Coaching in Practice

Coaching in Practice – the altitude test.

Last year, we plotted the introduction of our coaching model and the process is outlined here. Along the way we made (or so it seemed!)  many changes to our Coaching Journal as we refined and developed it into the model we felt would work for us. Underpinning it was, of course, Teaching Standards (as a set of principles), but the essence of the model is more fully weighted with our Quaker values of integrity, equality, simplicity, community, stewardship of the Earth, and peace. We determined early on that these values have to be lived by our community and therefore our model has grown to fully encompass them. We also chose to label our model as a ‘Coaching and Mentoring’ programme. This came about towards the end of our planning and preparation and was due to a last-minute course, attended by one of the core group and provided by the NEU who suggested that an additional mentoring focus would better support newer teachers as well as those who had become ‘a bit set in their ways’. We agreed.

At the outset, I had asked for three volunteers to be coached outside of the usual PM structure. I knew I wanted to work with a ‘range’ of teachers as I didn’t want the model to be seen as some kind of ‘capability’ procedure. I was pleased to see that one teacher, who is seen across the school as an ‘outstanding’ practitioner, volunteer as this reinforced the idea that none of us can afford to stand still professionally and we can all improve our practice; no one is ever ‘all that’! There have been several developments along the way, which have excited and inspired us; here are some of them.

The Core Group, consisted of mostly young and inexperienced teachers, and one TA. We met each week and refined and adjust the model, using our knowledge of the school, the staff and our students to guide us. We knew from the beginning that our students should be involved in this process so we determined to build in a student voice questionnaire at the beginning and repeated at the end of the coaching cycle. But we also wanted coached staff to feel this was their experience, so to this end, all teachers are asked to choose up to five students (an arbitrary number, but given the size of our tiny school, a sizable number for feedback!) and they will then also determine the questions to be given. We felt it was important that this exercise be an evaluation which stemmed from the teacher wanting to consciously think about their practice and what it meant to their students.

We now have two Inset days at the beginning of the academic year and we were able to utilise one of these for coach/coachee refresher training and initial meetings. For this academic year only, our coaches are line managers – not the best solution, but one we are running with in order to ensure all staff work together to continue to refine the model. However, as outlined in my previous blog, we placed our younger teachers, members of the core group, with SLT to talk them through the process. There has been some difficulty with mind-set as we try to realign our attitudes away from PM and ‘observations’. When a coach observes the lesson, this reinforces the idea of judgement – terminology is a first step and we now refer to ‘coaching sessions’. By the next academic year, we want to move completely away from coaches being line managers and want to have in place a body of coaches from the rank and file who will coach each other, hopefully across subject areas.

The difficulty has been ‘but what do we do about PM!?’ – stemming from an HR perspective. We have used the rationale from @ChrisMoyse website wherein we approach everything from the standpoint that our teachers are professionals and that even in the case of capability, this will still be approached from that perspective. We support our staff and we help them to develop. Having said that, we do need to look at PM and what it means once we have removed Lesson Observations from our ‘arsenal’. We came up with this solution: For this year only, line manages will meet to discuss data, intervention and monitor exercise books. SLT will conduct a termly ‘Learning Walk’ – this will be written up after the event, no notes will be taken. One of these ‘walks’ will be conducted by the SENCo who will monitor and support staff from this perspective only. This PM divorce will be something with which we have to challenge ourselves – at the moment it’s a bit ‘messy’!

The final, and for me most interesting, development was an outstanding teacher who could not think of some classroom-based project they wanted to develop. My initial response was to ask what they would have chosen as a target had they still been on PM, but we still came up against a blank wall. But then, looking at TS8 – we agreed that the process doesn’t have to include classroom-based projects at all and the teacher will now look at developing their practice outwards in support of colleagues, possibly as a counselor. Either way, this supports both students and staff across the school and it will involve no ‘classroom-based sessions/observations’ other than the termly Learning Walk. I’m really excited about this – it’s like the creation of another tunnel after Tom, Dick and Harry were blocked!

In essence, our final Coaching and Mentoring Journal and coach prompt/policy are here and our Work Scrutiny Learning Walk docs are within. Feedback, if you have time for it, would be much appreciated. This is our pilot year and I know we will make many adjustments as we go, but I thank @RossMcGill and @ChrisMoyse for their help and brilliant training days – eagerly waiting for day 2 in February!

 

PS – As a school we are adopting the whole concept of coaching for all staff, not just teachers: support, office, kitchen/grounds – everyone will be coached.

A Coaching Journey

Some time ago (I had thought it was about 18 months, but no – where does time go!?) I read this blog about coaching rather than judgement as a part of Performance Management. I was convinced it was the way forward, for many reasons, but especially in reclaiming teacher empowerment and dignity and I wanted to give it a go. Initially, mainly because I didn’t do my research beforehand, our HT felt it wouldn’t, at the time, work in our context and, in in some respects (which I won’t go into here), I could see where he was coming from! So the matter was dropped for a while because we were busy trying to create a new assessment framework for our students (SEN) – and there were challenges enough with that! However, once we had created our bespoke framework , after we had put it together and ironed it all out, a few things happened that made me want to return to the coaching model for PM.

Firstly, I was given the T&L lead role and was becoming more and more dissatisfied with the tick box method of staff evaluation. I began to think that we had shown real initiative with our assessment model and I thought that if we had been able to do this for our students then why couldn’t we also create a bespoke assessment system for our staff. Why couldn’t we just ditch the PM model of judgemental observations once a year, and create something worthwhile – investing in our staff as much as we invest in our students. This was obviously made much easier once Ofsted dropped their grading system, giving us the freedom then to move away and develop something that we, as teachers, felt we needed.

Secondly, the coaching model was becoming ‘a thing’ * and there was suddenly lots being written about how this could work. We had already explored the possibility of creating a 360º Performance Management system whereby line managers could be assessed on their performance by those they managed, creating a feedback loop that would be supportive and inclusive, whilst still being robust (we are not hierarchical at all at my school and this enables us to be more reflective and supportive of each other). We had also discussed the benefits of confidential ‘Skip-Level Meetings’ so that staff would always feel listened to by SLT – and would be able to express concerns about the way they were being managed. This led me to think that the time was right to introduce the coaching model again – and this time (probably because I explained it more coherently) our HT and SLT were able to see how the model could work for us.

The first step was to get staff on-side and so I sent out a questionnaire which was mainly designed to get them to naturally outline the problems with judgemental observations and lead them to the conclusion that they didn’t work – which they did. Questions and summary answers here. They could then see how their responses led us to the expected next step of a coaching model of observations and PM. From there I thought about which staff to try and entice onto the programme as ‘test cases’. I didn’t want the process to be seen as applying only to staff who might need ‘help’ and I was fortunate enough to gain the confidence of three members of our team who were very different teachers and who were perceived as having very different strengths and from different subject areas. One of them has always been thought of as an outstanding practitioner and together we made it known that all teachers should be expected to make improvements as part of their own professional development – no one is ever at the stage of knowing it all! This seemed to work well and staff were then curious as to how the coaching model would develop over time.

The next step was to ask for volunteers to be a part of a core coaching group who would work with me to assess the work I’d done and offer suggestions and critique of how we would ensure this worked well for all of us. I had already been on a two day coaching development course and a colleague and I then attended a session with @RossMcGill in Manchester. This showed us how the model could translate and it also gave me reassurance that I was on the right lines in beginning slowly in the first year and then rolling it out fully in Years 2 and 3. I’d definitely recommend the course to anyone who is trying to develop the model – Ross provides all kinds of information to enable you to persuade your SLT! The only thing I felt Ross’ training needed was a 2 day session – we enjoyed it so much and it was chock-full of information! My initial development plan is here. This has changed substantially as we have moved forward and I’ll outline that in the second blog in this series.

In the meantime, we have been working on the robustness of our model and I’m including our Coaching Journal here – our focus at the moment is student voice and how we conduct work scrutiny and walk through – how we ensure that the model is workable and staff are still accountable, so some of this will change. I now see the development process as here [initial draft] and again, this is an on-going discussion, but I think it offers a better structure than the initial development plan.

The good news is that all our managers have agreed to be initiated into the coaching model during term 3 and they will be trained, for the most part, by young teachers, relatively newly trained teachers and even one TA. I truly want this to be a holistic model that works with our non-hierarchical structure. After a core group coaching session this past Friday, I (being coached as a volunteer) realised that the main flaw in the plan was how we continue to develop the core group – this isn’t about me, it’s about all of us, so it’s important that they continue to develop this model and develop their own skills to support the roll out at the end of this academic year – I’m pretty sure our ‘youngsters’ feel a bit intimidated by having to ‘develop’ their senior leaders. But they’re up for it – and up to it!

We’ve even got the support team/office on board and by the time September dawns, I’m hoping we have a truly bespoke coaching model that will enable and empower all of our staff in working cohesively as we support and develop each other’s potential.

 

* This ‘thing’ is the work of so many great practitioners whose work I’ve read and am piggy-backing on! Please forgive me if I have over-looked your input I’ve tried to note where I got inspiration from – if inspiration can be a ‘thing’!