As a tool in our on-going approach to continuing professional and personal development, coaching has been receiving warranted and renewed attention in recent times. Models of coaching have long been advocated in education, for example in the old National Strategies materials, and in the modules on effective coaching and mentoring developed by CUREE (the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education), and over the years since, the profile of coaching seems only to have strengthened.
While the words coaching and mentoring are used pretty widely in the world of education, there has not always been a universal understanding of what coaching means. Fortunately, models of coaching in schools are emerging and a wider understanding of what it is and what it can do are forming.
Rachel Lofthouse, Professor of Teacher Education at Leeds Beckett University and Director of CollectivEd, The Centre for Mentoring, Coaching and Professional Learning, describes coaching as “an inter-personal and sustained dialogue-based practice.” It is easy to see how such a professional practice may contribute greatly towards a boost in confidence and the development of further skills. We have long known that informal conversations with colleagues at snatched moments throughout the school day contribute significantly towards continuing professional development, so a tool which helps to embed this more purposefully in the school day, with adequate time and supportive structures, seems like a certain path to positive development, provided it is implemented effectively.
Lofthouse continues, “It can be offered by an external coach or by colleagues whose professional development role includes coaching. The coach works with a teacher or school leader to facilitate self-reflection, decision making and action in the context of their own personal and professional challenges.”
Coaching differs from mentoring in that it is an ongoing, sustained approach to help to embed knowledge and skills in day-to-day practice as opposed to as a support through specific transitions in a person’s career. “Coaching is a valid way to support wellbeing and also enhance confidence and skills,” Lofthouse explained, “but it does require appropriate training and thoughtful application suited to the setting and individuals. When it works well the relational aspects of coaching create a social space in which teachers and others in the education system can feel heard and valued, and where their knowledge and skills are brought to the fore to be worked with and extended through co-construction with the coach.”
One of the key notions of coaching is the asking of questions that are designed to enhance professional skills. The ensuing dialogue may support the implementation of new classroom strategies, for example, and would not usually be taking place between a line manager and coachee. It is important that the focus of coaching is determined by the coachee and explored through a range of approaches: discussion, reflection, problem solving and so on.
Undertaken well, there is much to be gained from coaching in schools. Having a clear purpose and an understanding of what it is being used for in each context is vital, and exploring the potential of coaching as a community can be helpful. This is about developing both professionally and personally and the potential is evidently immense.
Five ways to consider coaching
1. Context is important
One of the aims of coaching is to create a genuinely motivating climate in which to develop and progress. This nurturing, supportive space is essential if we are to move towards our full potential in our working lives. There has to be acceptance of trying new things out, exploring strategies, expanding our philosophy of teaching, and possibly making mistakes, as well as having storming successes. If we are serious about creating a motivating atmosphere, we need to embrace all outcomes with the purpose of furthering understanding of the work that we do.
2. Target goals
Coaching can help to close any gaps between potential and actual performance. It can help to highlight where further training and development might be needed and identify where skills may be underutilised. It can target a particular strand of development in the coachee, and support specialisation. It is worth exploring what you as an individual, and as an institution, want to gain from the introduction of coaching.
3. Collaborate and trust
Coaching is never done to a person. It is essential that there is a sound professional relationship between coach and coachee, and that both contribute to ideas about how the coaching will progress. Trust, naturally, is key.
4. Focus clearly
Coaching can provide the space in which to explore issues around confidence and competence and the ways in which these may be extended in the context of the day-to-day work of the teacher.
5. Do it well
Coaching may not be the best tool for everyone, and when it is utilised, it needs to be undertaken competently in order to glean the most out of it. Performed well, however, it can be a source of deep reflection and a strong development in self-awareness as well as professional competency.
Find out more…
You can find out more about the research informing coaching in education here:
- Professor Rachel Lofthouse is the Director of CollectivEd: https://www.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/research/collectived/
- Twitter: @DrRLofthouse @CollectivED1
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.