Recent conversations with a range of people at different stages in their own coaching journeys have prompted me to reflect on how my thinking and articulation of coaching has moved over time. My school does not yet have a formal coaching policy as such but I have been in the habit of writing reports on the development of our model at key stages during the journey. This writing served the dual purpose of enabling me to report back to the senior leadership team of the school and, possibly more importantly, it allowed me to capture my thinking at that point in time and remind myself of the positive progress made. So, I’ve revisited some of the old documents (thankfully I dated the reports and iterations of the model) and thought it might be helpful to share some of it here.
I’ve written and presented about our journey before but in this post I want to reflect on the articulation of what we mean by coaching in our context.
It has now been three years since I began talking with my late colleague and friend Jan Creber about developing a coaching model at our school. I still don’t think we’ve quite reached our goal of a clearly articulated and widely understood “model” that is accessible to, or even an entitlement of, all teaching staff in the school but I think that Jan would be very proud of the journey traveled so far.
In our initial conversations about teacher professional learning we very quickly identified an interest in coaching as a way of tackling our shared frustrations about more traditional forms of professional development and their lack of impact on us as teachers. So we set about putting together a bid for school support and funding to develop a coaching model and our own skills as coaches. Here are some of the key extracts/quotes we used at that time:
The aim of this project is to establish a common, ongoing coaching approach for all staff F-12.
The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians states that:
“School principals and other school leaders play a critical role in supporting and fostering quality teaching through coaching and mentoring teachers to ﬁnd the best ways to facilitate learning, and by promoting a culture of high expectations in schools.”
Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, 2008
“There is a growing emphasis on and evidence base (Cornett & Knight,2009; van Nieuwerburgh, 2012) for feedback, observation, coaching and mentoring to drive quality teaching and leadership and in turn, better learning outcomes for all young people.”
3rd National Coaching Conference for Educators http://www.growthcoaching.com.au/national-coaching-conference-for-Educators
We drew heavily from Jim Knight’s work on the impact of coaching and pulled the following quotes from his seminal work Unmistakable Impact: A Partnership Approach to Dramatically Improving Instruction.
“All of the [above] components of Impact Schools will be useless without coaching to help teachers translate what is being talked about into everyday practice in the classroom. Too often, as Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton write in The Knowing-Doing Gap, “one of the main barriers to turning knowledge into action is the tendency to treat talking about something as equivalent to actually doing something about it”. Instructional coaches, by providing the intensive, focused support for professional learning, do “something” about change.” (Knight, 2011, p11)
“Coaches, to borrow Seth Godin’s (2010) phrase, are “linchpins” for successful change in school. Without coaches to provide precise instructions, to model in the classroom, to provide positive and motivating honest feedback, few new practices get implemented, and those that get implemented are usually implemented poorly (Cornett & Knight, 2009). (Knight, 2011, p12)
“Coaches help teachers take all the ideas and practices they are learning and bring them to life. Without coaching, too often, no significant change occurs (Cornett & Knight, 2009)” (Knight, 2011, p91)
Knight, J. (2011) Unmistakable Impact: A Partnership Approach to Dramatically Improving Instruction, California: Corwin
We also cited Helen Timperley’s Teacher Inquiry and Knowledge Building Cycle as a model for translating teacher professional learning into new actions and improved student outcomes. I adapted this slightly in this post.
Our coaching project was approved and a process of research, school visits, conference attendance and discussion with a small development team ensued. At the same time a couple of us embarked on the Coaching Accreditation Program with Growth Coaching International (GCI).
From this work, a working definition of coaching at our school emerged:
Coaching is a partnership to support teachers in meeting agreed goals. At St Anonymous College the purpose of coaching is to improve the learning within classrooms; within teams; within leadership; and towards career progression; where each participant has the right to choice and are accountable.
Coaching is one key element of the professional learning culture of St Anonymous College. Goals set by individuals through the coaching process will shape and direct the range and nature of professional learning activities undertaken. Individual goals are negotiated and agreed within the context of the College strategic improvement plan, college initiatives and through reflection against the AITSL National Teacher Standards.
A pilot project was introduced to staff through a Coaching FAQ document. This document and the definition above represented the first attempt at capturing in writing what coaching would mean in our context.
Alongside this came the “model” (below). This has become known as the big scary model! Although it captured my thinking and synthesized some of the reading for me, it proved too complex and intimidating to use for illustrative purposes with staff. I even made a fancy Prezi version of it complete with an “evidence funnel” but that just seemed to add motion sickness to the confusion! (I’ll send you the link if you really want it)
Note to self: don’t underestimate the amount of thinking you have done and the distance you have traveled when trying to bring others up to speed.
Next came the lighter version:
Then the lighter still version:
The commentary to this version goes like this:
A coaching conversation can be seen as a three-way conversation between the coach, coachee and some form of evidence. This “evidence” may be used to examine the current reality and identify an appropriate goal area with the teacher or it may be used to illustrate a new reality following the implementation of a new strategy or approach. Those participating in the coaching pilot utilised a range of evidence including: student feedback survey data; student assessment data; classroom observation (by the coach); use of video and subsequent analysis alongside the coach; examples of teaching materials; student work samples; and anecdotal evidence from conversations with students and peers.
The evidence now includes reflection against the AITSL Teaching Standards. It should be noted that the use of video by the coachee was a particularly powerful analytical tool. Indeed, where video was used to examine the coachee’s teaching, it was considerably more effective (for them) than conventional classroom observation feedback via a clip-board and pen!
Having been immersed in the development of a coaching model, and of my own coaching skills and knowledge, I now prefer the definition below. I think that it better captures the essence of why we are doing this and what a coaching conversation is. This version borrows language from a range of coaching literature by Knight, Whitmore and GCI.
Coaching is a professional learning activity designed to enhance the professional practice of the coachee with a view to achieving their “personal best” for the benefit of the students they teach. A coaching conversation is a carefully managed conversation designed to raise awareness and encourage responsibility in the coachee. An effective coaching conversation should always result in actions, clarity and energy (ACE).
Well this has ended up being another long post. It was prompted, in part, by a question tweeted by Lissa Layman (@MmeLayman) about the creation of a coaching vision/mission statement. I’m not sure if I’ve answered that question but I think that the material here, along with some procedural documentation to support the process, goes some way towards articulating what we are about. What do you think?
Feel free to scrutinise the visuals and language and let me know what you think.