James is currently the Senior Vice Principal and DSL at DLD College London, having joined in September 2020, initially to look after the boarding aspect of the school – where over 50 nationalities live on site. In addition to managing the day-to-day operations of the school, he is responsible for the pastoral life of the school, looking after boarding, the house system, well-being, and health care, as well as the co-curricular life of the school. He has taught Business, Economics, and History to A level. Prior to joining DLD College, James spent 14 years at St John’s School, Leatherhead, where he was Assistant Head (Boarding and Co-Curricular), having been a Head of Department and Housemaster of the largest boys’ boarding house in the school before this. Outside of school, James is Chair of Governors at a special school in the state sector, and a Team Manager for the Surrey Schools’ Athletics Team, as well as studying for a doctorate in education in his ‘spare’ time.
People may argue whether the above quote was from Confucius or Franklin, but all coaches can agree that the sentiment is undeniable. For too long in education, we have been focused on the premise that teachers tell the students in front of them what to do, spoon-feeding them to academic grades – but at the same time, this has been doing students a disservice beyond the summer examinations. Reminding ourselves that our role is to ‘educate’ and not simply ‘get grades’, my mantra has always been to find a way to help our students to become successful 25-year-olds.
From teacher to coach – the impact of coaching on students
This is where coaching comes into its own. Coaching is about meeting the person where they are and directing them to consider what they could do to improve their position – and what they need to do to make it happen. The passive element of returning work with a mark at the bottom, never to be looked at again, is replaced with constructive dialogue that enables the student to meaningfully move forwards, with full awareness and in control.
This does take time, and time is certainly a commodity we are all looking for more of in our day. However, coaching is about playing the long game; it takes time to bed in the new culture, but once in place, I have found that it frees up time that in the past might have been spent on unnecessary feedback – and at least now they’re involved, this feedback is being listened to and actioned!
Some key readings to start you off
In his book “All ways coaching”, Nicholas McKie guides his readers through how a coaching approach to education can transform how schools run, benefiting all stakeholders in a school and setting up our young people with the tools to do a lot more than simply pass examinations. Whilst teachers today seem to have an endless list of roles and tasks we are expected to perform, I have always believed we owe our students the gift of education in a much wider sense, and being able to manage their own progress, find their own solutions and put in place a plan of action to achieve those solutions, is just that.
Similarly, I have found Christian van Nieuwerburgh’s “Coaching in Education” to be well worth a read. In addressing the various groups of people in a school – students, educators, and even parents – and looking at how they can be involved, it focuses on how to bring about better results for the individual and the school. All stakeholders need to be on board with the concept of coaching and moving away from the more traditional routes if the culture of coaching is to be truly embedded, but highlighting how coaching can benefit all of these stakeholders is certainly one way to help achieve this feat a little quicker. I am always surprised by the way different people take to coaching – some are super keen but need a lot of work to become good, and others come across as less keen initially, but often have the skills, and just need to be shown the potential outcomes coaching can bring, to allow them to buy into it.
In real terms, coaching in the classroom involves a number of individual conversations. I have found that this is best resourced by creating a space where students can be accessing other learning, whilst the teacher engages in one-to-one conversations around the work recently returned, or goals (for example, grades to access university courses). Agreement on where things are currently given both teacher and student a solid base from which to build. Reflection is key and students taking time to consider their role – how active a learner are they, how much they listen to feedback and implement it, for example – will help to align the conversation and from there, the correct next steps can be decided. I have found this hugely empowering for the learner, and makes them want to engage more, rather than simply file away the test paper, never to be seen again!
Studies across several major countries have shown that coaching can improve academic progress, as well as the usually focused benefits of improving levels of pastoral care, reducing anxiety, and increasing socialisation and self-confidence (all so important as we continue to manage the aftereffects of the global pandemic). These studies suggest that in schools where coaching has been effectively implemented, where school leaders have taken the time to bed in a cultural change, a positive impact has been seen on examination grades. Surely, this makes coaching our students a no-brainer, when there are so many positive results to look forward to at the end of the process!
From the bottom up and the top down – student coaches
Student coaches offer a solution to the concerns of the time. Over my near-twenty years in education, I have seen young people become more socially aware and keen to give back. Training them to deliver coaching offers one such way to do this.
The joy of coaching is that the coach does not need to be an expert, so this offers a perfect way to encapsulate coaching into our ways of working. The student accessing help does not feel ‘less than’ their counterpart but has someone to help them channel their focus, adding another layer to that of the teacher and also helping where there may be time constraints. Both sides win and gain from the conversation and students lead the positive change forwards – being involved brings change.
Answering the call for change in education
Coaching is not for everyone, and indeed it is not the quick fix that so many of us may have sought in the past. However, at a time when we are seeing a push for standards to rise, and a need to prepare and fuel our young people to be more than just a set of examination results, the question is how we will achieve these goals. Maybe now is the time to see if coaching is the answer, you’ve been looking for.