Coaching Culture

This post is a slightly edited version of a post from my old blog (which no longer exists), but having read back, I feel it is as important today as it was previously:

The benefits of coaching as a staff development tool are widely known. Showers and Joyce (1996) suggest that teacher coaching may directly affect student learning. Likewise, Teemank, Wink and Tyra (2011) found that regular teacher coaching resulted in improvements in teacher pedagogy, patterns of teacher growth and changes in classroom organisation.

Many institutions have adopted a model whereby they employ Teaching and Learning Coaches/Advanced Practitioners specifically to develop staff who receive a grade 3 or 4 in lesson observations. Where institutions no longer grade, they target individuals considered to be in need of support. This deficit approach assumes that the only development necessary is for those that are deemed to be under performing, but as Matt Bromley informs us, the point of coaching is being missed as  ‘coaching is not a sanction, it is an entitlement’. 

Aside from the reliability/validity of the whole graded observation process and what it means to be an effective teacher, it is apparent that those individuals who achieve a grade 1 and 2 or those considered to be ‘performing’, tend to be less of a priority to institutions. They are seen to be working at an acceptable standard and therefore are not in need of any personalised development. I argue that it is essential that these people are given developmental support too. In fact, it should be non discriminatory – all teachers should have fair access to support and be accountable to develop themselves. After all, no one is the finished article.

As Matt correctly informs us, coaching should be an entitlement to all, yet due to the aforementioned circumstances, it seems there is a stigma attached to being coached and a culture change is needed in order to remove this.  I myself have had to change my opinion of coaching. There was a time where I felt threatened by anyone coming into my classroom especially a peer. Maybe it was the nature of the team I worked with (sport = highly competitive), or perhaps the culture of the organisation, so I can relate to those who may feel as though coaching is a punishment as opposed to an entitlement. I do not have the answers for how to shift the mindset of some, but once that mindset has been altered, I believe that the potential of coaching could be a really powerful tool for all teachers. 

One suggestion for shifting the mindset may be to adopt a peer-to-peer coaching model rather than specifically employing a coach in what may be seen as a top down approach. Robbins (1995, cited in LSIS, 2009) asserts that:

“Peer coaching is a process through which two or more professional colleagues work together to reflect on current practices; expand, refine and build new skills; share ideas; conduct action research; teach one another; and problem solve within the workplace”.

Their model (shown below) shows how without a coach, there is no way to measure impact on practice. Whereas with a peer coach, they can work with the coachee over time to have a positive impact on practice. 

Joyce and Showers (2002, cited in LSIS, 2009)

LSIS go on to propose that peer coaching should be a ‘pull not push’ process, whereby the coach acts as more of a listener and encourages reflection, rather than telling and instructing the coachee. Furthermore, the coach need not be an expert. Here’s a danger with using a peer-to-peer model. It is likely that not all staff will have a sufficient understanding of coaching models and the process, thus a danger them making inaccurate and/or evaluative judgements which negate the collaborative dialogue (Showers and Joyce, 1996). In light of this, perhaps using the specifically employed coach(s) as a resource to cascade the essential knowledge to teachers, rather than being a coach, would solve this problem. It would probably add more value to an institution’s coaching doing this, compared to the ineffective, exclusive model often adopted. 

To summise, coaching has the potential to improve practice, whatever your ability. If looking to implement a model of coaching, maybe frame it as essential for all (that is, as a coach and coachee). 


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