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03 Dec, 2008

Gill Woon – Success Story

Posted by: The Coaching Academy In: Success Stories

Gill WoonHow I Help My Clients Scale The Learning Ladder – Everyone Can Learn… Or Can They?

When I qualified as a coach people told me – and I soon found that they were right – that I needed to find a niche. I tried a few things out for size, but eventually realised that I was drawn to help people learn more effectively. My experience as a teacher and a trainer, and with my own son, who is dyslexic, had shown me that not everyone has the relatively untroubled and successful learning career I was lucky enough to experience, and I was curious to find out more about why that was, and to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem if I could!

The ‘problem’ as I see it is:

  • a number of people are scared of learning (often because they have had a poor experience of learning in school)
  • feel that they are failures as learners or write themselves off,
  • feel that they cannot learn or are ineffective learners.

This often leads to feelings of frustration, inadequacy, low self-esteem, concealment and anger and – in some cases can be one of the contributing factors to criminal activity (a very high proportion of prison inmates are people with literacy/learning problems)

There is still a belief at large that ability to learn well is a magic gift given to some ‘clever’ people and not others. And yet babies are born with a burning desire to and all the necessary equipment to learn. Learning for them is necessary for survival, as it is for all small animals. A very important part of my job is to demystify the process of learning or, as I describe it to my clients: ‘My job is to
help make things easy/easier for you’. As a learning coach I am there to help the client realise that he or she is capable of learning, and learning effectively, whatever he or she needs to learn. 

We are all born with the capacity to learn, although we might have different preferred ways of going about it. It is also a part of life – we never stop learning, although we may not perceive that we are learning at the time we are doing it – and we may not always be learning what is right or best for us all of the time, if we are unaware that it is happening. A key aspect of my work, therefore, is to help clients consciously engage in learning rather than passively or unconsciously accept what they are told or given – to become empowered and aware of what is happening when they learn; of the process of learning and how we acquire skills and knowledge.    

I use the metaphor of the learning ladder, starting at ‘unconscious incompetence’ (when you don’t know something,are unaware of it, and don’t yet need to know it), and moving through ‘conscious incompetence’ (- you now need to know something or be able to do something, and also realise you don’t have the knowledge or skills – yet), to ‘conscious competence’ (when you have acquired the skills or knowledge but they don’t yet come automatically), and finally the nirvana of ‘unconscious competence’ or mastery, when you have the knowledge or skills and can exercise them without thinking. I have found this a useful aid for my sessions with clients (even 6 year old clients can understand the concepts if expressed in simple language) to help them identify where they are now, and where they would like to be on the ladder, and what steps we are going to take to get them there. I’ve found that it is also very important to alert clients to the feelings that they will experience as they move through these stages, and support them through the experience. Unconscious competence can be very comfortable, though limiting; conscious incompetence can be an extremely uncomfortable experience which people often want to avoid – but which needs to be gone through to reach the next stage. I liken it to learning to drive – I can still remember the panic sensation when I first got into a car and was expected to manipulate the gears and controls, and the thought ‘ I will never learn all this!’  – but I did, eventually, learn.        

What do I do and how do I do it? Although I have some specific techniques and exercises up my sleeve if I am helping dyslexics, for example, many of the skills I deploy are those used by any coach.

Firstly I seek to establish with the client  what he or she wants to address eg poor handwriting, poor memory, poor focus and concentration, reading, or some combination of these. Finding this out helps me, with the client, to establish what the client’s specific learning goal is eg ‘Copperplate handwriting, or legible handwriting?’ or ‘memorising material for exams and retaining it, remembering tables, or not forgetting where I’ve put my keys’.

Secondly, based on this, I draw up a ‘contract’ with the client to deliver a series of sessions aiming to help them achieve these objective(s). The sessions will help the client to develop the relevant skills, breaking them down into simpler building blocks and going at the client’s rate.  The client undertakes to carry out any exercises (‘homework’) I set for him or her between sessions. This is important as the client needs to take responsibility for his or her learning. An important aspect of this will be a discussion of the client’s preferred learning style and I will tailor my sessions and suggest ‘homework’ which fits that style where possible.

While running the sessions (and between time on the phone) I spend a lot of my time building up the client’s self-esteem and giving them evidence via feedback that they can achieve what they aim to achieve, and can do it well (or to the standard required), helping to restore their belief in themselves, often damaged by negative feedback from other sources (peers, school, the workplace etc)

I work with a couple of young clients who have had problems with handwriting (legibility and speed so that they can keep up in class and perform in exams). My first task was to establish that we were aiming for legibility not copperplate which brought some of the anxiety down. While running a session I asked one of my clients, who is 12, to copy a sentence I had written from the board without looking at the paper he was writing on. He immediately said,anxiously,  ‘But I won’t be able to write on the line’. My response was, ‘I don’t mind if you don’t write on the line’. He was astonished but felt liberated by the experience (and the writing wasn’t bad either).   

I listen to the client, challenge and stretch them in question and answer sessions woven in among the games and exercises . I do have opportunities to challenge assumptions – an adult client told me that she loves singing and is of professional level. When asked whether she currently sang, her response was ‘But I can’t do it at the moment as I am looking for a job’. My task then was to gently bring her to see that singing (something that I elicited from her gave her a great deal of pleasure and fulfilment and at which she was very skilled) was not incompatible with searching for a job and in fact might give her some advantages in the job search (eg networking opportunities, something to talk about at interview as a worthwhile interest, etc).    

Because I work mainly with children, I also find myself using my coaching skills to the parents or guardians, who are often anxious, frustrated and fearful for their children and need reassurance and support and sometimes just a listening ear who understands and doesn’t think their child is ‘naughty’ or ‘a problem’.

Rewarding? You bet!! Well paid….well, it’s not quite on a par with executive coaching, but I can’t think of anything I would rather be doing right now. 

Gill Woon, Love to Learn at Coachworks. Gill is a qualified trainer, coach, Raviv Therapist and Seeing Spells Achieving coach. Gill has a passion for learning and helping others learn and has written a number of articles on learning and the role of poetry in learning.

Gill can be contacted on or 0870 262 6517.

2 Responses to "Gill Woon – Success Story"

1 | Gill King

December 3rd, 2008 at 7:58 pm


Dear Gill

great to read your success story – I knew you specialise in dyslexia, but did not know that you were a learning coach per se. Lovely to see you succeed after we met at the Coaching Academy several years ago.

wishing you continuing success

best wishes

Gill King

2 | Jackee Holder

December 8th, 2008 at 4:52 am


Dear Gill

I thought your article was very insightful and loved the full explanation of the way in which you work with your coaching clients.

It’s also great to see the way in which your niche has developed over the years and you have embedded your Primary Aim into your work and it shows.

Schools should be tripping over themselves to use your services.

Look forward to reading more articles from you.

Best wishes.

Jackee Holder

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