Organisational change

Towards a School Coaching Culture: Part 2 – Embryonic Signs

Part 1 of this blog post explored some starting points and contexts for the introduction of coaching and coaching approaches in schools. In this post I’d like to consider what we might see happening as coaching evolves in context. How might a coaching culture emerge and what does it look like?

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The definition above suggests that a coaching culture is one where the organisation has moved beyond seeing coaching as an isolated intervention, perhaps targeting specific issues. Coaching is now embedded as part of the organisational way of working, as indicated by its deliberate integration into strategic planning. Further, broader collegial benefits are identified and the use of ‘coaching approaches’ has been extended to include stakeholders other than just employees.

In Part 1, I outlined a range of conversational contexts or ‘portals’ through which coaching might be introduced in schools. I touched on the importance of clarity of intent, rationale, and organisational factors in the success of what probably begins life as ‘another initiative’. Once the starting point and broad rationale are identified, the way in which the initiative is led, by whom, with whom, and at what speed, is highly contextual. In this excellent book chapter, Christian van Nieuwerburgh synthesises a range of research on coaching cultures and identifies some helpful frameworks to describe the evolution of such cultures. Clutterbuck and Megginson’s (2005) four stages of development towards a coaching culture more or less describe the phases that we’ve gone through in my own school context:

ClutterbuckMegginson

The broad stages outline by van Nieuwerburgh using the ACTION acronym also fit well with our development process – albeit not quite so linear!

ACTION

I would not claim that my school has a fully embedded coaching culture and has reached the ‘normalisation’ stage – yet. However, I have witnessed what might be described as the embryonic signs of a coaching culture. More than three years since the introduction of the idea of coaching at the school, we can now see its influence across a wider range of contexts than we had first intended. The true test will be if the influence of coaching continues to grow and is sustained over the next few years. I am optimistic that it will.

We initially proposed coaching as a vehicle to enhance professional practice and to catalyze professional learning in a way that respected the professionalism of teachers. I have been very privileged to be given license to champion this approach as the main plank of our emerging professional learning strategy and lucky not to have to juggle this with competing ‘initiatives’. I know from past experience that this is not always the case in schools. You can read more about how we articulated our coaching model here.

Our coaching journey began with two ‘in-training’ coaches on our Secondary campuses offering a cycle of six or seven coaching sessions to teacher volunteers on any aspect of their practice. (We also had a Teaching & Learning Coach establishing a parallel role at our Primary campus 3 days per week).

After taking is slow, building trust in the process and personnel, and continuing to champion the approach at all levels, it is gratifying to see the fruits of our labours take shape. The evolution of our coaching approach (so far) can best be illustrated with the following examples:

Forms of Coaching

1-1 Coaching continues to be offered as a professional learning ‘service’. The uptake of this option has grown rapidly as more teachers experience it and word (and trust) spreads.

Internal ‘Executive Coaching’ was also offered to a target group of middle and senior school leaders with a view to focusing on their leadership roles and responsibilities. This was very well received and created more advocates in positions of influence.

Scaling-up access to coaching for a large Secondary school staff continues to be a significant challenge given the limited capacity of the coaches. One way of addressing this was the introduction of Peer-Coaching. Pairs of teachers were invited to be ‘trained’ in the use of a coaching approach in collegial discussions about practice. Again, there was a healthy appetite for this non-threatening reciprocal approach to classroom observation and feedback.

REALITY CHECK: There is a need for strategic investment to support this work – time! Teachers are finding time and space for this because they know what they are getting out of it. However, this cannot be maintained on good-will alone and schools need to consider what they might need to do differently, or stop doing, to support this new kind of professional learning.

Coaching Approaches to Performance & Development Conversations

The development of coaching skills and approaches with our school leaders (many of whom had been coached) was viewed as an important investment to support our recently revised approach to Performance and Development planning. It has also proved extremely worthwhile from a general leadership development point of view.

The intent of the Performance and Development Framework is to recognise, enhance and build upon the outstanding work of our staff so that they may continue to grow as members of our professional community. The Framework is intended to provide for a collaborative, growth-orientated process – not a punitive appraisal in the traditional sense. The process does not start from a deficit point of view. It is primarily about having better conversations about our practice so that we continue to strive to be the best educators we can be for the children in our care. As members of a professional community, we have a responsibility to routinely reflect, develop, and seek feedback on our practice so that we remain fully engaged in our work as professional educators.

The Leader as Coach program (a bespoke version of this program) was delivered over four twilight sessions. The aim of the program was to provide a frame for collegial dialogue between the leaders and their teams and/or P&D groups. The dynamic and outcomes of these sessions is something that I’ll write about at a later stage. We have not magically turned our leaders into coaches but we hope that we have sown the seeds, and introduced some skills, that will be sustained and further developed going forward. This may well need more coaching!

eLearning Fixer to eLearning Coach

The experience of our Head of eLearning, Phil Feain, serves as a great example of the transformative impact of coaching. As you might expect, he is passionate about the role of technology in supporting learning. He very much sees his role as one of supporting student learning through his advocacy of appropriate eLearning tools and strategies. He is NOT the Network Manager or a tech-support person (although he does know this stuff!).

Phil approached our coaching pilot with curiosity and caution. He thought that it sounded like a different kind of learning opportunity for staff but had a healthy suspicion of the latest fads (and to be fair, my motives, as I was a new to the school too).

He took part in our introductory sessions and liked what he saw and heard. When we targeted school leaders with an invitation to be coached Phil took up the offer and we started working on a couple of goal areas around his leadership role. His main concern was that he wanted to move from spending the bulk of his time as a tech-fixer or demonstrator to having more of a focus on the learning aspect of his eLearning role. Through being coached he was able to enact new ways of engaging with staff and initiate new opportunities to generate more two-way traffic in his role. One way that he has done this is by offering eLearning Coaching as part of our Professional Learning Program this year. In this role Phil is adopting a coaching approach to supporting staff to achieve their eLearning goals. Success! – for Phil and the coaching program.

So when we offered introductory training to get Peer-Coaching off the ground, Phil was one of the first to sign-up. He partnered with a colleague in another subject area and embarked on a reciprocal series of coaching sessions over the year thus gaining more coaching experience and learning as he went.

As one of the school’s middle-leaders, Phil was also involved in the Leader as Coach program. This experience is enabling him to begin to apply his growing coaching skills and experience to his role as a subject team leader.

For me, the most significant and pleasing part of this story is that Phil has been the first to open another coaching ‘portal’ by exploring the application of his coaching skills in academic progress conversations with his Year 12 students.

Similarly, it did not take long for our pastoral leaders who were coached or took part in the Leader as Coach program to begin talking about the potential of this approach with students, and even parents. This is most likely the next natural development for us.

Coaching as Part of Strategic Plans

Positions of leadership at our school are reappointed every four years. We are in the midst of this process at the moment and this has presented the opportunity to update role descriptions and review current requirements. As a result, my own position, Dean of Professional Practice, now has coaching, and leadership of coaching, explicitly stated in the role description. Based on the success of our work to date, and the persuasive effect of this on the senior leadership of the school, our coaching team will expand and be formalised in 2017 with the creation of two new substantive positions of Secondary Learning and Teaching Coach. These strategic moves can only strengthen the place of coaching in the school learning culture going forward.

A Coaching Culture?

So what are the signs that a coaching culture might be emerging? This slide suggests some (coaching) questions that we might ask ourselves and points to some possible answers. What could this look like in your school context?

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References

Clutterbuck, D., & Megginson, D. (2005) Making Coaching Work: Creating a Coaching Culture. London: CIPD.

Gormley, H., & van Nieuwerburgh, C. (2014). Developing coaching cultures: a review of the literature. Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 7: 90-101.

van Nieuwerburgh, C. (2016). Towards a coaching culture. In C. van Nieuwerburgh (Ed.) Coaching in Professional Contexts. (pp.227-234). London: Sage.

Towards a School Coaching Culture: Part 1 – Starting Points

I recently had the privilege of presenting at the researchED Melbourne event. For this presentation I decided to take more of a “big picture” view of coaching rather than discussing the developmental story that I had done a few times before. Through my ongoing involvement in coaching and seeing how it is evolving at my own school and many others that I know, I have become increasingly interested in how the introduction of coaching as an “initiative” might affect a change in organisational culture over time.

I’m a little late in getting around to this but I thought that it might be useful to write a commentary to some of the slides that I used at researchED.

It is important to begin by clarifying what we mean when we talk about coaching and the definition below sums it up perfectly for me.

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The terms coaching and mentoring are often used in the same breath and their meaning conflated in educational discourse. Unfortunately, this only serves to perpetuate the confusion that exists about the difference between the two. A useful way to distinguish between these two forms of “helping intervention” is to place them on a continuum as shown on the slide below.

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The key difference between coaching and mentoring is one of intent – what is expected, invited or solicited when entering into each of these collaborative engagements with another. This post on the #educoachOC blog explores this topic in more detail.

So why coaching in education? This quote from John Campbell speaks for itself and resonated strongly with me when I thought back to my early interest in coaching in schools.

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Starting Points

Schools provide a range of “conversational contexts” (Campbell, 2016, p. 133) where coaching approaches can improve outcomes. When we first think about introducing coaching, we might identify a problematic conversational context as a starting point. This could sound something like “We want to change the nature of conversations around ‘x’ so that ‘y’ will improve”. It’s not too difficult to identify a wide range of contexts like this in schools.

Alongside these conversational contexts the introduction of coaching may be driven by a more general philosophical view of teaching and of teacher learning such as the moral imperative argued by Wiliam (2014, p. 6). It may be about a view of teacher professionalism.

We need to create environments in which teachers embrace the idea of continuous improvement…an acceptance that the impact of education on the lives of young people creates a moral imperative for even the best teachers to continue to improve.

Van Nieuwerburgh and Campbell have proposed a Global Framework for Coaching in Education as a way of considering the range of entry points or “portals” for the introduction of coaching and coaching approaches in schools.

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Entering through the Professional Practice portal could mean a focus on classroom teaching, with a desire to create a safe space for dialogue about the reality of what is happening in teachers’ classes leading to more discerning and personalised professional learning. Entering through the Educational Leadership portal could be about focusing on the nature of performance and development conversations that leaders have with their teams with a desire to both improve the leadership capacity of the leaders themselves and make these conversations more developmental in nature. Approaching coaching through the Student Success and Wellbeing portal could be about employing coaching approaches with students, or between students, in order to enable them to better articulate their learning and to set goals and identify strategies to help move them forward. Just as with school leaders, equipping students with coaching skills might also develop their leadership capacity. The Community Engagement portal invites us to consider broadening the application of coaching approaches further still to involve parents, carers and other community partners involved in learning and development conversations.

When we propose the introduction of something like coaching we may not yet have an entirely clear vision of what it will look like in practice across the school, but chances are, we will know what is driving us to pursue it. This rationale for the introduction of coaching in a school context is key to its success and is an important area for schools to examine.

So, if coaching is seen to be the answer, what is the question? I have explored this question in a previous post.

A Word of Caution

Coaching is about unlocking potential (Whitmore, 2009, p. 10). At its best, coaching is empowering and respectful and aims to build capacity and efficacy. However, it can be tempting for school leaders to view coaching as an appropriate response to perceived teacher under-performance or non-compliance.  Coaching is not a cure to be administered to teachers or a manipulative strategy to ensure compliance. In fact, “stealth coaching” by leaders (or anyone else for that matter) risks engendering feelings of mistrust of the true intent of coaching and those leading it. This issue is ultimately about our beliefs about our colleagues’ capacity for professional growth and our respect for their professionalism.

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Context is Key

Whenever I’ve had discussions (online and in person) with colleagues in other schools about the why and how of coaching in their context, they invariably refer to the contextual conditions that exist(ed) in their school. These are things like the customs, routines, processes, levels of collaboration, leadership, and the nature of discourse about practice in the school. Any and all of these can have a positive or negative influence on how coaching “lands” with staff and on its rate of growth.

The pre-conditions for coaching will be different in every school context. Coaching leaders need to be in tune with these and take them into account when considering their approach. Trust is a critical factor here. We know that trust is critical in individual coaching relationships but in terms of establishing a broader coaching culture we need to think about the levels of trust across the full range of conversational contexts in the school.

Some Questions

  • Through which ‘portal’ are you approaching coaching?
  • What conversational context do you want to enhance with coaching and/or coaching approaches?
  • How does your rationale for initiating coaching sit with the true intent and principles of a coaching approach?
  • Thinking about the prevalent discourse in your school: is it one of trust, growth, ownership, empowerment and learning, or is it one of performativity, judgement, deficit, suspicion and compliance?
  • How might this influence how, when and with whom you introduce coaching in your context?

Part 2 will consider my own school context and the emergence of what we could call the “embryonic signs” of a coaching culture.

Further Reading

Towards a Coaching Culture (free book chapter): https://au.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/upm-binaries/74874_vanNieuwerburgh_Towards_a_Coaching_Culture.pdf

References

Campbell, J. (2016). Coaching in schools. In C. van Nieuwerburgh (Ed.) Coaching in Professional Contexts. London: Sage.

van Nieuwerburgh, C. (2012). Coaching in education: an overview. In C. van Nieuwerburgh (Ed.) Coaching in Education: Getting Better Results for Students, Educators, and Parents. London: Karnac.

van Nieuwerburgh, C. (2014). Introduction to Coaching Skills: a practical guide. London: Sage.

van Nieuwerburgh, C., & Campbell, J. (2015). A global framework for coaching in education. CoachEd: The Teaching Leaders Coaching Journal, February 2015: 2-5.

van Nieuwerburgh, C. (2016). Towards a coaching culture. In C. van Nieuwerburgh (Ed.) Coaching in Professional Contexts. London: Sage.

Whitmore, J. (2009).  Coaching for performance: GROWing human potential and purpose: The principles and practice of coaching and leadership (4th edn.).  London: Nicholas Brealey.

Wiliam, D. (2014). The formative evaluation of teaching performance. CSE Occasional Paper No. 137. Melbourne: Centre for Strategic Education (CSE).

 

Grow Your Own

This post is not a general “pop” at education consultants (or any past or present employer) but rather a word of caution on the perils of trying to take short-cuts to organisational change.

Lost in Translation

I have witnessed, and listened to many accounts of attempts to introduce new ways of working in schools where the original well-meaning intent of an intervention has been lost on the staff who are on the receiving end of it. Often at the root of these failures is a lack of understanding or consideration of the pervading school culture.

There are many reasons why the intent may be lost in translation. It could be as a result of the adoption of poorly-researched quick-fix approaches by those in leadership at school, district or governing authority level. It could be the result of top-down approaches in general and the imposition of new ways of working. This top-down approach might be a result of a perceived need for an urgent response to a particular issue or due to a lack of trust within the organisation. It may also be a symptom of a lack of opportunity for open collegiate dialogue at classroom teacher level. Do teachers have the opportunity to question and engage with the evidence? Are they given the opportunity to wrestle with the cognitive dissonance caused at the interface of their perception of the current reality and that being presented as the rationale for change?

In all of these cases, the most important missing ingredients are time and dialogue with those expected to adopt the new ways of working.

In many cases, research-informed interventions have been identified which have been shown to bring about organisational change and impact positively on student learning. There may have been a significant amount of reading, researching, discussing, consulting and, most importantly, learning at a leadership level resulting in a high level of commitment to change within that group.

The big question however, is how do we give wider staff the opportunity to be part of this learning process? How do we get them up to the same level of understanding as those leading the initiative? This is not to say that we would want to take all staff “behind the scenes” of a new proposal but we must find authentic ways of engaging them in dialogue about the proposed changes to their ways of working and make a compelling case for change if they are to even tentatively come on board.

Another response from some school leaders or those higher up is to bring in external consultants, often at great expense, to provide the organisational learning. The very best of these are careful to take account of the context into which they are stepping and to provide opportunities for the school to adapt the learning to suit their needs. The worst, and there are undoubtedly some, provide a “complete solution” ready-made to be plugged-in to any context. They could argue that it is up to the school to contextualise the new learning and adapt to suit their needs but there can be a perception from those paying for the consultancy or training that this will just happen, or worse, that everyone will miraculously change their long-held working habits now that they’ve been “PD’d”.

Push and Pull

Traditional transmission type PD and consultant visits can be used to challenge our thinking and push new ideas. The key is what happens next when we return to our respective schools or the consultant leaves.

Another way of looking at things is to pull the necessary professional learning to you in response to a particular need within your context. This approach, I would argue, has a much greater chance of resulting in sustained change over time.

A version of Timperley’s Inquiry and Knowledge-building Cycle provides another way of looking at how we initiate professional learning.

Adapted Leader Inquiry Cycle

Context is Key

I have given these issues careful consideration during the development of our coaching model. Those who know me, and my school’s journey, know that I willingly endorse particular PD providers and consultants with whom we have formed a successful learning partnership. I would judge the success of this partnership in terms of return on investment. This return can be seen in the work done when the learning of the participants is taken back into the school context and applied within the constraints and peculiarities of their organisation. And it doesn’t stop there. How is the learning applied? How does it impact on the working of the wider school? Implementation of new ways of working doesn’t just happen because a model is developed or a policy written. It requires engagement of wider staff in a cyclical and dialogic process as shown in Timperley’s model, whilst not losing touch with the original intent of the project. This takes time! This message also comes through loud and clear in the recent Teacher Development Trust report Developing Great Teaching:

TDT Slide

Buy-in, transplant, or grow your own?

The two slides below were originally part of a recent conference presentation but were cut out in order to focus on other messages. I think that they sum-up what I’m trying to say here. (Horticulturists may wish to correct the stages of my metaphor!)

Slide1

Slide2

External and internal forms of PD could be pulled in at the seeding stage; to encourage germination; to nurture and strengthen new growth; or even to tackle growth inhibiting pests. Careful consideration of the site, soil and growing conditions, as well as taking steps to optimise these, will save much heart-ache and wasted effort in the long-run.

I’d welcome your thoughts on this post.

Thanks to Jon Andrews and Corinne Campbell for adding some perspective and further links to this post.