Lydia Ruter is the Program Manager at mpowered for Denver’s Financial Empowerment Center, which provides personal financial coaching.
Training, professional development, and certification for practitioners and programs.
Local, state, and national stakeholder networks that support and develop practitioner efforts.
Service delivery models and the underlying data systems that support them.
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Mpowered has developed a community of colleagues who are seeking to learn and develop their coaching skills together. This is reflective of a trend found in educational settings, where teachers participate in professional learning communities as a means for professional development and peer support. This is a valuable model to follow for financial coaches who often work remotely and have their own domain of professional practice, yet can benefit enormously from the experience and expertise of others.
There are several key features of professional learning communities which make them a fit for the financial coaching profession. One purpose is to support collaboration of professionals from all levels of experience and education. Experienced coaches have much to offer in advising on client cases and sharing knowledge. Newer coaches stimulate new learning as they ask questions and seek to understand various approaches. They support the vitality of the learning community and may challenge the status quo as they bring to light topics with fresh perspective. They invite the community to revisit approaches to an issue as shifts occur in the economic environment and the needs of clients.
Drawing upon my experience at mpowered, I recommend a few useful activities that could characterize professional learning communities of financial coaches. The first is to carry out regular coaching observations. This sets the stage for a shared understanding of one another’s work and style. This is much like teaching observations which are done in the education field. Observations are completed on a peer level where members of the professional learning community will observe one another, eliminating power dynamics. Mutual observations contribute to transparency between coaches. The observations are followed immediately by a debriefing process, highlighting what went well, as well as areas for improvement, always led by the person being observed. Debriefs are guided by a shared understanding of core competencies of coaching. This invites a focus on the practice and strategies of coaching, which benefits both participants, and are not focused on evaluating the coach.
Professional learning communities (PLCs) create an opportunity for reflection on coaching practices. The PLC represents a time and space set aside with the intention to reflect on current practices, seek advice on new strategies, and plan to implement these in practice. It is particularly fitting for coaches to undergo similar processes in their professional work to what they facilitate with clients on a daily basis. This generates reflection and a deeper understanding of coaching work with clients.
The focus of professional learning communities is positive, and oriented to professional growth. Ensuring that PLC activities are not designed for formal evaluation is important in creating organic, self-driven learning opportunities. One of the primary features of a PLC is that it builds a sense of community, creating robust relationships through trust, and respect for one another’s practice, style, knowledge, and experience. Through these relationships, and the dedicated time set aside, professionals build their skills, share strategies and tools, and receive feedback that allows improvement in a learning environment that is both engaging and timely.
A benefit of using this format for professional development in an emerging field like financial coaching is that it instills the value of continuous specialized development and learning. It sets the expectation that in becoming an expert there is always an opportunity for improvement, refining one’s practice. The PLC encourages coaches to identify best practices by building consensus through case debriefs and the discussion of outside research. This allows the group to construct shared meaning of concepts, which is needed as they navigate an emerging field. It also provides a focus on techniques for the successful delivery of coaching, counseling, and education. Finally, a PLC supports the mental and emotional well-being of coaches by creating a safe place for colleagues with similar experiences and challenges to relate and debrief. Given the independent nature of the work, coaches work daily in isolation, and the PLC creates connection, support, rapport, and builds a culture of collaborative learning.
Financial coaching PLCs may involve a regular meeting. These meetings may consist of case debriefs, sharing advice on content knowledge, as well as strategies for financial coaching, counseling and education. They also often involve sharing community resources, and inviting guest speakers, ranging on topics from financial investment products to housing resources to healthcare regulations. In these meetings, coaches identify shared training needs, which could be included in a future meeting. Book discussions on relevant topics are also common. For example, mpowered’s coaches read and discussed Scarcity by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir. This can also be a place to share client success stories, which builds morale, inspires coaches in their work, and highlights best practices.
The relationship development that occurs through PLC activities creates a dynamic web of supportive peer relationships that allow coaches to reach out to one another throughout their workdays. They have access to one another as a source for information via email, phone or Skype. As coaches develop particular areas of expertise in content areas, such as student loans or housing, they can tap their colleagues as a resource. PLCs can be formed with coaches within one organization, or could gather professionals from multiple providers to collaborate.
There are a few conditions I would recommend setting in place when starting a new professional learning community amongst financial coaches. First, establishing a culture of support, collaboration and continual learning with the purpose of improving practice is important. Setting up the group to be peer-led, and setting expectations for mutual participation is key for establishing a sense of ownership and creating a safe space. If possible, coaches should be able to self-select into the group rather than be required to participate. A professional learning community should be locally organized to allow coaches to meet together in person regularly. Additionally, the group size should be one that allows for meaningful participation, exchange of information, and development of relationships. The culture of the professional learning community should be positive and focused on professional growth and development.
44 Wall Street, Suite 605 New York, NY 10005 646.362.1645 phone 646.590.8743 fax
44 Wall Street, Suite 605, New York, NY 10005
646.362.1645 phone 646.590.8743 fax