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).


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.

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?

A story of practice, theory & sense-making: researchEd Sydney 2015

researchED-logo Sydney

Well, my brain was fit to burst as I headed back to Melbourne after spending my Saturday in the company of a great bunch of passionate educators at the inaugural Australian fixture of researchED (#rEDSyd). I recognised this kind of brain-ache. It’s what the best professional learning does to you. Maybe it’s what learning feels like? The cogs were certainly turning all day as I moved from one presentation or workshop to another, not to mention the conversations caught in between! All of them were engaging and informative, and even entertaining.

This felt different from other conferences, researcher- or practitioner- led, that I’d attended before. Perhaps it was the slightly different theme for the day – teacher engagement with research and theory – that led to a different kind of conversation and reflection. I did attend presentations that were about new approaches or interventions, and I learned from these, but what I think was different for me this time was that I was looking through a different lens at this one. I was more interested in the approach and basis of the work, and then the ensuing conversations around questions like “is this research?” or “does this count as research-informed?”.

Making sense or sense-making?

We may appear to make sense or to present a sensible proposition or explanation for a problem of practice. Indeed, some are very good at selling things that appear to make sense. This is very different from sense-making. I pondered this difference during the day and I recalled the words of a very learned former colleague (Professor Lani Florian) presenting a lecture on educational theory to student teachers at the University of Aberdeen. She described learning theory as “frameworks for thinking about our practice” – simple as that – not rules or tools but a set of frameworks to help construct and examine our practice (and reconstruct it).

Tom Bennett (@tombennett71) talked passionately about the need for teachers to “engage profitably” with educational research. He suggested that one way-in was for schools to start with a question which they would like answered and then engage with the research literature before implementing a new practice. Tom alluded to the tension between our in-the-moment “craft” as teachers (something I think some teachers hide behind) and theoretical understandings of what is going on in any given classroom or school situation. There is no instruction manual for dealing with the myriad of complex social interactions that we encounter daily but there is a body of evidence-informed knowledge out there that can help us to better understand what is going on and how it might be different next time.

theory-practiceOver the course of the day I saw great examples of teachers “engaging profitably” with research.

We had Glenn McLachlan presenting the TALIS research data as a starting point for his school’s implementation of Instructional Coaching and Instructional Rounds as powerful forms of professional learning. Then, in the design and implementation of these interventions, we could see that the work was informed by relevant and credible educational literature. (Note – not all “educational literature” is credible – critical engagement is key!)

Similarly, Deborah Netolicky and Janelle McGann spoke very convincingly about their school’s research-based model of teacher growth. This model was built around widely recognized frameworks for teaching and teacher growth. The key term here is “built around” – not plugged-in – but tailored to their local context. It was very clear that this solid grounding in research informed literature (and their experiences of success so far) put the winds of confidence and courage in their sails as these leaders implemented new approaches with their teachers.

I heard Corinne Campbell tell her school’s story of how they had investigated and revamped their approach to the controversial subject of homework. This was a great example of starting with very local data – from parent and teacher surveys – to gain clarity around the full range of beliefs, views, misconceptions and practices that existed within their community. This very clear picture of reality was then placed alongside a wide range of research evidence on homework before decisions were made about the way forward. The big message here was: this is what works for our community, go and find out about yours.

I was intrigued by Pam Ryan’s presentation title – Putting Practice into Theory: sharing process, sharing thinking. Pam repeatedly stated that she did not “do research” and that this would not “count as research”. However, this did not make what she presented any less credible or relevant. Drawing on her 30 years of educational leadership experience, Pam described a process of deep reflection enabled by the deconstruction of her experiences. This analytical process had led to the development of conceptual frameworks and ways of understanding that could then be augmented with relevant theory. It’s that sense-making thing again. This process will be the subject of a forthcoming book. To my mind Pam’s work is surely a form of scholarly activity that sits somewhere in the research/evidence paradigm.

Finally, Cameron Paterson went for an active learning approach to engaging his audience in some of the key components of Reggio-inspired approaches to learning. As we participated in an activity (making paper aeroplanes!) I adopted one of the roles of documenter. The role of documenter was to capture the process of building knowledge during the group activity. I learned something about the theory behind the approach (through trying and then discussing it) and found myself considering how this kind of observing and documenting could be a powerful strategy for peer observation between teachers. Again, I was connecting the theory to my own practice, and other associated theories relating to design thinking and meta-cognition.

By the end of the day a pattern was emerging. There seemed to be a cycle of questions that those presenting had gone through with each one starting at different points in this cycle depending on their context or starting point. I tweeted these questions and a response came back that it was “the perfect storm of questions”. I would perhaps add “What will I do now?” between the stages and you might add other stages to the cycle. Here they are:

  • What do I think?
  • What do others think?
  • What does the research say?
  • What do I think now? 

Thanks for reading. Please leave a comment if any of this has made you think.