ACEL article: Introduction to Coaching

This article was published in the Australian Council for Educational Leaders (ACEL) eLeading newsletter on 26 August 2016:

Coaching in Education: An Introduction

It’s based on some frequently asked questions about coaching that my school addressed at the early stages of our coaching journey.

My recent (much less eloquent) interview for the TER podcast also addresses some of these issues.

I hope that it’s useful.


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?


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:


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


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?



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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):


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).


Articulating a Coaching Model

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

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.

Timperley Cycle

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. 

Complete Model


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 () 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.

Terms of Engagement

terms of engagement image

In discussions about coaching with colleagues and members of my PLN I frequently find myself talking about clarity of intent and the terms of engagement associated with the coaching process.

In John Campbell‘s tweet below, the key word for me is expectation. In this instance he was responding to a question about the distinctions between coaching and mentoring. For me, the issue here is about clarity around what is expected, invited or solicited when entering into any collaborative engagement with another.


How well do we clarify the terms of engagement when we enter into coaching relationships?

When I coach teachers in my school, a significant proportion of the first session is devoted to setting the foundation and establishing the coaching agreement. The International Coaching Federation (ICF) recommend setting the foundation as the first component of their Core Competencies. Incidentally, the ICF competencies and their detailed descriptors provide a helpful framework for all aspects of a coach’s work.

Christian van Nieuwerburgh (2014) provides a useful reference table to assist with the formulation of a coaching contract and he stresses the importance of establishing these professional parameters before embarking on any coaching conversation. My adaptation of this table is provided below.

Coaching Contract Table Lo

This checklist has morphed into a Coaching Agreement that is now used at the start of each coaching cycle. This might seem quite formal and business-like but the agreement provides a point of reference for the first coaching session, and when reviewing how the process is going. The use of an agreement, or at least discussing the terms of engagement with the coachee, is perhaps even more important in a school context. I say this because a coaching conversation is a managed professional conversation distinct from the more familiar day-to-day conversations about practice that may occur with colleagues with whom we already have a level of comfort and familiarity. These more convivial conversations often lack the level of challenge and accountability that are part of an effective coaching conversation. Generally, in polite interactions with one another we shy away from the level of challenge that might occur in a coaching context. A coaching conversation is not just a conversation.

Coaching Agreement Unbranded small

  • Is there anything on the checklist or the agreement that you would change or add?
  • How do you set the parameters for your coaching interactions?

Please feel free to leave a comment or question to expand the conversation.


van Nieuwerburgh, C. (2014). An introduction to coaching skills: A practical guide. London, England: Sage.

Companion website with video illustrations of practice:


The Know-how Continuum

Whitmore Quote

The recent #educoachOC chat on Twitter explored the key differences and similarities between coaching and mentoring as strategies to support teacher learning. I might tease out a few of the issues covered in the chat in future posts but for now I’ll concentrate on the issue of advice giving in a coaching or mentoring context.

There was a lot of discussion around the giving of advice versus not giving advice, and the expectations of both parties when entering into a coaching or mentoring relationship.

I liked Mary Jones‘ use of internal v external expertise and Kerron Worsdell‘s “revelation/epiphany” response. A mentoring relationship (not necessarily with the coach) could be an appropriate form of “external” learning that emerges in response to a need identified within a coaching cycle.



Sam Boswell shared the image below. It’s clear that the ownership and responsibility of the coachee increase as we move to the right.


This brought to mind something that was introduced to me during my coaching accreditation training and that I’ve referred to many times since when trying to explain the coaching process.

The Know-how Continuum

The know-how continuum can be a helpful way of thinking about how we frame our coaching questions in order for the coachee to generate options for moving forward. Ideally we want to stay, as long as possible, with the coachee’s own context, experiences and successes. Having fully explored this line of enquiry, or if it turns out not to be fruitful territory, we might move along to another – someone else who they know is good at this or has faced similar challenges or is in a similar context to the coachee. Finally, the last stop on the know-how continuum is the coach. The coach will almost certainly have ideas of their own to help the teacher move towards their goal. However, that’s just what they are – the coach’s ideas – and who’s to say that they are the best ideas? At this point, seeing the coachee struggling to find enough options, the coach might ask “would you like some suggestions?“. Caution and restraint are required on the part of the coach at this stage. A “yes please” response is not a license to immediately flip into full directive mode!

Whitmore advice & blame

The aim is to keep responsibility and ownership with the coachee. Introducing a suggestion with something like “What I’ve seen work in the past is….“, to some degree, puts the idea out there in neutral territory without the coach claiming ownership of it. This is very different from “Well, what I think you should do is…“. For (teacher) coaches (or perhaps just humans in general!) this can be a difficult thing to do. As Whitmore puts it:

It may be harder to give up instructing than it is to learn to coach

In my own experience as a teacher-coach, maintaining faith in the capacity of the coachee, and resisting telling, have at times been the most challenging aspects of the role. The faith is in their ability (supported by the coaching process) to reflect, think deeply, commit and act. It is not necessarily about surfacing specific knowledge or skill (although it may be there). Effective coaching helps the coachee to realise that they have the capacity to find a way to solve the problem or address their need. It is not always about knowing the answer there and then – “know-how” in this context can be knowing how to find their own answers.

So how does this sit with you? What’s your experience as a coach or coachee? What questions would you ask at different points on the know-how continuum? How do designated Instructional Coaches (more common in the US) manage to keep responsibility and ownership with the coachee when operating in a more directive way around specific instructional strategies?

Further Reading:

Mark McKergow discusses the “know-how continuum” as a Solutions Focussed approach in these two great articles:

Manager as coach – gathering know-how for improved performance 

Manager as coach – introducing the coach’s know-how Part 2

Thanks to Jason Pascoe (@jpgci) for sharing these.


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

#educoachOC Chat 2 – Coaching and Mentoring: What’s the difference?


1 (2)

Following the successful launch of the #educoachOC twitter chat last month, we’re back for our next chat on Monday 5 October at 9pm AEDT (Sydney/Melbourne time).

This month we have decided to get back to basics and attempt to clarify the key differences between coaching and mentoring. Regardless of your current level of understanding or experience of either of these, we’d very much welcome your contribution.

It would be fair to say that definitions are contested and there is a lack of clarity in some places around the differences between coaching and mentoring. A quick online search will throw up some helpful and lots of less than helpful advice from both business and educational contexts. These descriptions are sometimes contradictory or superficial and can ignore the relational and situational factors that could impact on the success of both of these strategies.

A common issue for those trying to discern between coaching and mentoring as forms of professional learning is…

View original post 366 more words

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!)



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.

Developing a Coaching Model: Choices & Considerations

In previous posts I’ve talked about “the why” of coaching and a bit about coaching systems, models and cultures. This post is about some of the choices and considerations that have had to be made as we have developed the beginnings of what might be described as a coaching model on our site. It’s one thing getting your head around a coaching system and being able to have productive coaching conversations on a one-to-one basis but quite a different prospect to think about scaling this up to a whole school level where, ideally, all staff have access to coaching. We haven’t got there yet but we have grappled with lots of the issues around how to get moving along that path. The slide below shows some of the issues on a continuum. The important point is that these are some of the considerations that will determine the kind of coaching model created.

choices & considerations V3

Let’s consider each of these in turn.

Voluntary v mandatory coaching

Taking account of the pre-existing ways of working in your school and how coaching might fit into a suite of professional learning options might dictate how you respond to this choice.

We have started with volunteers with the aim of building momentum and trust from a coalition of the willing. Some key questions to consider might be: Do you see coaching as a gift? …or an entitlement? …an investment in people? What if teachers don’t want the gift? Can everyone be coached? @debsnet wrote an interesting piece on this very question here. With mandated coaching, there is potentially the problem of passive resistance to the process with many teachers just going through the motions. This won’t necessarily be widespread depending on the pre-existing culture in your school and the level of engagement with staff prior to the mandate.

Jim Knight explains the enrolment phase of the instructional coaching model here. He proposes five methods of enrolling teachers with the very last one being “administrator referral”. Here he cautions against coaching being seen as punishment for under-performance rather than a support. Coaching can be much more palatable when offered as one (high impact) option among a range of professional learning choices.

Expertise v everyone

Having been immersed in a Coaching Accreditation Program alongside another colleague, I feel that in our context we really needed this to help develop the coaching model and to keep momentum going as we worked through a pilot project. Whether or not you acquire some coaching credentials perhaps doesn’t matter but I would suggest that you do need to have a strong base of in-house expertise to support the process and to develop others. Importantly, if the license to develop this expertise is given by school leadership, and coaching is publicly endorsed, then buy-in from staff is more likely. As I mentioned in my previous post, coaching is not just a protocol or system – it can’t be handed to people in a manual and expected to work. Use the phrase “we all coach” with caution. Can we all coach well?

Leaders as coaches

Having school leaders adopt coaching roles can work, but this needs to be done with great caution and clarity of intent. Trust and authenticity are cornerstones of effective coaching. Can we truly have that (and confidentiality) when you know that you are answerable to the person coaching you? Again, the answer to this question will depend on your conception of leadership and your perception of the culture in your school. A coaching style of leadership is entirely possible but is it “pure” coaching?

This is a point where it may be helpful to make the distinction between a coaching cycle – intentionally entered into by two people and undertaken as a defined professional learning activity over an agreed period of time, and a coaching style – where conversations across a range of contexts draw heavily on coaching skills and those involved interact in a way that makes the exchange more respectful and empowering. I’m still grappling with this one but what I do know is that becoming a coach is changing the way that I have conversations in every aspect of my life.

The image below is an attempt to show the overlap between the elements that contribute to an effective coaching cycle, in the conventional sense, and those elements that come to the fore when one adopts a coaching style of conversation in more general circumstances.

Coaching cycle v coaching style

School Culture

The pre-existing culture of collaboration in your school will dictate how you initiate coaching (or any other new way of working) and how fast you can go. Are your classroom doors open? Do teachers already observe each other? What opportunities are there for discussion and genuine collaboration? How do you know?

In this TER Podcast  Glenn McLachlan of Knox Grammar in Sydney describes his school’s model where every teacher has a coach. He talks about how they “sold” it to staff and, importantly, points to the groundwork that had already been done to create an existing culture of peer-collaboration through lesson observation and feedback. This model could be seen as the “luxury model” where there has been significant investment and restructuring to support the initiative. Nonetheless, there is much to be learned from the way coaching expertise has been developed at Knox and how this is now being supplemented by Instructional Rounds. (Note: the whole Podcast is great but Glenn’s bit starts at 36 mins)

Review Processes

We could describe this as “coaching as a supplement” versus “coaching as a treatment”. This point is about where coaching fits in your pre-existing systems of accountability (if at all). If you have a very loose system of annual review or appraisal, the development of a coaching model may well act as a catalyst for having a closer look at this process. On the other hand, there may already be a rigorous process in place for staff goal setting and review and coaching may just be another form of learning that teachers bring to this process.

In this excellent article Bob and Megan Tschannen-Moran discuss the tensions between evaluation and coaching.

In this short article John Campbell suggests an alternative (coaching-based) approach to performance conversations.

In this blog post Edna Sackson proposes a move away from traditional forms of teacher appraisal to what she calls a Growth Review based on coaching principles.


Coaching contexts and goals

What is the purpose of coaching in your context? How do you maintain a high degree of “freedom within form” if you opt for a narrower range of allowable coaching areas or advocate particular strategies? What’s your point of reference or evidence of the current reality used to identify the goal? Do you use the AITSL Standards or another framework such as Danielson’s? Do you have your own teaching and learning framework? What other data do you have that could be utilised by teachers to identify goal areas?

We have started broad in order to allow teachers to experience the process and to build trust. We will coach on any aspect of the teacher’s work. If it’s their burning issue and the rationale for addressing it is grounded in a desire to improve the student learning experience in some way, then let’s start there. Fundamentally, this is about respecting the professionalism of teachers as the contextual experts.

Tschannen-Moran 2

Developing a model

The last one is a biggie! There are lots of consultants out there ready to take your money. Be cautious! External consultants can certainly bring vital expertise and insight, and the best ones help schools to question current practice and uncover blind-spots. The ones I worry about are those who claim to have all of the answers and those schools that (with very good intention) buy-in ready-made solutions then impose them on their staff without doing the necessary “hearts and minds” work. Some questions to ask ourselves might be: How does the work that has been done in partnership (hopefully) with external consultants need to be adapted in our context? How do we share the thinking and learning of those closest to the “project” with wider staff? Do we allow sufficient time to answer the burning questions and address concerns?

So, what big question does this raise for you in your context?

What choices and considerations are missing?

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.