Is your school on track for coaching gold?

Written by: Michael Holland | Published:
Image: iStock

Hot on the heels of coaching successes at the Rio Olympics, Michael Holland explores how schools can embed an effective coaching culture

Great coaching has been catapulted into the spotlight after a summer of exceptional sporting success for Team GB and Northern Ireland at the Rio Olympics. But how effective and embedded is coaching in your school?

Being able to unlock potential to maximise performance is just as important in a school setting as it is for those athletes competing on the world stage. Professor Dylan Wiliam captures the essence of this in his assertion that “every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better”.

So how can you use coaching in your school to raise staff performance, improve pupil outcomes and ultimately drive school improvement? Here are five steps towards embedding a coaching strategy across the whole school.

Secure ‘buy-in’ from your staff

First off, you need to convince colleagues that coaching will have a positive impact on teaching and on learning outcomes for pupils. Implementing a coaching strategy takes time, but in the long-run it will be time well spent. Your teachers will be more effective, and they will be able to work smarter rather than harder. Getting this message across is key.

Often, we each have the answers to solve the problems we face. Coaching is about unlocking these solutions and helping your colleagues to realise that they know what to do. As an effective coach, you will ask your colleagues the right questions to nudge their thinking in the right direction. You will help staff to take charge of their own development to achieve the results they value – boosting their confidence at the same time.

Shout about the benefits of coaching

There are countless benefits of coaching for both staff and students alike. The key is to work out the particular benefits for your school – and communicate the value of these from day one. Are you aiming to develop a solutions-focused approach in school? Or do you want to better understand what motivates your pupils in the classroom?

Start by getting a small group of staff passionate about coaching and encourage them to share the power of the process with colleagues. Take advice from Malcolm Gladwell, who tells us that the success of any initiative rests on the participation of a small group of people with specific skills. He calls it “the Law of the Few”. So, first off, figure out the “few” in your staffroom who can help you to craft the case for coaching and champion it to the entire staff.

Establish the conditions for effective coaching

Effective coaching relies on a range of conditions: trust, collaboration, and a willingness to take risks are key. This means your staff culture must encourage people to be honest and open about the challenges they face, and empower them to find solutions.

Consider the practical steps you will need to take to nurture these conditions. Let staff know, for instance, that coaching conversations are confidential. This will encourage staff to raise issues, disclose information and share ideas.

Link individual objectives to broader teaching and learning priorities

The non-judgemental nature of coaching makes it a powerful driver of both individual and whole-school improvement priorities. Before coaching begins, identify the specific areas of practice your staff want to develop through coaching. How do these align with the broader teaching and learning priorities of your school?

By mapping out these goals, you can make informed decisions about when certain coaching should take place and establish coaching partnerships that benefit both members of staff in each partnership. For best results, link individual objectives to these broader teaching and learning objectives. Which coaching partnerships will work best in your school?

Up-skill your staff to be effective coaches

A good coach helps someone to figure out what they want to succeed at, how they want to get there, and what success will ultimately look like. This is no simple undertaking. It requires a complex set of skills and a growth mindset. How are you going to make sure your coaches focus on potential as well as performance?

Listening, reflecting, clarifying and questioning are the hallmarks of an effective coach. Effective coaches listen without passing judgement or interjecting. They channel thought processes and decision-making by accurately reflecting and clarifying what has been said. They ask questions that open up new ways of thinking to help their colleague to reach his/her goals.

Coaching is a highly skilled practice. You will need to provide your coaches with structured training and support to develop their approach. Embed it effectively and you have a highly powerful tool for professional development. As Sir David Brailsford, the coach credited with transforming British cycling, puts it: “You’ll get more from a £900,000 rider with a coach than you would from a £1 million rider without one.”

  • Michael Holland is CPD content manager at The Key, which provides leadership and management support to schools.

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