How coaching can support your school's workforce

Written by: Damian Mitchelmore | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Unlike training or mentoring, coaching gives people the power to solve issues for themselves. Damian Mitchelmore asks what coaching can do for you, your teachers and your school

Schools are in a hurry to make improvements, and that is hardly surprising. After two years of pandemic-related disruption and with the possibility of an Ofsted inspector knocking at your door, you want a fast and effective way to address your problems.

However, I believe headteachers should stop trying to fix everything themselves.

As educators we are hardwired to solve everyone’s problems, it is what we strive to do every day. But school leaders who give their team all the answers, or who swoop in like superheroes to save the day are not actually doing their colleagues any favours.

School leaders have to put aside their natural “I want to fix everything” tendencies so their staff – and ultimately their pupils – can develop their own problem-solving abilities. Coaching can help make this happen

Helping people learn and grow

Take the example of a year 2 pupil who comes to you before break with their shoelaces undone. If you were to tie their shoelaces for them, the child would be back out in the playground more quickly. But it does not help them in the long run because they need to learn to tie their own shoelaces.

Likewise, we need to give people the ability to develop their own brilliant techniques to solve issues for themselves, and that is what coaching can do.

In the same way as the pupil who feels proud because they tied their own laces, your teachers will be more confident, motivated and ready to face the next challenge knowing they are more than capable of dealing with the many demands of the job.

A coaching culture

Coaching works by listening, empathising and helping somebody work out a way to address an issue rather than trying to fix it yourself.

Say one of your teachers complains about how their year 5 class always plays up on a Friday afternoon. The temptation might be to dispense advice and tell the teacher what you would do in that situation, suggesting they do the same. Your instinct might even be to go into the classroom and talk to the year 5s yourself.

However, your approach might not work for the teacher if you have very different teaching styles. In fact, their approach might work just as well as yours, but they need to find it, trust it and use it to good effect.

In a coaching culture you start by listening to the problem. Are the year 5s actually misbehaving or are they disengaged, distracted or simply tired? Then you ask the teacher what action they could take, what techniques they could use, and get them to think about how they can use their own amazing classroom skills to engage the children.

When a school introduces a coaching culture, teachers learn to solve problems themselves, and in doing so they feel valued and trusted, which helps them grow as professionals.

Challenging instead of solving

In a school with a coaching culture, school leaders move away from providing advice or modelling their own way of doing things. Instead, they listen to colleagues, understand their issues and encourage them to find the answers. Coaching makes people reflect more deeply on their own practice.

However, coaching can take some getting used to. It is not the same as mentoring which focuses on sharing knowledge and skills. Coaching is more about changing behaviour and mindsets, rather than showing or telling someone what to do. In a coaching culture, some teachers initially feel challenged rather than supported, and they are indeed being challenged, but it is done in a very positive way.

But ultimately, coaching makes teachers feel more confident in their roles, and better equipped for the profession they love.

Coaching conversations

Coaching is not something that is done to you, it is something that is done with you. Everyone in the school can be a coach – senior leaders, teachers, teaching assistants and, yes, even pupils.

When coaching conversations become the norm in a school, you start to see people challenging each other as practitioners. But they don’t challenge each other as individuals, so there is no personal criticism. Coaching is a way to enable professionals to develop their own strengths with the focus on doing their best for the pupils.

A less experienced teacher could have a coaching conversation with a more experienced colleague to help them solve challenges such as how to incorporate physical activity into a maths lesson, or how to ace their classroom displays.

As time goes on and coaching becomes part of daily school life, people gradually start to self-coach. This happens when they ask themselves challenging questions, and when they seek out opportunities to improve their own practice.

Wider benefits

As schools continue to navigate their pandemic recovery, it has never been more important to attract and retain the best talent. Good teachers want to work in an environment where they can grow as a professional and improve outcomes for their pupils.

By adopting a coaching culture, school leaders can empower their staff to solve problems, flourish and succeed. And staff know their leaders have faith in them to be brilliant teachers who make a difference to the children in their classroom.

Coaching gives teachers back their voice as professionals and equips them with the confidence and courage to be creative in their practice.

As a school leader you carry the weight of responsibility on your shoulders, but you needn’t bear that weight alone. Instead of trying to fix everything yourself, it makes sense to build a capable team of problem-fixers, and you can do that through coaching.

After all, coaching should come naturally to people who work in schools. The best teachers are already coaching their pupils to solve problems, from learning their times tables through to tying their own shoelaces.

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