2 Working one on one

Author: Fiona Smart

In this section, we explore the power of 1:1 conversations, those that are planned and those that are serendipitous. We consider the opportunities that 1:1 dialogues offer to the new-to-educational-development practitioner.

Vignette: Lee was feeling unsure, out-of-depth. Although very experienced in terms of disciplinary background, educational development was a new field of practice. Lee was copied into an email from the educational development team leader. Lee was asked to meet with Lyndsey, a member of faculty who was struggling to get students to engage with feedback on summative assessments. Lee met Lyndsey for coffee. Lee listened to Lyndsey’s accounts of different ways she had tried to get students to use the feedback she had painstakingly prepared.

Lee guided the conversation into a discussion about how formative assessment and summative assessment can serve quite different purposes and may mean that we should invest more time in feedback and feedforward on formative work. Lyndsey was not sure that her team would be happy with this idea but could see the merit in Lee’s suggestion to focus less on summative assessment feedback. She agreed to follow up on suggested reading

(EN Quick Guide - see guide no.3 https://staff.napier.ac.uk/services/dlte/Pages/QuickGuides.aspx.

The story of Lee is both familiar and frustrating. It rings true for many of us for being so. It does however miss from the picture some of the likely picture. For example, there is no suggestion in the account that it was difficult for Lee and Lyndsey to find the time and space to meet, or even talk via phone or online. There is no indication of the work Lee might have needed to undertake to prepare for the meeting.  There is no sense in which there was discord in the interaction with Lyndsey perhaps frustrated because of having to speak with someone from the educational development team. As such, it is perhaps an example which is too ‘clean’ and therefore unreal, not least because we know that 1:1 conversations commonly take place when they weren’t planned for, when the educational developer didn’t have time to think in advance, and when there is a competing agenda (or two) on the part of either one or both of the protagonists.

But stay with us because in thinking about this particular vignette we can start to imagine the fact that while 1:1 conversations may rarely be as neat as this, there are some principles that can be drawn on to help guide any conversation in a professional context. Furthermore, it helps us to contemplate the issue of power.

A place to start to reflect on 1:1 work in educational development practice is perhaps to consider the purpose of the conversation. The literature would point to almost an instrumental intent, for example, to help and support people to learn and develop.  However, there is something more fundamental than this which speaks to the essence of educational development, which we argue is centred on relationships. This does not make educational development unique as there are many other disciplines which centre on the building and maintaining meaningful connections. But in the context of educational development, the opportunity to establish networks which reach into the space of the university is something to value, not least because it is in conversation that the work we do and the potential it has to enhance academic practice can be illuminated and capitalised on. Therefore, we might conclude that for Lee the opportunity to work with Lyndsey was of itself to be valued. However, it is also worth recognising that the interaction had value beyond this, which is suggested in the vignette. The information given indicates that Lee took the opportunity provided by the 1:1 meeting to support Lyndsey’s learning and as such, speaks to the many volumes of texts and papers that examine the potential of mentoring and coaching. Some suggested readings on this topic are provided for you below that might be worth exploring.

For the purpose of this chapter, we are proposing that you reflect on how the GROW framework might be incorporated into your everyday practice.  This is so it can be embedded and drawn upon in planned 1:1 meetings but also in serendipitous moments that form so much of our work (see Parsloe and Leedham, 2017, Chapter 8 for further detail).

The GROW model/ technique/ framework (it is variously described) uses a simple (and memorable) set of questions to guide a discussion so that the individual you are working with can think about the problem or challenge they are experiencing and identify a possible solution(s). In summary, GROW guides us to:

  • Establish the Goal
  • Examine the Reality
  • Consider all Options
  • Confirm the Will to act

It depends on listening, not telling or even worse manipulating the individual into deciding on a course of action that YOU believe to be optimal. It also requires a degree of skill to execute, therefore practising is recommended to facilitate the development of confidence as well as competence.  As you start to work with it, think about and start to practise asking what are commonly referred to in the literature as ‘powerful questions’. Starr (2016, p100 – 104) offers insight into what these questions might be, noting their capacity to:

  • Refocus thought e.g., from problem to solution.
  • Help someone feel more powerful about a situation.
  • Tap into creativity and options.
  • Reframe problems to opportunities.
  • Facilitate forward movement i.e., taking action.

Returning to Lee, the scenario and our deliberate use of the word ‘manipulate’ above, there is a sense in which Lee might have been using the opportunity provided by the 1:1 conversation with Lyndsey to push her in the direction Lee wanted. We are told that Lee guided the conversation to formative assessment, but we are unsure whether, in so doing, Lee had heard from Lyndsey what the problem actually was. This is a timely reminder to contemplate the potential of power in our practice even when we might perceive we have little. Perceptions of power vary, and the practice of educational development cannot be assumed to be benign.

In summary then, there is magic in the opportunities offered by 1:1 conversations, probably most of all because we can build, maintain, and enhance the relationships that sit at the heart of our work. They also provide the chance to support learning and development, which can be optimised using a framework such as GROW. However, being alert to our power – actual or perceived – is a core responsibility for us so we are not manipulating individuals simply because we can. This speaks to the need to be self-aware, and reflective, cognisant of our influence and impact on others.

As you look again at the vignette, use the GROW model to start to frame how you might begin the conversation with Lyndsey if you were Lee. We would love to talk with you about how GROW might help or hinder your practice.


Parsloe, E., Leedham, M. (2017) Coaching and Mentoring: Practical Techniques for Developing Learning and Performance. London: Kogan Page. 4th edition

Starr, J. (2016) The Coaching Manual.  Harlow: Pearson. 4th Edition

Stotlzfus, T. (2008). Coaching Questions: A Coach’s Guide to Asking Powerful Questions. Coach22.

Whitmore, J (2017) Coaching for Performance. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing. 5th edition


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2 comments on “2 Working one on one

  1. I don't host formal consultations as part of my role so when I was reading this post, I thought I had no experience in this area. However, after reading and reflecting on this post, I realized that I have many informal consultations with people asking for advice.

    A few days after reading this post, someone had asked me about putting a training program for graduate students online. Instead of using my regular approach of providing what I think would be best, I took the time to guide them through the GROW framework (Goal, Reality, Options, Will to Act)!

    This framework is counterintuitive because in my previous approach, I was always doing a lot of the work for people by providing them with a clear path forward with actionable steps that they could take an implement. I thought I was doing them a favour, but I have learned now that I was actually doing them no favours in the long run and was denying them a learning opportunity. The power of this framework is amazing because it provides the person with confidence, autonomy and ultimately ownership over solving their problem/challenge. This is a lot more effective (and rewarding) than simply sharing my opinion and thoughts.

    At the start of our video call, they told me that just thinking about putting this training online makes them sick to their stomach with stress and anxiety. Here is an excerpt from the email they sent me after our video call, "Thank you so much for this - it's really helpful. I feel a thousand percent better about planning this now, and am actually a bit excited about it." I feel like if I took my regular approach then they never would have felt this control, confidence and empowerment surrounding redesigning their training.

    Thank you so much for sharing this powerful and effective framework!

    1. Dear Madison, thank you so much for leaving this comment. It is much appreciated. I am so glad GROW was useful for you. I've been doing some coaching work recently, and experimenting with Michael Bungay Stanier's Seven Questions. I'm liking them for their simplicity and power. You could perhaps integrate some or all into your GROW practice. Here's a link.

      Wishing you well

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