Coaching Through Transition: Part IV

Detail of Sea and Shore by Gina Lynette and Ned Andrew SolomonOver the course of several Tuesdays — Transition Tuesdays — I’m sharing one area of my practice that thrills me more than just about anything — coaching individuals with disabilities and their families as they transition from one life stage to another. Please note that while I’ll be describing a coaching scenario that is very similar to several families that I’ve worked with, it is an amalgamation of those conversations and is not based on any one family.

In Part I, I introduced you to Jon, Kate, and Dan and wrote a little about my approach to coaching families through the transition planning necessary to move students with disabilities from high school into an interdependent, adult life.

In Part II, I shared more about my role in working with Jon, Kate and Dan. I also talked some about what it means to be “humanistic” in coaching.

In Part III, I outlined the process and the steps I’m using to walk Jon and his parents through his transition. These steps form the structure for just about any coaching relationship.

Today, we’re taking a closer look at the person-centered assessments I use during the Data Gathering portion of coaching a family through transition. For folks who have files that gain weight faster than they do, this is a tender space and I walk very carefully here. There are some lovely tools for getting that foundational information collected that honors the individual I’m coaching.

Accessible Assessment

While a traditional organizational coach might go in with formal assessments including personality assessments, 360 multi-rater assessments, task analyses, and the like, coaching families who have been through years of diagnosis, special education testing, and formalized Individualized Educational Plans (IEP) requires some measure of gentleness around this area. Rather than bombard the family with more standardized assessments, right off the bat, I tend to review the file of the individual to see what has already been declared about him, while keeping an open mind to the real possibility that there is more to Jon than his file might indicate. During the same time frame that I’m reviewing Jon’s documents, I meet with the family to gather more person-centered information.

I’m not one to subscribe to a particular tool or set of tools when I contract with a family. Rather, I cobble together a customized approach that best fits the needs of the client and their circle of support. I do start with best-practice, person-centered tools developed by such brilliant thinkers as Helen Sanderson, John O’Brien, Jack Pearpoint, David Sibbet, Martin Seligman, Ben Dean, Christina Merkley, and Michael Smull, among others*. I then mix in the adaptations and creations of my own that have morphed and grown over the years that I’ve been working with individuals with disabilities and their families.

Using Essential Lifestyle Planning as the basis, the process might involve the following steps:

  1. Inventory the skills, interests, communication strategies, likes, dislikes, natural and paid supports, dreams, goals, fears, passions, missteps, and areas of concern of the individual and their loved ones through interviews, dynamic group facilitation, and file reviews.
  2. Sort out what is important to (makes them happy) the individual and important for (keeps them safe, healthy, and a valued member of the community) the individual from their perspective as well as those who care about them.
  3. Sort out what makes for a good day for this individual or what has the potential to send the day into a bad direction.
  4. Determine what is working and what is not working from multiple perspectives through a process that closely resembles a 360 assessment that my Industrial/Organizational brethren are used to using.
  5. Ask: “What have we tried? What have we learned? What are we pleased about? What are we concerned about? Knowing what we know, what will we do next?”
  6. Collect all of this information in the most gentle and respectful manner, put it into a format that is recognizable by and accessible to the individual at the center of the process, and work with the individual until they are delighted with their plan.
  7. Set them loose upon the community with a renewed sense of what is possible and pray that they do not encounter someone who dashes their hope in the first day or two.
  8. Check in regularly to maintain momentum, adjust the plan, and connect with resources.
  9. Hope for the best.

At each step along the way, I’m constantly paying attention to how this family works best. Do they prefer checklists or questionnaires? Do they prefer individual interviews? Would they rather brainstorm as a group? Are they visual thinkers who love graphic facilitation sessions or are they more likely to send me long narratives in emails at 3am? There are ways to use any and all of these preferences when gathering the clues and learning the preferences and uncovering the hidden agendas and fears that this family brings with them.

Some of the tools I use most include:

  • Essential Lifestyle Planning (ELP): Helen Sanderson and Michael Smull along with the Learning Community for Essential Lifestyle Planning have put together a series of powerful tools that they share freely on their websites.
  • PATH (Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope): John O’Brien, Jack Pearpoint, and Marsha Forest developed the PATH tool to facilitate groups of people in creating strategic plans around moving an individual from an institutional setting into a real life as part of a community.
  • SHIFT-IT® Graphic Coaching Process:  Christina Merkley has created a set of visually accessible templates that allow individual coaching conversations to be captured in the same powerful, graphic way that the PATH tool uses.
  • Positive Psychology: Martin Seligman leads the way in this field of research and practice that is constantly adding to our toolkit of effective methods for tapping into what’s right about us rather than focusing on what’s wrong with us.

Each of these approaches will get covered in future segments, but I’m trained and/or certified in all of them because they each add something to the coaching conversation that I believe is essential to getting to that penultimate goal – a really real good life.

In Part V, we will take a closer look at the PATH tool and discuss how delicious pie-in-the-sky dreaming can lead to some pretty delightful real-world results.

*I name drop, not because I want you to be impressed with how well-connected I am, but because you might be interested in researching some of these folks’ ideas and methods. There are so many wonderful resources out there that this list could have been 3 times as long and still would have left some of my favorite folks out.


For folks who like to know more, here are the references from this series:

Brouwer, P. J. (1964). The power to see ourselves. Harvard Business Review, 42(6), 156-165.

Helen Sanderson and Associates. (2007). Person centred thinking. Liberty, Missouri: HSA, USA.

Pearpoint, J., O’Brien, J., & Forest, M.  (1993). PATH: Planning possible positive futures. Inclusion Press:  Toronto.

Peterson, D. (1996). Executive coaching at work: The art of one-on-one change. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 48(2), 78-86.

Stern, L. (2004). Executive Coaching: A Working Definition. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 56(3), 154-162.

Stober, D. R. & Grant, A. M. (eds.) (2006). Evidence based coaching handbook: Putting the best practices to work for your clients. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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