Schools learn the lessons of a new way of teaching
A south west coaching in education conference has been hearing how the introduction of a coaching approach has led to improvements at four schools in the region.
Primary and secondary schools from Devon, Cornwall and Dorset attended the Coaching in Action in Schools event hosted by Clyst Vale Community College in Exeter. Participants have been hearing how a ‘culture of coaching’ has made a huge difference at Dartmouth Academy, Pinhoe Primary in Exeter, Woodlands Park Primary in Ivybridge and Cape Cornwall Secondary in St Just.
The schools have developed coaching with the guidance of Devon-based Liz Scott Coaching & Training. The method involves asking focused questions which encourage the person being coached, whether it is a member of staff or a student, to stop and think about the answers to problems for themselves.
Coaching for TAs and children as coaches
Speaking at the coaching in education conference, Heather Hanrott, head of Woodlands Park Primary in Ivybridge, said she brought in coaching following an informal audit in 2012 which found “variable teaching assistant support”.
The audit reported:“Where teaching assistants are least effective, they focus on completion of tasks rather than on providing support for learning. The high ratio of TAs means that there is a risk that pupils may not receive sufficient opportunities to work independently of an adult.”
Heather said: “We had a complete look at the school, but sending people out for training was too costly so we introduced a longer-term coaching solution. All of the TAs went through the coaching skills training and it has radically changed how they work with the students. It shifted the school to an independent culture.”
The school continued to develop skills and an independent review of the school in 2013 found that the coaching of the TAs had “empowered them to encourage pupil independence in their learning” and that “they are more confident in their open questioning and allow pupils time to develop their own thinking skills”.
Heather said that the coaching culture in her school has brought some of the shyest pupils out of their shells so that they now play an active role in class: “A lot of it is about building relationships and building confidence. It’s about listening and communicating.” Heather has also been delighted with the children as coaches programme in her school.
Coaching skills for staff and student coaching
At Cape Cornwall Secondary, where 10 staff have so far had the three days of training, the new-found coaching skills of teachers has helped students taking their final year exams.
The coaching in education conference heard from Emily Hill, the assistant head and Julie Nash the head teacher. Julie Nash said: “We drew up a list of 20 students who we felt were not performing as well as expected and each of the 10 teachers coached two of them in short, focused 1-2-1 sessions.
“There were immediate gains for the students, which were shown in the wheel of life charts we asked them to do. In fact, they started to ask for more sessions and other students requested coaching too.”
Cape Cornwall staff are now receiving additional training from Liz Scott Coaching & Training so that they can carry on the coaching work themselves: “We want to become a coaching school where it’s embedded in everything we do. And we want to turn Year 11 students into coaches so that they can help with the transition of Year 6 students as they leave our feeder schools and come to us.”
Executive leadership coaching
Nick Bowles, vice principal at Dartmouth Academy for 3-19 year olds said that when he used traditional teaching and leadership methods, “all I was doing was burning myself out”.
Nick and several of his colleagues underwent leadership coaching; before the coaching he said he was working harder and harder, trying to resolve issues and problems for his colleagues.
After the coaching he realised the power of coaching questions: “I started throwing back questions such as ‘oh, you’ve got a problem, what do YOU think the answer is?’
It has had an impact on our teaching and on learning. We are creating leaders at all levels and developing our learners to be coaches, especially our 6th formers.”
Cascading coaching with ‘lead coaches’
In Exeter, Pinhoe Primary has spent 18 months putting its teachers and teaching assistants through the coaching training and now intends to train meal-time assistants and office staff, who often have to deal with difficult situations.
“It has been completely life-changing in professional and non-professional life,” said Alison Western, who is a teacher and a lead coach at the school. “At school, it has changed the way we approach all conversations with colleagues, children and parents. For teaching assistants, they feel valued and also confident in dealing with things such as conflict resolution in the classroom and playground.
“In the classroom, it encourages children to problem solve for themselves by thinking things through and it encourages independent thinking. We’ve changed the way we do our marking, too, so we don’t just mark work but we put in questions for the students to ask them how they might improve on a particular aspect of it.
“The feedback from staff has been amazing and now that two of us have had the lead coach training, we are able to keep it going in a sustainable way. We now want to train the children as coaches.”
Next steps for coaching
Chris Dormand, deputy principal at Clyst Vale Community College, said the event had been inspirational and added: “I want to develop a coaching culture here. If we could have people formally trained in this way, it will be cost effective.”
Ivybridge-based Liz Scott said that there was tangible evidence that bringing in a specialist trainer to develop coaches ‘in-house’ within schools was having a major effect: “We’ve heard at this event about the findings of independent reviews and we’ve also heard a lot of stories here about how coaching skills have been excellent for effective conflict resolution.
“In a school environment, coaching provides the skills and language in supporting students to take responsibility for their own learning but teaching staff need the tools to enable this to happen. Teaching staff is the biggest resource of any school so why not ensure they are as effective as they can be?
“But this has a longer-term impact beyond school years. Young people who leave schools that have a coaching culture will have life skills that will help them for the rest of their lives.”