The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Lisa Griffin

Coaching for CPD and school improvement

Coaching is a vital part of developing staff and driving whole-school improvement. We spoke to schools to find out the approaches they take to coaching.

What does coaching look like in your school? Have you thought about the role coaching plays in your long term strategy to harness staff development? With these and many more questions in mind, we recently carried out research with schools to gain a clearer understanding of the role of coaching.

Speaking to a range of senior school leaders and those responsible for CPD and training, we weren’t surprised to find that all agreed coaching is a vital part of CPD and improving teaching and learning. However, what coaching actually looks like in schools varies hugely.

Why coaching?

Coaching is like having your own personal cheerleader – who wouldn’t benefit from that?! The coach has no vested interest in anyone other than you.

By definition, coaching normally involves one-to-one support (a coach and coachee) to help a person improve, develop, learn new skills and manage challenging situations. Unit 1: What is coaching and why use it? from our In-House Training course supports the training of people in your school in coaching techniques. Participants can then train others and coach adults and pupils in the school.

The three elements of a successful coaching session are:

  1. a clear structure
  2. open questioning that helps coachees make their own decisions
  3. commitment to action with a date for review/evaluation.

Coaching enables the recipient to take ownership of their own CPD and increases personal wellbeing and confidence. In an organisation, coaching promotes a reflective and collaborative culture and increases positive attitude and energy.

To fully benefit from coaching, a lot of time from both the coach and coachee is required. A head of professional development in a secondary school told us that ‘staff are sometimes reluctant to engage in coaching as they don’t see the worth in relation to their time constraints.’ For her school, finding creative ways to organise the curriculum to include coaching is a priority. 

Key skills for coaching

  • Effective listening: good coaches need to be able to listen carefully and patiently.
  • Asking helpful questions: the right questions enable the coachee to identify the answers themselves.
  • Reviewing and reflecting: feedback needs to be actionable and goals should be set for improvement.

‘Coaching is for all staff and anyone can be a coach, as long as they can develop the correct skills within a coaching culture to be able to use them,’ a CPD coordinator told us when asked about a whole-school approach to coaching. ‘I’m coordinating coaches and would happily be coached in teaching and learning practice by a teacher because it’s not my area of expertise.’ Ensuring your coaches have the skills to help aspiring coaches develop their own skills improves CPD across your school.

Whole-school strategy

Jackie Beere OBE outlines the above seven habits of effective teachers in our Coaching: the effective way to lead teaching and learning article.

Jackie describes effective teachers as flexible, responsive to the needs of their classes and having developed the seven habits with the help of coaching.

Along with a whole-school strategy that promotes a coaching culture, a growth culture providing the right climate for staff to develop in was also found to be key when speaking to schools. Without an environment in which to use the skills of coaching, enhancing staff and school development through coaching is impossible. A deputy head we spoke to said ‘If clarity is present across the school regarding the value of coaching, then the commitment is there too, which makes it easier to find the time to do it.’ 

One school told us about the approach they take to ensure all staff benefit from coaching. ‘We make it bespoke so that everyone gets something out of it. At the beginning everyone had a teaching and learning focus but now people can choose a leadership focus, depending on what they feel is the area the need to improve on.’

Coaching should be open to everyone and we found that some schools also run specific management coaching and teacher-to-teacher peer coaching, to give the coachee full ownership of their CPD. Having strategies in place to create a positive and successful coaching culture in your organisation is about finding out what methods are right for your school and your staff to improve CPD and increase performance.

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