Over recent years coaching has grown in popularity in schools. In this blog I wish to raise the key question of the differences between coaching and mentoring and also explore the impact that coaching can have in a school.
Coaching and mentoring, while related, are not the same process. While the end goal - staff professional development leading to improved pupil outcomes - may be the same, the process and underlying need for the two forms of development are very different. Generally within a school context we associate mentors with NQTs. Mentoring is at its core, an ‘expert’ supporting, guiding and advising a member of staff. Mentoring is necessary if an individual does not yet have the experience, knowledge or expertise themselves to find their own solutions and drive their own development. Coaching assumes the individual already has this ‘expertise’ within themselves; they will be able to find answers, solutions and direction, though perhaps they have not yet realised this. A coach empowers the individual to unlock this potential.
The key principles of coaching could be summarised as:
- Non-judgemental/non-critical support
- A belief in the coachee’s capacity to learn, develop and change
- Recognising strengths and building self-confidence
- Challenging the coachee to step outside their comfort zone
- A belief that there are always solutions to issues
- Breaking down seemingly large challenges into smaller, achievable steps
There are many formats a coaching session can take. Within a school context it is essential to ensure a level of consistency; a common approach to coaching sessions is important. If establishing a coaching team, emphasis should be placed on developing this. At St Mary’s Primary School Slough we decided to use the GROW model for coaching as this is simple yet effective.
The GROW model consists of four basic stages:
Stage 1 Establishing Goals: The coach questions the coachee, establishing the coachee’s long and short term goals. (Within a school context, the long term goals could be established in September; short term goals can link into these and be developed on a session by session basis.)
Stage 2 Establishing Reality: The coach questions the coachee, helping them to verbalise, realise and accept the current reality as regards to these goals. Without an acknowledgment of the reality, the coachee would not have an intrinsic need or desire to work on their goals.
Stage 3 Generating Options: The coachee lists multiple options, actions that could be taken to address the reality and achieve the short term goals.
Stage 4 Committing to Actions – Will: The coachee decides which of the options they will commit themselves to; develops a timeframe for these actions to take place in; establishes how they will identify if the actions have resulted in achievement of short term goals and the impact of this could be measured.
GROW Model – Possible Questions
Here are the types of questions that could be asked at each stage of the GROW coaching session. The list of questions is in no way exhaustive, especially as questions should carefully build on what the coachee is saying. However, they may be helpful if you have never coached before.
Goals - Example Questions:
- What would you like to achieve by the end of this coaching session/by the end of next week/ by half term/by Christmas etc?
- Which of these things (the coachee will most likely have come up with multiple goals) is most important to you and why? (Could use a 1-10 scale)
- Consider the bigger picture. What would you like to be different by Christmas/Easter/End of this academic year?
- Talk me through what success or improvement would look like?
- What is your priority for the immediate future?
Reality – Example Questions:
- Can you describe what happened when….?
- Did you expect that to happen? Can you explain further?
- Has it happened before? Tell me about this.
- What may have contributed to this?
- What is one word you would use to describe/characterise that lesson/episode/aspect?
Options - Example Questions:
- What could a teacher/a subject leader (etc) do in that situation? (Do depersonalise the issues; focus on strategies, not people.)
- What are all the different ways that we could approach this issue?
- What could we do if we were able to start with a totally clean sheet?
- What else might we do?
- Plant possibilities: I wonder what it would be like if….? Imagine what it would be like if…?
- Would you like a suggestion from me?
- What would be the benefit of this option?
- What would we lose by doing it?
- What do we control about this situation…May I challenge your response?
Will - Example Questions:
- We’ve generated quite a few possibilities; which one are you going to go for?
- Which option will give you greater results?
- When are you planning to do this?
- What do you need to do first?
- How committed are you to making this change?
- Can you summarise for me what you’ve decided to do?
- If I can summarise what you have decided to do….
- What further help would you like from me?
In St Mary’s the coaching aspect of our Teaching and Learning Team started two years ago. It started small with just two teachers taking part in coaching focused on moving their teaching from consistently good to consistently outstanding. A year on, coaching was rolled out to all teachers who were not NQTs and were good enough to not need the expert advice of a mentor. As the lead for this team, I carefully paired coaches and coachees; ensuring no coach was overloaded and coaches had some understanding of the teaching and potentially the leadership demands of the coachee. Whilst the latter is not essential, as the coachee is empowered to find their own route, I felt it an important aspect of developing a relationship of mutual respect.
Setting up successful coaching does require time and thought; a senior leadership team who believe in and openly advocate its potential and a member of staff to lead it, inspiring both coaches and coachees to invest in it. If a school can get this right, coaching can have a significant impact on the quality of teaching and learning and, through the sense of empowerment involved, raise the morale of staff. Coaching can enable a school to personalise professional development for teaching staff and can combine effectively with the peer observations, in-house staff CPD and videoing of teaching. Coaching proves most effective when staff want to achieve the goals they set themselves and feel empowered to do so. As a colleague of mine recently said, “Coaching has developed my problem solving skills, enabling me to realise and accept my own weaknesses as a teacher and put actions in place to build on them.” When the coach keeps in regular contact with the coachee between official coaching sessions the coachee feels fully supported in this journey.
Significantly, undertaking the role of a coach is also an empowering developmental experience. For me coaching middle leaders has been an exciting experience. Whilst middle leaders have had goals related to their own teaching practice, many also have a goal linked to their leadership role. This has given me an opportunity to deepen my own understanding of the vital role of middle leaders in school, the reality of different leadership styles and to reflect on my own development as a leader.
The most important pieces of advice I would want to give a school considering establishing a coaching team are: make sure coaches have a shared approach; establish a common understanding of the purpose and potential of coaching and pair coaches and coachees carefully. It is my belief that for coaching to have the potential for success, the relationship built between the coach and the coachee is paramount with respect and trust being at the root of this relationship.