Denise Inwood, former Assistant Head and Managing Director of BlueSky
Denise Inwood, Former Assistant Head Teacher and Managing Director of BlueSky, creators of BlueSky Education, the leading online performance management, professional learning and self-evaluation solution for schools, outlines how to use coaching to drive school improvement.
Strategies for effective improvement in teaching focus on evidence- based research, the development of pedagogy and the importance of collaborative professional development to support professional learning. One way to link these aspects is through the practice of coaching. This article considers why coaching is important, how schools can develop a coaching culture and the different ways coaching can be used to support and measure school improvement.
The importance of coaching
Helen Temperly’s1 2009 summary of teacher professional learning and development, identified the need to create conditions which allow teachers to:
- experience and develop understanding of an integration of knowledge and skills;
- gain multiple opportunities to learn how to apply information;
- challenge beliefs by evidence which is not consistent with their assumption; and
- have opportunities to process new learning with others.
Coaching can provide a vehicle for these principles to be developed, thus enhancing teacher learning. As coaching supports a collaborative model and enables teachers to use their classrooms and practice for research, it can also encourage teachers to take risks.
How adults learn
Research2 shows that adults learn best when they are involved in the planning and evaluation of their learning; where learning has immediate relevance and is based on experience; and when it is problem-centred rather than content-oriented. Coaching addresses all of these needs.
Teachers are best placed to gather evidence of their practice in the classroom where they spend the majority of their time. Coaching can be the mechanism for individualised professional learning.
- Developing a coaching culture
- Are you coaching ready?
Coaching requires an approach to professional learning that enables collaboration, challenge, risk taking and a willingness to make changes where necessary. It is worth considering whether your school is ‘coaching ready.’
There needs to be a clear rationale for coaching and the school development plan should reference it. Staff must understand the benefits, see and model coaching behaviours and be given regular training and opportunities to use coaching techniques. They must also be willing to take accountability for their own performance.
Coaching assures trust and confidentiality and when developed as a self-improvement tool, there will be requirements to track and measure impact. You can use coaching to promote and share good practice and develop staff through the performance management cycle.
- Identifying and developing coaches
Using your school’s quality assurance process and self-reviews against standards can identify which expert practitioners would be best developed as coaches. It is important that coaches undergo training to understand the skills required and the ability to be reflective in their own practice. Training can go alongside the coaching to develop coaches throughout the process.
As part of the professional development strategy, necessary resources and annual succession planning should be identified.
- Developing coaching partnerships and groups
It is crucial for coaches and coachees to develop strong relationships through mutual respect, where the coach provides a supportive but challenging role. This requires confidence that the process is confidential. The most successful coaching comes through coachees and coaches having ownership of the selection process. If partnerships, triads or groups are seen to be hierarchical or imposed, eg for intervention, the coaching process may not be as successful.
- Integrating coaching into a professional learning strategy
A successful coaching programme needs effective planning and should be built into the professional development strategy with resources allocated to it. If staff identify coaching as a way to support the development of their skills, there needs to be sufficient opportunity to build the coach and coachee relationship and the coaching should not be a one-off.
- Variations in coaching practice
Your school can use coaching in various ways. It can be peer and specialist coaching or focus on a specific aspect, and use the cyclical process to learn, make changes and embed. For impact and to develop understanding and skills, the cyclical process may need to be repeated over at least two terms. A specific aspect could be to learn a new skill, make an improvement on an existing practice, or work towards career progression or promotion.
The way coaching is used must be transparent to staff. It can support teachers in developing their own practice and improve whole school teaching and learning through routes such as performance management. It should be understood that the relationship is not supervisory and the coach is also a learner.
Peer coaching is reciprocal and about investigating pedagogy together. Working as partners towards agreed plans and goals.
Specialist coaching is where the coach has a greater amount of knowledge and experience in a particular field.
- The impact of coaching
If coaching is embraced and undertaken well, teachers will become more reflective, articulate, be more confident to take risks and more aware of their strengths and areas for development. Because they are on a cycle of improvement, staff will be prepared to challenge their own performance, which leads to maintaining a high standard and supporting school improvement. These ‘soft’ impacts are difficult to measure and establishing key ‘hard’ measures is necessary at the start of the process. Establishing expected changes in practice, or on precise pupil progress measures relating to the coaching focus, supports the clear measurement of impact.
If coaching is part of the school improvement process, it will ensure that staff can see a commitment towards their development. Individuals are encouraged to identify their own learning needs to form your school’s coaching programme. Staff can then reflect on the impact of their learning and demonstrate the impact of coaching on their development, enabling coaching to be used as a vehicle for change.
1 Timperley H. ‘Teacher Professional Learning and Development.’ Education Practices Series. 2009
2 Knowles MS, Holton EF and Swanson RA. ‘The Adult Learner: The definitive classic in adult learning and human resource development.’ Routledge. New York. 2012