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Planning coaching as part of whole school improvement

How to use coaching to underpin school improvement


Success measures when using coaching to support school improvement

Stephen Covey is a bit like marmite; you either love him or hate him. Either way, so much of his work is embedded in existing practice that it is virtually impossible to ignore. His second habit, “Begin with the end in mind”, is simple enough, but represents a process that is often overlooked.

The evidence surrounding the value of coaching within an educational environment is comprehensive and continues to grow. However, its use as a development tool is not yet universally accepted, particularly in the context of having an impact on the whole school. In general, many schools are using coaching as part of teacher CPD, where the intent may well be to use the process as a development tools to support colleagues improve their teaching and learning.

Thankfully the days are long gone now where coaching was seen as a remedial intervention; however from a whole school impact perspective coaching offers so much more. The true essence of coaching lies in supporting growth and development, often through the process of change. A genuine process of coaching, one in its purest form, is very different from ‘coaxing’ (teaching by a slightly different name). It will lead to a shared understanding of a situation, appreciation of possible routes to a different – more preferred – situation, and above all a clear plan of action of how to get from one place to another, which is 100% owned by the person receiving the coaching.

Within this wider context, in addition to improvement teaching and learning, coaching has the potential to support a school’s strategic development plan. It can:

Facilitate management of change. The term ‘change is now a constant’ is well worn as a cliché, but managing change continues to be a challenge within ever more onerous assessment and burdening administrative requirements. Coaching helps to dismantle feelings of overwhelm, open minds to alternative futures and different ways of working, and above all helps chart realistic timescales for the changes to be achieved.

Lead to a change in the working culture. Well delivered coaching helps stimulate a thinking process that looks beyond the present and considers different courses of action; it helps bring about a belief that things can change and develop. This approach resonates strongly with Carol Dweck’s contemporary work on the ‘growth mindset’.

Enable a more effective use of time. Good coaches will walk the talk: as part of their own professional learning they will be aware of various tools and techniques which underpin an effective development process. By being open and transparent in terms of how they are using them in the coaching process, a coachee can experience how the same tools can make a difference to their own life. Covey’s third habit, “Put first things first”, is a good example of this.

Improve the process of performance management. Despite considerable development work in this area, many schools still use an annual review process based on 3 targets: one for curriculum development, one for teaching and learning and one for the whole school. In reality, these often get overlooked or are sorted out just before the review date. Coaching can completely transform this process by moving it closer to one of regular continuous development.

Facilitate success of projects across boundaries and between departments. With the pressures to deliver, it can be hard to leave the confines of the classroom to develop new ideas and opportunities. One of the consequences of well-structured coaching programmes is improved discussion between different areas of the school

Support the development of newly appointed Heads of Departments, Heads of Year, or NQTs. The theory behind well-structured induction programmes can be very hard to put into practice. Coaching shifts the thinking away from a week long process to one to one of regular support, although mentoring might be more appropriate in these circumstances.

Coaching has so much to offer school improvement plans, providing sufficient thought is given to the issues of why how, and when. So, returning back to Covey’s second habit, the key questions SLT members have to ask themselves before embarking on a coaching programme are:

  • What do we really want to achieve with our coaching programme?

  • How clear are we about what we mean by coaching, and do we understand the difference between coaching and mentoring?

  • How will we know the coaching programme is working?

  • How are we going to measure its impact?

If you are interested in finding out more about how to use coaching to underpin school improvement contact us here.

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