Developing a coaching culture in schools and academies to raise performance

Sara Spinks 21 July 2023 4 min read
Developing a coaching culture in schools and academies to raise performance feature image

In this article, Sara Spinks explores the philosophy and impact of the coaching process and how it impacts both personal development and school improvement.

In simple terms, the process of coaching aims to improve performance by focusing on the 'here and now' rather than on the distant past or future.

It is important to acknowledge the distinction between teaching someone and helping someone to learn. In the coaching process, a coach helps someone to improve their performance, they help them to learn.

Good coaches believe that each individual always has the answer to their problems but understands that they may need help to find the answer.

Coaching is a process as well as a philosophy. The process is relatively easy, mainly asking open questions inviting people to think for themselves, listening with empathy to understand individuals and giving effective feedback to enable learning and progress.

However, the philosophy underpinning coaching is essential for it to work. It requires a leadership style that emphasises asking and involving, not telling and directing. This, in turn, enables staff and children to feel empowered to be independent firstly and then, to be interdependent or collaborative. Through the values of trust and integrity and believing that everyone has the ability, coaching can help unlock potential.

In this article, I am focusing on teacher coaching.

Different types of teacher coaching

Depending on your teacher's situation, time and resources, there are different ways, types and coaching methods to support teachers.

Instructional Coaching

Instructional coaching is where a coach, an expert teacher, assists the classroom teacher to identify and focus on a single aspect of their technique that can be isolated and practised, e.g., Feedback, explaining and modelling.

Instructional coaching is high-quality professional development for teachers. It is a high-challenge but a low-risk strategy, aimed at addressing issues teachers face daily in their classrooms. It is ongoing, not a one-off. The goal is twofold: to improve teaching practice and improve student learning.

Instructional coaching is a partnership where a coach works with a teacher to improve teaching and learning and raise student outcomes. To achieve this, instructional coaches collaborate with teachers to get a clear picture of their current teaching, identify goals, choose teaching strategies to meet the goals, monitor progress, and problem-solve until the goals are met.

Benefits of Instructional Coaching for Teachers and Schools

Recent meta-analysis1 on instructional coaching shows promising outcomes for improving practice and subsequent academic gains for students, suggesting that it is a worthy investment of time and effort.

Six benefits of instructional coaching for teachers are, it is:

  • Individualised
  • Intensive
  • Sustained
  • Context-specific
  • Focused
  • Encourages self-reflection

However, the benefits of coaching go far beyond supporting the teacher in just the classroom. When implemented, instructional coaching can also change school culture as resulting improvements impact are across the whole school, not just individual teachers.

Collaboration may also improve where coaches promote and encourage the building of successful relationships within the educational community.

Peer coaching

Peer coaching is the process where teachers of similar or equal status collaborate and support each other through mutual problem-solving, observations, collaborative teaching, and planning. The aim is to improve skills through reflection and collaboration without evaluation or judgement. Whilst helping teachers transfer new skills into their practice, peer coaching also facilitates the development of a culture of learning, experimentation, and collegiality.

Peer coaching works when a teacher invites a coach to observe them. Prior to any classroom observations, the coach and teacher agree the focus of the observation, how data will be collated, guidelines for the coach's role during the observation, the parameters of the discussion of observed teaching, and when they will take place.

The post-observation meeting offers discussion opportunities for the coach and teacher where they can analyse and reflect on the observation outcomes and how to progress.

Peer coaching may also involve a pair or a team of teachers who co-plan a lesson or curriculum unit, problem-solve, analyse videos of lessons or study groups, and conduct action research.

The benefits of peer coaching for teachers

  • Improved student achievement and progress;
  • Increased ability to analyse their lessons;
  • A better grasp of best practices in teaching and learning;
  • A wider repertoire of instructional strategies/resources;
  • A deeper sense of efficacy;
  • A greater feeling of autonomy;
  • Overcoming feelings of isolation;
  • Stronger professional ties and relationships with colleagues;
  • Improved teaching performance;
  • A better-articulated curriculum;
  • A more cohesive school culture/ ethos and positive school climate.

So, how do we develop a coaching culture?

Developing a coaching /high-performance culture is not a quick fix. It takes time and commitment, but the results are worth the effort and can become transformative, changing the language in a school to become more reflective and proactive.

Here are five key steps which I believe support the process of coaching in schools:

Step 1: Set out the 'Why'
Make it clear as to 'WHY'a coaching culture would benefit all. Make sure everyone has a clear understanding and rationale backed up by research. Without it, you will not get the buy-in from across the school. This is the fundamental first step.
Step 2: 'Prepare the Ground'
Once all have understood the ‘why’, there needs to be an analysis of the current situation and decision of the culture to be created, the outcomes to be achieved, and which type of coaching methodology to use. Read research and explore training opportunities, deciding on a common reference or techniques for all staff.
Step 3: 'Create a Plan'
A clear plan must be developed to move forward with clear time frames and actions, clearly communicated and shared with all stakeholders. Ideally, this plan should be integrated into the school’s development or improvement plan, CPD plan and scheduled into directed time. Fail to plan, plan to fail.
Step 4: 'Take Action'
Put the plan into action. When staff all have the same understanding of the workings of particular techniques, the organisation is well prepared for rapid development. Use a common reference point so that, through discussion and practice, each teacher and teacher-coach can engage with the ideas in the same manner, step by step. With shared understanding, the emphasis is then on improving implementation without risking miscommunication or wasting energy on defining the steps.
Step 5: 'Measure and Consolidate'
As with all progress, it needs to be measured and evaluated. One of the keys is to praise small wins and regularly review and communicate progress.

So, the benefits of instructional coaching are plentiful but do remember, for any coaching programme to be effective there needs to be a targeted coaching strategy coupled with robust evaluation of its impact.

1Kraft MA, Blazar D, Hogan D. The Effect of Teacher Coaching on Instruction and Achievement: A Meta-Analysis of the Causal Evidence. Review of Educational Research. 2018;88 (4):547-588 Return to paragraph

Sara Spinks

SSS Author & Former Headteacher