In 2015-16, Liz Scott Coaching worked with a dozen leaders from nine schools in the Southerly Point Cooperative Education Trust in Cornwall as they prepared to become a multi academy trust. In total, 15 primary and two secondary schools were working towards becoming the Southerly Point Co-operative Multi Academy Trust on 1 December 2016.
The new trust would be run by a board with equal representation from each of the schools. As well as a shared budget, a major change would see closer working among the schools and a greater sharing of skills, knowledge and potentially staff.
The coaching, over 18 months, focused particularly on the leaders’ emotional wellbeing and self-understanding. The leaders said that the coaching not only made preparations for the transition easier and increased their own capacity, but also led to improvements at the schools.
What the leaders said about the coaching:
Brett Dye, head of Parc Eglos Primary School, Helston, which is the West Cornwall Teaching School, has been arranging Development Courses in Coaching throughout the Southerly Point Co-operative Trust. He said one of the biggest obstacles the schools faced was overcoming the traditional competitiveness and adapting ways of working together for all the children in their catchment areas.
He said the coaching helped to remove those obstacles by engendering unity through each leader developing greater self-understanding. As a result, the leaders and their schools were able to move forward together. “I have definitely seen people change through this process. They’ve changed from a feeling of uncertainty and mistrust, to now seeing the bigger picture. We’re all on each other’s side, all inspiring each other and improving together. It would have been trickier to develop this mutual trust, had it not been for the coaching.
“The coaching has developed listening skills and our ability to feed back to the person in a way which isn’t threatening, so they see it as constructive and a tool to help them improve and develop. It takes them to the next stage.
“In this way, the coaching has helped to build up a partnership and create one united group. We’ve all got to think of the children aged 2-19 and everyone in the Helston and Lizard area. This relies on people working well together.”
Mr Dye said that the coaching has also brought tangible results:
“The skills we’ve developed have enabled us so think about the changes and, if a school requires improvement, we can help each other. It’s not telling people what to do. It’s coming from within. It’s building up self-belief. Through this, three of our schools have moved out of the ‘requiring improvement’ OFSTED category and are now in the ‘good’ schools category.”
He also feels that receiving coaching together in the local environment is extremely effective: “This is a better tool for leadership development than sending people away for training. The whole process is a real solid partnership, built on cooperative principles, of self-help and equal opportunities.”
Lucy Wandless is head of Godolphin Primary School in Helston. She explains the impact of the coaching:
“I would say that the skills I have developed have aided me in developing and empowering staff and therefore has developed distributed leadership at Godolphin Primary School. This has allowed me to have the capacity for a different leadership style, which has resulted in the Executive Headship of the Garras and Sithney Federation and Godolphin Primary School.
“As headteachers, we are expected to deal with a multiple of issues, often at the same time. The most effective time and energy-saver is removing the ‘noise’ caused by over-thinking. I’ve stopped myself having these internal conversations. I now just take things back to the facts; I don’t let my mind run away with me. It’s about dealing with the actual issues. I’ve managed to rationalise things and deal with the here and now, it’s enabled me to focus, to prioritise and therefore manage my time and deal with issues more effectively.
Coaching and Emotional Awareness
“The coaching has also developed greater emotional awareness of myself and others, which has led to a more effective way of communicating with colleagues. For me, probably the biggest difference when I’m having conversations with staff is the mood elevator. This will affect the way you deal with things and also how others respond, depending on where they are on their mood evaluator. If you’re not in the right place, the conversation is not going to be successful. Often however, people are under a lot of pressure and they feel the need to deal with things immediately. This isn’t always the best way to go. Sometimes, it’s more effective to wait until the mood elevator is correct. Then, you are able to think it through and deal with it more effectively. It means we are having conversations at the right time and place for them to be successful.
“As a leader, without these tools, conversations can go wrong and it has a knock-on effect on the ability to sort issues out effectively and timely.” Lucy added: “This leadership coaching is probably the one piece of training I’ve done that’s had the biggest influence in developing me as a leader and in helping me to develop others as future leaders.”
Coaching to develop students
Penny Laban, Assistant Head Teacher and Head of Post-16 at Helston Community College, is using the coaching skills she learned from Liz Scott Coaching to encourage progress and development in her students.
“I’ve been using it in 1-2-1 meetings with students, where the conversation is looking at their progression. It’s particularly useful because of their age – they’re 16-19, they’re growing up, becoming adults and they don’t want to be told everything. “Before I had the coaching, I might have gone into these 1-2-1 meetings and I’d already have all the ‘right’ answers in my head. Now in these meetings, I am listening and then responding with questions to guide them to make their decisions. It’s about ‘this isn’t working for you…how do we make this work?’It’s about guiding them as they make decisions about their lives both inside and outside of school.
“For students of this age, it’s phenomenally important for them to see that they are setting goals and taking actions through their own decision-making.
“I’ve had a lot of positive affirmations from students, who’ve fed back that the conversations have been very helpful.” Penny is now looking to embed the coaching throughout her team of 23 tutors and two heads-of-year:
“The coaching is very powerful and it’s something I want all my team to have. The whole idea of going into a conversation and not providing all the answers is quite inspiring. It’s through the conversations that we find the answers. It’s a very effective way of developing others.
“We are now investigating training post-16 students to be coaches, who can work to support younger students within the college. These skills are not just applicable to the staff within the Trust, but also the students as well.”