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Only use 'I wonder' if you actually wonder!

Authenticity is crucial to effective coaching

The phrase "I wonder" has gained increasing popularity in teaching and, particularly, in coaching circles in recent years.

You might have heard it in such coaching contexts as:

  • "I wonder if providing step-by-step guidance might ensure that every student is on the same page?"

  • "I wonder how students might respond if directions were broken down into smaller, more manageable chunks?”

  • "I wonder if more explicit modelling could set students off on the right track earlier?'“

During the debrief of a recent instructional coaching intensive I led, one participant remarked, "I noticed you haven't mentioned the phrase 'I wonder' in any of your training materials today. This phrase has been emphasized in other coaching trainings I've attended. What are your thoughts on 'I wonder'?"

My initial reaction was that I don’t really like it, but I couldn’t pinpoint why. We had a bit of back and forth in our small group until it finally struck me. I didn’t like, ‘I wonder’ because I felt that the way it’s used often isn’t authentic.

Instead, the phrase is often used as a round-about way of making a suggestion. Often the coach doesn’t actually wonder what will happen, they’re pretty sure about what the outcome will be. They’re just using, ‘I wonder’ as a way to try to avoid being more direct.

So, what can coaches use instead of ‘I wonder’?

The answer to this question isn’t brief, but it is captured in the idea of ‘the bid’ of the coach, which I’ve spoken about before, have presented on, and will be presenting about again soon!

But the main point is for us to be authentic in our coaching. A corollary of this is that authenticity in coaching is effectively supported by curiosity.

When we do approach our coaching with an openness to learning, we’re in the best position to make offer valuable suggestions whilst leaving space for a coachee’s suggestions and contributions too.

Effective coaching isn’t about saying, ‘I wonder’, it’s about actually wondering. But only use ‘I wonder’, if you actually wonder!

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