How does teaching and learning improve in your school? How open are colleagues to being coached to improve? Are teachers disengaged or anxious at the prospect of being observed? The following is an effective way to approach staff to begin the process of addressing their areas for development. It will show how to establish coaching to support a self-improving school system and cultivate peer-led learning.
I developed the following model whilst working as a Leader of Teaching and Learning at the City of Leicester College. It is informed by my previous experiences as a Head of Year and Director of Science, from models promoted by the National College for School Leadership and described in “The Perfect Teacher Coach” by Terri Broughton and Jackie Beere.
The ideal system of embedded coaching and mentoring might involve colleagues joining each other’s lessons, inviting them to look at aspects of their teaching, feeding back ideas and thoughts of how to improve and then trying these ideas with different teaching groups.
But getting to this point can be a difficult road for less confident teachers, so how can we achieve this whilst supporting staff anxiety around scrutinising professional practice?
Leora Cruddas, ASCL’s Director of Policy, released “Leading the Way: Blueprint for a Self-Improving System” in February this year. The Blueprint is a vision of the future where professional learning is “continuous and iterative”. Very little professional learning is a ‘one-off,’ and involves “involving peer learning”. Beere and Broughton’s 2012 “The Perfect Teacher Coach” said that good coaches presupposed that people were not ‘broken’ and did not need to be ‘fixed’, and have all the resources and hidden strengths they need to solve their own problems. Good coaches have “an attitude of possibility”.
What I describe here is a system of teacher support which is based on evidence and teachers’ reflection on their practice as a starting point for improvement. It promotes a culture of collaborative learning and self-improvement and encourages teachers to seek non-judgmental advice on teaching practice.
Embedding coaching and mentoring – The model
The basic model of embedding support is shown in the diagram below.
You could stop reading at this point and try the model in your school, but how you get to this point is as important as the model itself. For example, teachers can easily feel isolated, or singled out as “needing support”. Using terms like “joining a lesson”, rather than “observing”, and addressing staff anxieties about having other colleagues in their classroom are included within this model.
How do you approach staff?
There needs to be a specific reason for you to approach staff that will make them feel supported, not singled out, moving towards a shared, established vision. To achieve this, I have an initial meeting with ALL members of the team to establish a program of support. This is completed at either the start or end of the academic year and is used as space for staff to reflect on their strengths and areas for development. These meetings are separate to their performance management review which is linked to pay and progression, it is solely focused on their teaching and learning skills. Follow up meetings take place for all staff at least termly so that the focus remains a priority, and as a leader I am able to effectively monitor what staff are doing to improve.
The strategy is explained to the whole team before I meet with the first colleague so no one feels singled out. If evidence suggests a specific colleague is a priority, it may be helpful to see other staff first, more confident or established staff who might talk to the identified colleague before or after their meeting to share the experience. I agree a time to meet – it is important that the meeting is ring fenced so that the issue and outcome are valued.
Stage 1: Initial meeting
- Explain why you have asked to see the colleague as part of the school’s strategy to prioritise teaching and learning and to support all teaching staff to improve.
- Ask colleagues to bring evidence/feedback which will inform their current ideas about what their areas of strength and development are (lesson observations, work scrutiny feedback, learning walk notes etc). If they don’t have any evidence, then you can base this solely on their thoughts and reflections as a starting point.
- Agree outcomes of coaching/mentoring/support.
- These are initially based on the areas identified in the first meeting, but may change over time as different aspects of teaching and learning are identified as higher priorities for improvement.
- Find an “in”. An “in” is a reason to join a lesson to begin the process of support. e.g a teacher has identified behaviour management as an area for development .
- Ask them to identify a group and time that they feel comfortable with having a colleague join the lesson, looking at the area of development they have identified.
- Try and make this a set period of time (i.e. 20 minutes). This helps establish the fact that you are looking at something specific, and not “observing” a lesson. This could be the start, middle or end of a lesson with a focus on, for example, how students begin a task or teacher support of students who are struggling with an aspect of a topic.
- It is important to note here that you are not going to “observe” the lesson; you are “joining” a lesson. Observations are used in a different context, are associated with performance management, and may result in “judgements” on teaching and learning. This is not an observation and you are not making a judgement, only providing specific feedback which will help the teacher improve.
Stage 2: ‘Joining’ a lesson
- You will have agreed the focus of your time in the lesson. Whilst you are in the classroom you will be looking for opportunities to provide feedback on this focus as well as other aspect of the teacher’s practice.
- Make notes on everything you see as well as the agreed focus. Whilst you are in the classroom you need to decide whether the agreed focus is the priority in terms of the most important aspect of teaching which will make the biggest difference. If, for example, the teacher has identified behaviour management as their focus, then you would make notes on what you see and how the teacher might improve, but if you see that books are not being marked, you may make a decision that this is a higher priority in terms of making the biggest difference, especially if the behaviour is a result of the teacher pitching work too high or too low as they have not assessed the level of student understanding and students are either bored or frustrated.
Stage 3: Teacher Reflection
- Try and feedback to the teacher as soon as possible after the lesson, either straight away or at the end of the day. A long time between lesson and feedback may affect the amount of recall for both of you.
- Provide feedback on the agreed focus of the lesson as well as other aspects if you feel these are more of a priority, and ask the teacher to reflect on what they could do to improve. If necessary bring in “while I was in the lesson, I happened to notice … and I think this may help”
Stage 4 (Research and Collaboration)
- You could provide suggestions to improve (mentoring), or you could coach the teacher to improve (coaching), but whether coaching or mentoring, the reflection will suggest some outcomes in terms of next steps to try and improve. At this point agree some S.M.A.R.T targets. This might include the teacher going to see other teachers who have demonstrated excellent practice in the area for development, trying out some ideas with an identified group and then agreeing a date to share this with you or other colleagues. Usually includes them joining other lessons, looking at other colleagues work, books, folders.
Stage 5 (Practice skills)
- Identify a group that the teacher feels comfortable trying new ideas with and agree a time to join the lesson again.
- At this point you have started a cycle of improvement which can continue throughout the term or over the year, depending on the level of priority.
It is important to establish with staff what “support” looks like. In my school all staff receive “support” which is as described above. If staff become more of a priority as outcomes for students are significantly affected, then teachers may move to “structured support”. This is basically the same process, but the cycle repeats more frequently, perhaps weekly if necessary, until good practice is sustainable. If structured support is not successful, then formal support or capability procedures may follow. Fortunately this is rare, and the support structure outlined above prevents this from happening.
Coaching or Mentoring?
- Coaching is a valuable tool to support improvement and provides people with a structure to improve which is based on their own ideas and reflections. Coaching may take more time than just telling staff what to do to improve (mentoring) but over time they become more able to work though problems and challenges on their own without needing higher levels of support. I have provided two models of coaching here for you to try (see below). I would highly recommend reading “The Perfect Teacher Coach” by Jackie Beere and Terri Broughton, and look at the work of Will Thomas at Vision for Learning if you would like to learn more about using coaching to improve professional practice.
i.S.T.R.I.D.E coaching model
- Beere, J & Broughton, T. 2012 – The Perfect Teacher Coach. 2013. Independent Thinking Press an imprint of Crown House Publishing .
- Leora Cruddas, ASCL Director of Policy 2015, Leading the Way: Blueprint for a Self-Improving System. Association of School and College Leaders, Leicester LE1 7PG