Coaching Systems, Models & Cultures

Well, the 4th National Coaching in Education Conference was a great success – and our case-study presentation seemed to go down well too. The conference was affirming, inspiring and challenging in equal measures with excellent keynotes and concurrent sessions over the two days. Here’s the Storify of the #EdCoach2015 Twitter feed to give a flavour of the thinking going on at the MCG on June 1st & 2nd.

The conference program catered for people at all stages of their coaching journey with a nice mix of big-picture keynotes and concurrent sessions on specific aspects of coaching skills and the practical implementation of coaching as an intervention in schools. At the previous event two years ago, my colleagues and I were right at the start of our journey. Six staff attended the conference with a fairly fuzzy idea of what coaching was about and an even fuzzier idea of how it might be implemented in our school context. We left with a clearer answer to the first question but way more questions about the latter!

This year, there was again much talk of coaching models and developing a coaching culture. In discussion with a wide range of delegates over the two days it became clear to me that these terms meant different things to different people when translated into their context. I recalled the full day of post-conference debrief and the resulting scribbles on many sheets of butcher-paper that it took for us two years ago to clarify what we meant by all of the terminology around coaching. The coaching process itself is deceptively simple but I would suggest that taking the time to clarify the language around the process, and to contextualise it, is very important indeed. This language continues to evolve.

Here are some of my post-conference-ponderings:

Coaching System

I would describe this as the framework or protocol for the coaching conversation. This can be a well known system such as GROW or GROWTH (which we use) or just a well founded routine for managing the conversation. A critical point is that a coaching conversation is a managed conversation. We mustn’t forget that a system alone is not enough. Without due consideration to key coaching skills, such as powerful questioning and active listening, and what Christian van Nieuwerburgh calls “way of being”, all you have is a bunch of letters! All of these are comprehensively explained in short videos to accompany Christian’s excellent book here.

Coaching Model

In my mind the term “coaching model” within an education context suggests a way of describing how coaching fits within your organisational structures for staff professional learning, feedback and improvement. It’s more than a description of how the conversation is conducted and what the desirable outcomes are. In many ways, the thorny issues of implementation and scaling reside in this space. A bit more on this in my next post.

Coaching Culture

At it’s most extensive, the term “coaching culture” might be a way of describing the pervasive impact of coaching-based approaches across all facets of school life, or the coaching dividend as the conference title would call it. Christian van Nieuwerburgh addressed this topic in his keynote using the Global Framework for Coaching in Education (see article here) that has been developed through a powerful collaboration with John Campbell and Jim Knight. Christian cited a body of research evidence showing the dividend of coaching approaches in aspects of Professional Practice, Educational Leadership, and Student Success and Wellbeing. His slides are available here. Several of the conference case-study presentations also talked of changing cultures over time as a result of coaching within their schools . Nick Burnett presented a concurrent session titled Leading a Coaching Culture (for Learning). Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it to Nick’s session but a couple of his slides sum up a coaching culture perfectly.


In closing, Charlotte Rendle-Short suggests 10 Characteristics of a Coaching Culture for us to aspire to.

So how do we go about making this happen?

In future posts I will consider some of the “nuts and bolts” of developing a coaching model and, ultimately, a coaching culture.



  1. Thanks for sharing this Chris,

    I was disappointed not to be able to attend the conference, and I really appreciate you sharing your takeaways. I found the distinction you make with system, model and culture helpful and it’s inspired me to reflect on my workplace. I have a coaching system that I use, and am developing my own model of how to apply it in my workplace, but I feel quite stumped when it comes to developing that coaching culture.

    I think there needs to be vision and l commitment to the ideal from the top down, which isn’t the case in my school – I’m the only person on staff who has trained, and that was self funded and in my own time.

    This has started me pondering on what I might be able to do to develop that culture, even though it’s not currently part of the school vision or plan. Nothing is impossible and I guess constraints can inspire innovative solutions..

    I love that a whole team of teachers from your school attended the event two years ago: that would work wonders in developing vision.


  2. Thanks for your comment Corinne. I’m not sure that we can create a coaching culture by design. I’m more inclined to think that it emerges over time out of the positive experiences and impact on people within the organisation (including students of course). I hope that’s what happens anyway! A commitment from the top would certainly help but I don’t think that this makes it happen either. I’m in a slightly unusual position of pushing this from the middle – upwards and outwards. We have been given license to pursue coaching as a professional learning option but we’re still working on the structural changes needed to make it accessible to more staff. I think that you are doing great work in your own sphere of influence and control and that’s worth a lot. Maybe a solutions focus approach might help – what small steps can you take right now to start on the road to expanding coaching at your school? and what would be the first tiny signs of this happening?


  3. Hi Chris

    So much to agree with here!

    I think it is important that we remember what you point out about coaching conversations; they are not something that anyone with a conversation map or pneumonic can do well. Rather, it takes time for a coach to gain mastery of the nuances of non verbal language, paraphrasing, questioning and moving the conversation. I have done the Cognitive Coaching foundation course three times now and would not call myself an expert. Each time has added layers to my coaching practice.

    The importance of context is, I agree, absolutely crucial. My school has also worked from our very specific context, asking questions about where our staff were at, what our mission and vision were, what work existed in the school already and what language and processes were embedded into the fabric of our culture. In other words, where were we already and where did we want to go from there? This foundation was the basis for our development of our coaching and development model (a bit about it here: ).

    I’m, like you, working from the middle, and lucky enough to be charged with being the person constantly thinking about our school’s coaching journey. Our initiative came at first from the top down, as a strategic idea, but has since been built from the bottom up, driven and designed by teachers. The teacher-driven approach has been powerful from cultural shift and staff buy-in perspectives.

    Thanks for another thoughtful post. I look forward to continuing to follow each other’s journeys!


    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Deb, Thanks for taking the time to respond to this post. I really appreciate the extra dimension that your contribution brings. I like the way that your model has come about. I wish I had a bit more strategic intent to work with. It’s a classic case of ready, fire, aim….
    I’d be really interested in the “nuts and bolts” of your model. Particularly the who, how and when. How do you fancy running a PD in sunny Perth? 😉


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