Nicholas McKie is a Professional Certified Coach and Director of Persyou Ltd working with individuals, teams and organisations all over the world to unlock their leadership potential and enhance the quality of educational practice. His book, ‘All Ways Coaching’ outlines how to create a coaching culture in schools. His award winning podcast, ‘Inspiring Leadership’ brings engaging stories from across the world of educational leadership. Nicholas’ career path has been rich and diverse, starting as a professional musician, before entering teaching in the UK and then internationally, rising to school Principal and ISI inspector. He has led schools in Japan, Egypt, China, the US as well as the UK. As an Associate Professor at the University of Warwick, Nicholas developed and established Warwick’s inaugural PGCE international course as well as iQTS with the Department for Education in the UK. Connect with Nicholas on Twitter @McKieNicholas and @PersyouC or on LinkedIn. Website: www.persyou.com
I am a passionate advocate of the value of coaching in education settings. Coaching underpins the development of skills that learners need to fulfil their potential, such as managing change, ownership of learning, agility, and the ability to work with ambiguity. It also has the capacity to positively impact all individuals in a sustainable way across education, revolutionising professional development in the process, from CEOs and headteachers to teachers, students, non-teaching staff and parent communities.
Let’s be clear what is meant by coaching. Coaching has influences from many spheres, including self-help, psychology, psychotherapy, business, sport and cognitive behaviour. If any of these areas sound ‘fluffy’, be in no doubt that coaching in an educational context is based upon a huge volume of research evidence and transformational outcomes.
The overwhelmingly positive impact a coaching culture has includes:*
- Improved staff performance and teaching practice
- Enhanced staff wellbeing
- Sustainable and embedded Continuing Professional Development
- Provides peer support
- Supports trainee teachers
- Improved conversations around teacher development
*van Nieuwerburgh, C. & Barr, M., 2017, ‘Coaching in Education’ in Bachkirova, T., Spence, G. & Drake D. (eds), 2016, The Sage Handbook of Coaching
Creating a coaching culture in your school can shift us away from traditional performance-management cycles to an evolution in the way we manage schools based around people and focused on purpose. Good coaching comforts the troubled and troubles the comfortable.
In my book All Ways Coaching, I explore a framework of pedagogical approaches that align with three ways of coaching, also known as coaching domains: Fundamental, Systemic and Transformative. Understanding these ways of coaching and fusing them with differing approaches to teaching forms the foundation for a coaching way of teaching. Any teacher who is interested in creating a coaching culture in their school will need to evolve through each of the three coaching domains.
The Fundamental domain is the first step on the coaching ladder and I have found it the most widely used and well-known approach across the education sector. It is concerned with the basic skills, processes and models of coaching in a one-to-one coaching relationship, such as in a classroom.
Using Fundamental coaching skills can enhance learning and development through increasing self-awareness and a sense of personal responsibility. The coach facilitates the self-directed learning of the coachee (in this case the student) through the core techniques of questioning, active listening, empathising, acknowledging, paraphrasing and summarising, clarifying and forwarding the action. These are all underpinned by ‘holding’, the creation of a supportive and encouraging environment or space where your student(s) feel confident to engage with you.
Fundamental coaching skills help you move from focussing on yourself to focussing on the coachee (your student). You must strive to be non-directive and non-judgmental and avoid deciding what is best for your coachee. In practical terms this requires the defining of goals, holding the student accountable, and helping students to think through things and come up with answers themselves.
The Systemic domain acknowledges that educational contexts are fluid and can be unpredictable. The Systemic way of coaching reflects that we are part of communities and cultures that shape our language, ways of being, thinking and doing. This is about having a broader perspective, looking beyond the individual to the patterns and dynamics at play in your setting.
Each person’s system is made up of different parts, such as family, community, and social context. Systemic coaching entails acknowledging the backdrop to your students’ lives. That is not to say you should get caught up in their storyline but have an appreciation and awareness of their context.
As a teacher you need to be reflective and self-aware, mindful of the attitude and approach you bring to lessons. In a coaching mindset, we must reflect on what values we are bringing to the table and not let these influence our coaching way of teaching. Educationalists must develop an awareness of the systems to which they themselves belong and these will include leadership, teachers, non-teaching staff, students and community.
As well as individual coaching, Systemic skills and techniques lend themselves to team coaching and group coaching; there are key differences between the two. Group coaching is the coaching of individuals, where individuals take turns to be the focal point while the other group members become part of the coaching resource for that person. The group of people may have a shared interest but no collective responsibility. Unlike group coaching, team coaching is the coaching of a team that has a collective purpose and objective which all members are jointly responsible for fulfilling.
The Fundamental and Systemic domains are an apprenticeship into the mastery of Transformative coaching. Transformative coaching takes into consideration the multi-faceted context of educational settings rather than a linear outlook focused on an individual or system. It is about being fluid and agile rather than rigid in approach. Agility allows for space and creativity to happen, you can provide direction for the conversation and ensure progress is made by referring to your own experience – this challenges the orthodoxy (or fiction) of impartiality in a coaching partnership. Your challenge is how to act with principle: drawing out internal values from the students rather than risk unconsciously imposing your own.
Creating a coaching culture in your school will not happen overnight. The best place to start is to learn, understand and implement basic coaching skills at every opportunity within your school. For a coaching culture to truly embed, flourish and impact student outcomes, every part of the school community must be involved, from leadership to students and beyond.
Kai Vacher, Principal of British School Muscat is a proponent of coaching for school improvement: “If you trust your staff and if you give them the tools, the inspiration and encouragement and support them, it’s incredible what our teachers can do.”
Irfan Latif, Principal of DLD College, London, agrees: “We feel that by giving our students the ability to be coached by our staff and our staff to have those coaching skills, does lead to high performing teams within our school environment, whether in academic departments, in pastoral teams, in the house system or overall as a school.”
Coaching in education has the potential to improve student outcomes, support greater staff autonomy, and encourage confidence and ambition across school communities. What I’ve touched upon here are the first stages of incorporating effective coaching skills into teaching; for a coaching culture to truly flourish and positively impact a school it requires the involvement of all stakeholders, not teachers alone.