hard, or I put it aside to think about when I had time, or I didn't have $150. You may have had a similar reaction.

It turns out that, while the $150 is needed, this is not complicated, hard or time consuming, as I discovered when I spoke with Natalie Tucker Miller, IAC's lead certifier.

"Some people see the process as a big hoop to jump through," she says. "It's only a hoop if you make it a hoop. What we're asking you to do is create your own learning path by determining what's most meaningful for you. It can often be something you were going to do anyway."

While some professional certifications are "get it and forget it," IAC wants to ensure the quality, timeliness and relevance of its certification by having certified coaches stay on top of our game through continuous learning. But rather than issue continuing education credits, Natalie explains, the objective is to encourage coaches to "do something that makes sense for you, your life and your coaching, and expands your understanding of the IAC Coaching Masteries®. Learning Agreements are as varied and personal as the individual coaches and their goals."

She says, "The process can enrich everything about your understanding of what coaching is, what mastery is, and how you continue to grow." In other words, the benefits extend well beyond just maintaining your IAC certification.

For example: let's say you're going to focus on Mastery #4, Processing in the present. You can deliberately and consciously focus on being fully present even when you're doing household chores or watching TV. You can bring that awareness to your weekly staff meetings or a family dinner. You're practising the skill and that will show up in your coaching.

Some certified coaches opt for more elaborate activities, such as starting a learning group to study the Masteries or mentoring new coaches. Some will opt for more training or attend coaching conferences. Others may choose to volunteer for the IAC or another non-profit coaching organization.

As I spoke with Natalie, I wondered what I could put in a learning agreement. I kept hearing phrases like, "meaningful for you," "related to your work" and "where you want to take your coaching." Over the next few months, much of my own work will involve promoting my just-published book and launching a companion coaching program. Since one of the book's characters is a coach, I'm going to see how well my fictional character uses the IAC Coaching Masteries in her work—and then blog about that. I'll make sure any masteries she missed are solidly built into the coaching program.

That is, if the certifiers agree that's a useful and achievable plan.

The Learning Agreement process involves submitting a learning plan describing your intentions, and then speaking to a certifier. "It's a coaching conversation," Natalie says. "We help you clarify your goals or suggest resources to help you. There is nothing to be afraid of or nervous about. There's no right or wrong way to do this."

There are, however, a couple of requirements. Your plan must be different, year to year, or clearly show a continuous development path. And the learning goals must relate directly to the IAC Coaching Masteries®. With nine coaching masteries, there's a lot of scope for learning.

A complete description of the process is on the IAC web site. You'll also need to state not only what you will learn but also how you'll do it. One year later, you report on progress and set new goals. The intention is that you'll receive an annual reminder. While agreements are filed annually, the fee applies every five years.

Natalie explains that the idea for the Learning Agreements began with Thomas Leonard, before the IAC was established, as a model for continuous learning that didn't rely on continuing education credits. The idea took shape during the member-driven strategic planning process. As might be expected, the IAC took a coaching approach to the problem by ensuring that certification is a continuous process.

"We know our coaches want to keep learning and growing," says Natalie. "They're in charge of their own coaching education and we support them with a system that encourages them to plan their learning and reminds them about their learning goals." Hmmm. Doesn't that sound like what a good coach does?

Sue Johnston

Sue Johnston, MCC (IAC), believes real conversation is our most powerful tool. Blending experience in journalism, corporate communication and psychology, she founded It’s Understood Communication to help change the world one conversation at a time. Sue's first book, Talk to Me: Workplace Conversations That Work is available at http://talktomebook.com.

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