Facilitating teacher coaching with an effective leadership style.
What is teacher coaching?
Life in school is busy, to say the least. The pace of the day is fast, and certainly, leaders and staff in schools must be agile in their thinking and decision-making. As a school leader and teacher, you face these challenges daily. Maintaining classroom practice and keeping up to date with teaching practices is challenging even for the experienced teacher. There are different styles of leadership to support these challenges, and dependent on what you read might consist of seven. The seven traditionally labelled styles are Autocratic, Authoritative, Pace Setting, Democratic, Coaching, Affiliative and Laissez – Faire. The table below provides a brief overview of these styles.
There are good points to each of these and indeed all are valid in certain situations and can be appropriate in all professional environments. For example, the autocratic “do as I say” is not popular in current thinking however, if a critical decision needs to be made on the spot as a leader, you will not consult the team. For example, when I received a bomb scare email and was advised to clear the school building, this was NOT the time to reflect and consider.
Being aware of what style you use and when you use it, and why you use it is important. Being self-aware of this may indeed be helpful in adopting the appropriate style for the problem or situation that you face at any given time. Effective coaching practice will aid your development of being self-aware. Once you have built this knowledge about leadership styles and about yourself, you can learn where your gaps are and know what skills you need to develop. This will bring about a positive impact on your leadership and your teaching practices. In reality, a hybrid of styles is, for the most part, what you are most likely to adopt.
I am going to talk about the Coaching style of Leadership in school for senior leaders and coaching for teachers who are carrying out leadership functions. I am not saying that you begin coaching your staff. There potentially could be ethical issues with this, and I would not recommend this.
I am though referring to adopting and using the skills of coaching, using the coaching process, which will be exceedingly useful in leadership roles.
I am currently facilitating an NPQ course, and the teachers I am working with recently mentioned that whilst the coaching style is being promoted in schools, many staff do not feel skilled enough at using it. They would like more support in using the coaching process and for this to be part of their professional development. This is not an unreasonable statement for them to make, bearing in mind that instructional coaches have spent much time and usually money too on their professional development as well as practising these skills.
What is a teacher Coaching style?
It is a style based on collaboration, support and guidance. Leaders who adopt this style are focusing on bringing out the best in their staff by guiding them through goals and challenges. Fundamentally the leader believes in job-embedded professional development. They believe school leaders, experienced teachers, and indeed all staff have the power, skills and knowledge within them. And if not totally there yet, they can grow and develop these skills. Just in the same way that the teacher believes in every young person within their class. It allows for developing your staff; it values learning and looks to the long term. This style is certainly becoming more popular within workplaces. There is scope to develop this instructional coaching process within schools as part of professional learning.
Why is coaching for educators helpful in schools?
Schools are based on valuing the learning process and believing that each child has the potential to thrive. A coaching leadership moves this trust and belief to all its staff. As a leader using this style, you will believe in the ability of your staff to achieve the necessary goals, and skills and you will value the learning process that runs alongside this growth and development in education. So, in many ways, it is part of your continuous professional development plan. An effective coaching style is not just something to use when there is a problem.
What coaching skills are needed by teachers?
To be successful, an effective coaching leadership style relies heavily on providing the educator with feedback. Again, this is a field that schools are good at. For pupils to flourish, powerful teacher practice has been about providing the educator with feedback for years. Developing a coaching culture that allows for feedback conversations is critical if a coaching culture is to be fully embedded.
So, when providing effective feedback, one critical component of this is the asking of questions. A powerful coaching strategy is using highly effective questioning skills. The ability to ask questions which allow for deeper thinking and reflection is required. Think beyond simply open and closed. Coaching practice does require open questions however, importantly, it also needs you to think about what you are really asking. The most powerful questions in coaching mode probably fall into one of the below:
It goes without saying then that once skilled at using different styles of questions in your leadership role, highly effective listening skills must also be active. Instructional coaching practice requires you, when listening to the replies, to focus totally on what is being said. In other words, you are not already thinking about your response. You are paying close attention to the words, body language and gestures. You are deferring judgment, pushing away any thoughts you may have whilst they are talking. One way of putting it is to say you are listening to ignite, not respond. Listen, pause and then reply. You are allowed space before commenting so you can consider your response. This type of listening - deep listening - paves the way for a more positive impact and is more likely to have a longer-lasting impact on teaching practices.
As a school leader, you are invariably faced with multiple problems during any given week, and staff will approach you for solutions. However, if you spend all your time providing these, then three things happen. You are solving all the problems. Your staff are not learning to solve any. As a result, they will keep coming to you.
Coaching in schools can happen in this instant. Developing your coaching culture can exist in these very moments.
The coaching style of leadership or if you like the building of an instructional coaching relationship, which looks to aid your staff make some decisions and solving problems, will seem to take longer at the beginning. I know time is precious. However, over the longer term, it saves you time, allows your team to develop and for them to feel empowered. Imagine if the teachers in the classroom simply gave all the answers to the young people they were teaching. It actually allows for the development of senior leaders and job-embedded professional development for teachers.
Imagine, which will not be difficult, a member of staff comes to you with a problem. You could simply try and assist and solve the problem by giving them an answer. You have probably managed many situations like this, and they can generally be dealt with rapidly. Have you saved time? Have you allowed for senior leaders to develop? Have you allowed for the development of teachers?
Consider an alternative approach with the same problem. Using the power of three approaches, you ask them for three things about the issue. They will need to pause and think – particularly initially, as they are not used to this approach. After they have shared their three possible issues, ask them to consider three possible consequences. Again, they may need to think and pause. Once these have been shared, ask them to tell you three things they could do about it. You can go on and ask which one they would choose and to talk you through their reasoning.
Once a coaching culture of having coaching conversations has been embedded, this will become very rapid, and indeed they may no longer come to you as often.
When can teacher coaching be used in School?
As already mentioned, this style of coaching conversation can be used in daily conversations and for in-the-moment opportunities for job-embedded professional learning, growth and development. However, it can also be used in the process of performance management and appraisals, lesson observations and book looks.
For example, when carrying out performance management and appraisals, if the focus is on the school leader, the school teacher, teaching assistant or other members of staff, then they can lead their own professional development program and their own area for development in their teaching practices. Remove targets about children's results and focus on the whole person in front of you. What do they want to develop? What skills would they like to grow? Using coaching questions and high-quality listening skills as a development tool will allow for a better conversation. In other words, these meetings are framed as coaching sessions might be. The effects of coaching will be powerful. Bearing in mind the expert teacher will by default, get the best from their class/young people.
If carrying out book looks and lesson observations, link in with the teacher about what focus they want you to have. Let them set the focus. What skills have they been working on, and what is it they were looking to grow and develop? Again, during the feedback meetings, continue with the instructional coaching approach. You are not telling them how it was; they are informing you of where they are at. You are the conduit allowing them to think and reflect. In other words, you are equipping them with the knowledge and opportunities to develop themselves and become more effective. Ultimately it becomes part of the cycle of professional development. It becomes a form of coaching for teachers.
Final thoughts on teacher coaching
Teacher coaching as a means of developing staff and as a leadership style has many advantages. The effects of coaching will bring about more autonomy for your staff, they will feel more valued and feel more part of the team and ultimately have a positive impact on classroom student learning. All factors that David Scarf talks about in his SCARF model of motivation. That said, it is a skill set that needs to be developed to have a sustained impact on daily teaching practice. It can take time to develop these skills and to feel confident adopting this approach. Spending time developing coaching skills and tools is, though very much worth the effort. Coaching as a style or approach to leadership is well worth having as part of your professional development program that will ultimately lead to effective teaching practice and have a positive impact on student learning outcomes.
Frances Robertson, having recently retired from headship, offers confidential support for teachers, school leaders and headteachers to ensure wellbeing and professional development through reflective supervision and coaching as well as offering educational consultancy support. Visit www.headsconnect.co.uk
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