Practitioner Diploma / “I wanted to extend my professional network outside of the education sector”

22nd April by Lee Robertson

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Sam Jayasuriya is an accredited PCC coach and Somatic coach endorsed by the ICF and a certified mBit Coach, NLP practitioner and Licenced Resilience Engine practitioner. Starting her working life within the education sector, Sam trained with the AoEC on its Practitioner Diploma in Executive Coaching before going on to launch her own successful practice Sun & Sky Coaching. Here she talks about her work, new book and her personal experience of coach training.

You started your working life in the education sector with roles including head teacher. Who or what introduced you to coaching and led to you signing up for coach training with the AoEC?

Coaching has been an integral part of my life since those early days of being a deputy and a head teacher in the late nineties. I was fortunate to be part of coach training at the Institute of Education early in my career. As a young head, I was a very early adopter of working with a coach to support my leadership development. It was in my third headship that I worked with Kirstie MacLachlan who just happened to be an AoEC Practitioner Diploma trainer. Our time working together helped me to crystallise my thoughts around training as a coach. As a head teacher, I particularly enjoyed supporting others to realise their potential. I felt sure that a more formal coaching qualification would enable me to support more people in the education sector to be the best that they could be.

What were some of the positives and challenges you experienced while doing the diploma?

I knew that training on a programme with other business leaders would be a huge positive for me. I wanted to extend my professional network outside of the education sector, as I knew that working with only one type of leader could create a bit of an echo chamber. The diverse nature of our group, made up of people-helping professionals from HR, consultancy and service-based industries, helped expand my knowledge. I still meet up with members of my training group now and our personal and professional relationships have continued to develop. 

A challenge for me was letting go of the ‘knowing’ mind. As someone with a great deal of mentoring experience, the ‘knowing’ space was a comforting place to be. It related to my work and what I was doing. In letting go, I was able to then embrace the ‘not knowing’ space, allowing my clients to set the agenda and lead the way. There is so much richness and joy to be found here, with new ways of being, thinking and doing. Learning to let go is a journey that all coaches find useful in managing the emotions that are shared in session.  

What is your top advice to others considering coach training?

I would offer the following suggestions, which are all things that helped me make a good decision in choosing to train with the AoEC:

  1. Join some taster sessions first – if these are offered by the coach training school – or undertake a shorter course run by them.
  2. Find out which coaching body their training is affiliated with. This is so important these days as we edge toward coaching being a more regulated industry.
  3. Read testimonials and, even better, talk to people who have undertaken the training.
  4. Remember that this is the start of your practice as a coach. This is a skill that you are learning that gets better the more and more you practise.
  5. Once you have started a course, do take part fully. Give yourself time to prepare before the sessions and to reflect after. Take time to read, do the practice coaching and keep connected with the group. Remember the words of Benjamin Hoff: you can’t save time, you can only use it wisely!

Looking back at your experience of coach training, what has been its lasting impact on you as a person and as a coach?

I know that the two questions we explored during the diploma – who am I? and how do I coach? – had a big impact on me. These have remained with me over the past nine years. I revisit them periodically with my own coach to explore how these themes are showing up in my life and work. They have supported me to make the move from being a full-time head teacher to a full-time business owner and leadership energy coach. The questions helped me strengthen my skills as a trainer, and they helped me write my first book. I have a hunch they will be supporting me again as I continue my work as a coach trainer and begin my journey as a coach mentor.

Can you tell us more about your personal coaching model and how this has evolved since doing the diploma?

My coaching model is called The Change Flywheel. It was formulated by weaving together all the threads of my leadership journey and coalesced in my presentation at the end of the practitioner diploma. It is about enquiry through developing curiosity, empowerment through developing courage, enrichment through creative endeavour, engagement through community, and ultimately about creating positive energy and harmony in your life.

The Change Flywheel has continued to grow and evolve over the years, and I’m delighted to now share this more widely through my recently published book of the same title.

Can you share a little bit more here about what you cover in your book?

The book is aimed primarily at people-helping professionals who give a lot to others, both professionally and personally. In doing so, they can find themselves feeling overwhelmed, disconnected and lacking confidence, all of which saps their energy in one way or another.

I wrote the book to enable these people to support themselves better via some simple self-coaching techniques and new ways of thinking, feeling and sensing with their bodies. I guide my readers through each theme of the flywheel, one by one – curiosity, courage, creativity, community and change. In each section, the reader will explore what these words mean, why they matter to us as humans, how they can benefit leaders and where we might sense these words in our body. Each section concludes with some helpful activities as well as interviews with inspiring leaders I’ve known. The book is intended to be a practical one that busy people-helping professionals can pick up, dip into and bring into their working day. It also offers plenty of opportunities for team discussion and debate.

You now work as an executive coach with your own practice, Sun & Sky Coaching. Can you tell us more about the type of clients you are working with?

I coach people-helping professionals working primarily in the education and sustainability sectors. My clients are often skilled and experienced leaders who have to juggle multiple responsibilities and challenges in their day-to-day work. They all manage teams around them and sometimes multiple teams with different issues. 

What are some of the challenges and opportunities you coach people around?

The opportunities I coach around are all about growth, and that growth always relates to change. It could be a change of profession, a change of workplace or a change in the way they work with their team and colleagues. Ultimately, it’s a change in the way they see and know themselves. Issues tend to be around people feeling stuck in their career path or battling with team dynamics that are causing conflict.  We work on clarifying conflicting values and any mismatch of skills for the work that they are doing. There is often a lack of resilience overall that can be overcome with a focus on energy building and energy management.

You have gone on to become accredited with the ICF at PCC level. Why was becoming accredited important to you and what value has it brought to your practice?

Accreditation with an international body was important to me. Being certified as a coach was not enough; I also wanted the challenge of validation that my coaching matched a range of competencies set by people who are also regularly coaching.  Accreditation keeps me in the learning space, a place I very much enjoy being in. It has encouraged me to keep abreast of new learning. When you go through accreditation you are required to work with a coach mentor. This ensures that I stay in the coaching space and don’t veer into mentoring others. Being accredited at PC level – and recently re-accreditation for another three years – means that I am constantly reflecting on my own coaching skills. As a benefit to my practice, I think it supports my clients to work with an accredited coach. They can be confident that they have a coach who is knowledgeable and skilled in the work that they do.

Whilst respecting confidentiality, can you tell us about a coaching situation that has had an impact on you?

Some time ago I had a client whose whole life seemed to have been turned upside down. After working in a setting for several years, the company was taken over by another global brand with a different management style. At the same time, their lifelong personal relationship ended and a painful divorce ensued, including the selling of their private home. This combination of challenges felt truly overwhelming for my client.

I recognised that there was a strong desire in me to help this client but knew this had to be boundaried by the remits of my training and experience. As I regularly have supervision as a coach, I was able to explore my feelings in a confidential space and let them go. This, in turn, enabled me to be more mindful of my boundaries as a coach and support my client to find therapeutic support outside of the coaching space. In our work together, I drew on my experience as a Resilience Dynamic practitioner to help my client work through their professional challenges. With both coaching and therapeutic support, my client was able to navigate the breakup, move to another global brand, set up home in a new place and begin to thrive in all aspects of their life.  

What do you find most rewarding about your work as a coach?

Connection with people – who are always intriguing. Every person who works with me has access to a multitude of different ways to overcome issues. The variety of questions that my clients bring is wide and varied, and I am rewarded by the sense of renewed clarity and purpose felt at the end of our sessions. Through the quality of the reflective space that I create for them, my clients illuminate their own path going forward in their lives. I genuinely feel and enjoy that sense of the dark clouds being lifted for them, and this is reflected in my company name, Sun & Sky Coaching, which feels just right for me.

Our deepest thanks to Sam for sharing her personal journey and experience of coach training at the AoEC.