The education sector has had a long history with coaching, with high levels of enthusiasm, engagement and interest, both in the classroom and in leadership. Leaders are seeing the benefits of having a coach to enable them to genuinely lead themselves and others effectively, learning to be a coach to enhance their leadership style, and training teachers to be coaches, so that they can take a coaching approach to their students.
Coaching definitely has the potential to have an even greater impact in the sector, as more schools and leaders commit to using coaching as part of the ongoing development of the school.
The research on coaching effectiveness is substantial, with reports by organisations both within the sector (Education Endowment Foundation, NCSL, Institute of Education) and outside it (Institute of Leadership and Management, International Coach Federation), whose research points to the success of coaching in schools.
One of the obstacles to embedding coaching in schools is the misunderstanding that coaching, and mentoring are the same thing! They aren’t, and this is why.
Clearly, in education there is a great need and a benefit from a mentoring approach. But also, there is a huge benefit of teachers and leaders having a dedicated coach who won’t switch to mentoring at the moment the teacher/leader/coachee hits an obstacle. To learn more about the difference between coaching and mentoring, check our blog
“What’s the difference between coaching and mentoring“
By giving someone a coach, we send powerful messages: we trust you; we back you; we want you to make the changes you see fit.
Coaching in education – Why now?
Things are changing rapidly in education. Increasingly, there is a requirement that teaching approaches have an evidence base, ensuring that pedagogy is based on “what is proven to work” rather than traditional teacher instinct.
Leadership is changing too. The style of command and control leadership is being phased out, and not willingly accepted by a new generation of teachers and other staff. Pressure to devolve leadership, develop capacity in teams and allow autonomy all lead to a new requirement in leadership style.
In addition, the levels of accountability to governors, parents and external bodies continues to increase. And finally, budget restrictions mean that we need to maximise both the performance and the motivation of everyone who works in school.
Coaching significantly impacts on both recruitment and retention and is a key wellbeing initiative. Schools where coaching is well embedded are brighter, more progressive places to work than schools that shy away from coaching.
Options for schools
There are a number of options that schools explore when considering coaching. These include:
Head teacher/SLT member as qualified coach
The key senior leader invests heavily in their coaching skills, obtains an advanced coaching qualification, and starts using coaching as part of their leadership style. They will also take on coachees for dedicated coaching sessions. This sets the tone and the agenda for a new way of working, that is more consensus oriented, and encourages others to follow the head teacher/coach example
SLT and middle leaders all as qualified coaches
As with the head teacher, but with this example, all of the leadership team and department heads learn to be coaches and obtain their qualification. Once qualified, they all commit to regular coaching of colleagues, both in coaching sessions and also using coaching as their default leadership style
Form tutors and/or pastoral staff have a coaching style
With this version, all staff who have the opportunity to have regular 1:1 time with students learn how to bring a coaching approach to these interactions. They then have regular time with each student, listening to them and helping them come to their own answers on issues that both challenge and stimulate them
Regular coaching for all classroom teachers – and others
Every teacher/leader has access to a coach, who they meet with regularly, and who coaches them. The teacher chooses the topics – generally with the overarching theme of reviewing their teaching practice – and the coach helps to coach them. Everyone who participates has the opportunity to have a professional development plan to underpin this work. And all coaches will continue learning and developing their skills, with peer supervision and further training.
Coaching approach to performance development (appraisal) process
For this example, a coaching approach underpins the standard rigour of the PD process. All appraisers are trained in coaching skills, but also in the key extra elements of target setting, evidence collection and respectful challenge. And all appraisees are trained in maximising their responsibility, and their own growth potential, by making the PD process a genuine partnership. Controls are put in for moderating targets and reviewing appraiser skills, which makes this a robust process
Head teacher/SLT member to have an external coach
Increasingly, head teachers choose to have a coach who will work with them, to help explore the issues that are challenging them, and also the ideas that are engaging them positively. Typically, the coaching will be last for 6-10 sessions, meeting monthly or so. Often head teachers report a sense of isolation, with few people that they can share doubts, opportunities and concerns with. A coach provides the space, the listening, and also the rigour to make these conversations meaningful.
Further reflections and next steps
The possibilities for using coaching well in education and quite diverse, and I have done my best to outline where the greatest gains can be made, in the most sustainable way. There are other options, of course, but these are the ones our organisation has chosen to focus on, as these appear to have the greatest benefits for schools, leaders, teachers and students.