If Coaching is the answer, what is the question?

A colleague and I will be presenting the story of our school’s journey into coaching at the 4th National Coaching in Education Conference next week. Attempting to distil a 2 year (and continuing) journey into a 30 minute presentation has provided the impetus I’ve needed to write about our experiences to date. I hope that the series of posts that I have planned will be of use to others who are grappling with the implementation of similar initiatives in their context. .

We’ve been asked to start our case study with what sparked our interest in introducing a coaching intervention to our particular context. Before I answer that question from our perspective, I should say that other interventions are available! In fact, the term “intervention” can perhaps suggest the need for some form of treatment for a problem. We have approached the development of coaching in our context from a different philosophical standpoint. So:

If coaching is the answer, what is the question?

This is a very powerful question (thanks to Christian van Nieuwerburgh) to stimulate thinking about “the why” of coaching in your particular context. So here are some of our early answers to that question – our rationale for coaching if you like:

How can we facilitate more purposeful conversations about teaching practice? [in a safe space]

In any busy school the opportunities for purposeful and deliberate conversation about specific aspects of our practice are limited. Typical team meetings, regardless of how collegiate the culture may be, do not provide a suitable forum for this kind of conversation. Equally, passing one-to-one conversations in the staffroom or between classes provide neither the time nor an environment conducive to really getting to the heart of the matter. At best, these types of conversations tend to result in a mixture of sympathy, well-intentioned advice-giving and dealing with short-term administrative issues. Coaching conversations are managed conversations conducted within a mutually respectful relationship and an atmosphere of trust.

How can we encourage teacher reflection AND action?

I’m sure that we all work alongside many highly reflective teachers who think deeply about their practice. Some will write about it in a journal or blog, some will be happy to talk about it openly and to share ideas with colleagues. Coaching conversations provide the call to action to do something with this information.

How can we increase teachers’ sense of self-efficacy?

According to Albert Bandura, self-efficacy is “the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations.” Coaching has the potential to empower teachers to take control of that which is within their sphere of influence – their classroom. Critically, within coaching, they build this sense of self-efficacy through their partnership with a coach who helps to raise their awareness, explore their own options and to take responsibility for following through on a cycle of action and reflection to address the issue at hand.

By now it should be clear that our main driver is the personal and professional growth of our staff. This is not about fixing a perceived deficit or overseeing people by stealth. Dylan Wiliam describes the moral imperative for all teachers to continue to strive to be better in his recent paper.

Moral Imperative

And Jim Knight also captures the essence of it here.

Copy of Social Media

Moving to less philosophical answers:

How can we get more impact from, and more discerning choices of, PD activity?

We know that traditional forms of Professional Development (ironically what we’ll be doing at the conference next week) is very inefficient in terms of the impact on the actual practice of participants on their return to school. We all have folders on our shelves (some of them never again opened) from inspiring and engaging PD that we’ve attended but that quickly become buried in the daily routine. How often do we at least debrief with someone else on what we have learned? How often do we place equal value on the time required to digest our PD experiences and plan specific actions to take this learning forward in our own context?

Case for Coaching

This is not to say that we should not allow teachers to attend external PD events. What coaching can do is provide the necessary support for implementation of new ways of working and, conversely, provide a catalyst for the deliberate pursuit of specific PD with a particular goal in mind.

So, thinking about your context, what would your answers be?

What do these say about the intent behind your desire to implement coaching?

What pre-existing contextual conditions, structures or systems influenced how you have answered?