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Coaching at Heathfield

Coaching

How can schools enable their staff to reflect on their practice, and explore ways to develop their professional development? How does a school balance the individual needs of staff with the overall direction decided by the leadership team? Research suggests that individualised CPD is one of the most effective ways of raising standards of teaching, which is why Heathfield started its coaching programme six years ago.

In 2008, four teachers were trained by Chris Moyse, then LA advisor, practising new skills in pairs before trialling their new skills. By the end of 2008, four other teachers had used a coach to develop their own bespoke CPD. They each worked for 4 - 5 hours on a focus that they had explored together and identified next steps for development. It was intense, personalised and collaborative. It was neither hierarchical nor judgemental. Cover was guaranteed. Focuses were not tied into a department or whole school development plan, and the process was totally confidential. It was a promising start.

By 2010, the number of coaches had grown to eight. All were excellent practitioners but it was their communication and interpersonal skills which made them a success. Two were heads of dept, one had no leadership responsibility at all and part time (though she had previously been an outstanding senior leader and class teacher). One was approaching retirement, another in her third year of teaching. They represented the diversity of the school. Each had one non-contact per week in order to work alongside three teachers by the end of the year. By the end of 2013, all of the teaching worked with a coach, many more than once.

What is the process and why does it work?

We follow the 'GROW' methodology - establish the goal, compare to the current reality, consider options (or obstacles), then the way forward (win commitment). In the first session, coach and teacher meet to reflect on perceptions of his/her current practice and explore areas which might form the basis of focus. Sometimes staff come to this meeting with a firm idea about what they want to develop. Mostly they don't, and even so many change their mind as the first session evolves.

Ideas on 'current reality' are intriguing. With some, an observation of a particular class may be involved. With others, evidence may come from exercise books, or observing a meeting or interviewing students - all depending on the focus and the teacher. The third session is reflection on this and next steps. Sometimes the teacher wants to observe the coach. Recently coaches and teachers have used 'live coaching'. This is interactive and highly effective. For example, both teacher and coach may observe a third teacher's lesson, and discuss the process of learning as the class is taking place. Or they may operate as a pair whilst actually teaching a class, discussing options and reactions as the lesson unfolds.

Although coaching has an agreed structure, each example is in fact individualised, fitted closely to the needs of the teacher. Trust is central to the process. Little is noted down and nothing is passed onto to line managers or SLT. This confidentiality is recognised as fundamental to just getting the process started, let alone being successful.

The following are the thoughts of four staff who have been involved in coaching.

Coaching: four viewpoints

The teacher has their own agenda … it’s really individual, it’s driven by them. You’re given the time to work on coaching. It’s not like going on a course where you go and think, “I could do that” but you don’t get the time to try those ideas out. You get the time and to talk to somebody about it afterwards.

Not all teachers come to the first meeting with a clear aim. Some have a strong idea about what they want to work on and then go with it. But a lot of the time, it doesn’t end up being the thing that they set out to work on. One teacher actually had more ideas about how they could utilise the coaching process when we were finishing. They became really reflective.

I had another teacher who went from doubting themselves, to really celebrating what they did well. At the beginning they had the attitude, “I just do this badly” - and in the end, she was telling me all the things she did well.

I learn things all the time. By talking through ideas with other people, you think immediately, “I could do that in my lesson; I do that but I don’t do that”. So when somebody is explaining to you what they think the perfect method is, you start to think, “That’s what we should all be doing”. It constantly reinvigorates and re-motivates me to think, “Yes, I want to be teaching the perfect lesson”.

It’s healthy to work with a teacher in another subject. With a music teacher, we shared ideas but adapted ideas as well. When working with someone in another department, it becomes more of a collaboration.

Coach

I had some quite specific aims on assessment when I started, and coaching gave me a time frame to actually develop them. My coach acted as a kind of sounding board. She gave me a chance to really think.

When we had explored what I’d already done, my coach suggested turning my assessment process around, moving it from the end of the lesson to the start. And that was just brilliant; she allowed me to see it in a different light.

It’s a unique form of CPD. It’s much more flexible, more about developing what you already know as opposed to going somewhere and being taught.

One of my focuses was to see teachers in other subject areas and to work out how they handled problems. Together, my coach and I observed another teacher together. As the lesson evolved, instead of sitting and filling out a formal observation form, we sat and talked as the lesson progressed, which was really useful. We both picked up on different things. There were things she noticed that I hadn’t quite appreciated. Instead of just looking, we had a dialogue : “That was interesting, I wonder why he did that” or “How would I do that?” and “What would I do differently?”. It was much more effective discussing a lesson as it was happening – it became a unique part of the process.

Teacher

The coaching process is very much down to the needs of the person being coached. You’re there really as a listener, not in any sort of judgmental way and you’re not there to offer solutions. You’re really there to listen to what the teacher has to say and how they feel their teaching practice can be improved.

Some teachers arrive with a clear aim but very few actually go ahead with that aim after we’ve sat down and talked about it. The first meeting is really about trying to find out what that person really thinks is going on in their classroom. If after that first meeting they don’t have a definite focus, I normally have a couple of suggestions such as videoing a lesson of theirs to discuss or I can go in and watch a lesson, then try and work out what the focus could be. But few turn up with a definite idea.

Personally, I like to use the MATRIX system, where the teacher fills in what they think their high and low skills are and also their high and low motivations. I think it helps to galvanise them. For example, there’s not much point in doing something where you’re low skilled and have low motivation; it’s unlikely to change your practice. You need to look for something where you’re low skilled but highly motivated to change.

I worked with one member of staff who wanted to look at why some boys were quite disengaged. We both observed a lesson of another teacher. That was great as we could have a really good talk about what was going on in the lesson, why that person had managed to engage the boys and we got lots of tips for dealing with those kinds of students. The nice thing was that afterwards, the teacher felt that it had moved their practice on and that they would be trying to approach those students in a very different way in the future. Both of us learning together worked well as it was unthreatening.

For some staff coaching can appear quite intimidating. Somebody’s going into your classroom, making you question your teaching practice. Sometimes people get stuck in a bit of a rut and it takes a while for them to realise they want to change. I would suggest – to begin with certainly – you get people who are fairly open about their teaching on the programme and then those people need to tell others that it’s okay, that it’s a supportive role and not about judging you. Encouragement needs to come from people who have been through the system to actually say, “I’ve really enjoyed it”.

Coach

I decided that I wanted to focus on my form group because I had taken over the form when they were in Year 9. I wanted to focus on building relationships., and also looked at my Year 9 class because that was class I was struggling with a bit.

It was really nice that coaching was designed for me to do what I wanted, rather than for it to be something that was pre-prescribed. There isn’t a school aim that everybody has to focus on within coaching. Also, it’s good that you do it with a coach outside of your department because I avoided focusing on just department topics.

If anything, I felt as if I’d had some reassurance that actually I was trying to do the right thing. I definitely feel that I am closer with my form, and also gained some different strategies for dealing with the year 9 group. The different perspective coming from someone working in a completely different department was interesting – for example, what a drama teacher thinks you could be doing in a maths lesson! I think it was nice to have someone to bounce ideas off, and reflect. Two heads are better than one, aren’t they?

Teacher
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