Transformation through coaching

Jo Davies talks about her move into coaching and her ambitions to make it more widely available.


When former deputy headteacher Jo Davies decided to do the Barefoot PGCE coaching course just before Covid little did she realise how transformational it would be. Having been a stay at home mum for many years, she is now working with a friend to provide coaching to a wide range of people, including teenagers and those working in the public and private sector.

She had put off doing the coaching course for a year after first finding out about it because she felt she wasn’t in the right head space and lacked confidence after years out of the workplace. She also admits to the kind of negative, pre-conceived views about coaching and well-being that she thinks are fairly common and which she only overcame after learning first hand about its transformative impact.

The course began in person just before the Covid lockdown and then went online. Jo remembers the first session in London, with around 15 others, as being incredibly powerful.

“I remember leaving in a taxi after the first four days, feeling a different type of energy and adrenaline surge. I knew it was right for me,” she says. “I struggled to sleep or eat and lost half a stone over the four days. I have a massive fear of being visible and talking in front of people so it was possibly the hardest thing I had done, but I was inspired.“

She walked away from the first module, realising she had lost the skill to think for herself. Little did she realise that what had been motivated by a desire to help others would benefit her too. The course, she says, made her aware of the importance of investing time to think,  getting to know ourselves and understanding the power of speaking out loud and having it reflected back by a skilled partner.

The road to coaching

Jo’s working life began in teaching. At school she had loved Biology, but she didn’t get the required A Level grades to study physiotherapy. So she became a primary school teacher and worked her way up, taking time out to have a daughter in her mid 20s. By her early 30s she had reached deputy leadership level. After getting pregnant with her third child in her mid 30s, she decided to leave teaching and become a full-time mother. She spent the next few years working on two building projects – renovating a farm and building the family villa in Majorca.

Over the following years, Jo’s energy levels began to subside and she found it hard to get the motivation even to get out of bed. She lost her confidence. She says: “I was doing everything for everyone else and not thinking about my own needs, my own growth. Coaching has shone a light on that and taught me that you have to look after yourself first in order to show up at your best for others. This can be hard when you’ve lost sight of the skills to do so and are in the thick of things.“

Her relationship with her partner collapsed in 2013 and she had to make the difficult decision for her and the children to walk away from it all. After the separation, Jo says she cried for six months and questioned her purpose.

She got a part-time job helping support children with special needs in a nursery. That came to a natural end when those children moved on to primary school. At the time, she was struggling with one of her sons. The two were clashing and Jo sought to understand the best way to support him by investigating different approaches to parenting and relationships.

She also considered moving house and met up with Janet, a mum who lived on the road she was looking to move to. They chatted and found they shared a lot of views about motherhood and the prospect of raising teenage boys. Both wanted to give back and they decided to join forces and volunteer at a local secondary school in Stockport. Jo, who was a reception teacher, had previously vowed never to work with teenagers, but now listens to teenagers at the school every week, giving them time and creating a psychologically safe space for them to talk about their feelings and their lives. Jo is proud of the team of five volunteers they lead.

The Barefoot course

Janet and Jo also invested time in studying how to ‘do good better’ by exploring educational courses and books about how to help teenagers. In the course of her research, Janet suggested that she and Jo do the Barefoot coaching course. Participants are interviewed before being accepted to make sure they are a good fit for the course.

Jo says that when she first turned up to the course, she was in full make-up, dressed to impress to disguise her lack of confidence. She soon realised that it was what was going on on the inside that matters, for both the client and the coach. The course and her development as a coach has helped her to face that fears and obstacles that were distracting her from showing up as herself. A large part of Jo‘s challenge was to manage or regulate her emotions, especially anxiety. Through coaching, she now enjoys helping others to do so too.

Much of the postgraduate-level course is based on psychological theories, tools and research, with participants first applying the models to themselves and their experiences.

There are three modules, a big emphasis on self reflection and opportunities to practise with the other aspiring coaches. Time is allocated in between each module to practice with pro bono clients. On completion of the three modules and coaching practice assessments participants are certified Barefoot Coaches. They can choose to do the extra work to gain accreditations and postgraduate certification and are encouraged to become a member of a coaching organisation such as the International Coaching Federation. The process can be completed at an individual’s own pace, but usually takes no more than two years.

Jo’s cohort included a couple of people working in the public sector, but most had corporate backgrounds. Jo’s background is in the public sector and she believes teaching and healthcare would benefit from developing a coaching culture that encourages what she calls ‘brilliance from within’. Nevertheless, she firmly believes there is a place for coaching for anyone who meets the criteria of being human.

Her Barefoot cohort have remained in contact and are in a WhatsApp group. “It’s like a coaching support group and it’s great to hear about their professional and personal growth,” she says. “Everyone is so thoughtful and helpful. The course had a big impact on every single one of us and I understand that that is the same for those who have gone before me and followed in my footsteps.”

What next?

Coaching also works well for Jo as she can flex work around her family life. She has set herself a two-year goal to build her competence in the coaching field and is now excited about what the future holds.

She and Janet continue to do voluntary work with teenagers. They are currently working with teenagers, young adults and adults on a private one-to-one basis and with a local group of sports coaches, sharing tools and models to help manage emotions such as performance anxiety and developing a coaching culture at the club. They are also developing workshops and group coaching plans to work with teaching staff and young medics.

In addition, Jo is heavily invested in exploring the links between well-being, anxiety, dementia and ADHD and the impact it has on the individual as well as the family. But her ambitions are much broader. “I’m learning how my coaching skills can be transferred in all areas of life,” she says.

“It’s all about performance and how we treat ourselves and others. Let’s face it. Our biggest stage is life and what are we doing to make sure it’s our best one.”

She adds: “My goal is to inspire others to think about their own performance. To avoid feeling and being drained by the pressures of the modern world and to find the energy to live an authentic life. In terms of our potential, this begins with an awareness and acceptance of the obstacles that are getting in our way and having the tools and skills to activate change.”

*Jo is pictured above left with Janet.

Comments [1]

  • Karl Perry says:

    I love the sense of recognising the role fear plays in our decision-making in this article. And that it’s not about making it go away. It’s about recognising it, accepting it, exploring it, and then deciding whether to allow IT to make the decision for us. A great, under-taught life-skill that it sounds like Jo is passing on to teenagers (and adults!) through her coaching work.

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