Matt Topliss, International School Leader and Experienced Educational Consultant

Matt Topliss is an international school leader and experienced educational consultant with a demonstrated history of sustained success in educational leadership. He has completed an MA in Education and NPQH. Matt has led schools in the UK, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, and from August 2024, Japan. He is a Leadership Performance Coach and NPQ Assessor. Matt has contributed to internationally focussed articles in the educational press, spoken at leading educational conferences, is a Fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching, and is an International Subject Matter Expert for the SELIN Club. Matt has completed the Accredited Performance Coach course and is an IBEN Member.


In today’s dynamic educational landscape, effective leadership is paramount to the success of schools and the achievement of their missions. While traditional professional development programs offer valuable knowledge and skills, executive coaching stands out as a powerful tool for driving profound, personalised growth in educational leaders and teachers. By focusing on individual needs and goals, executive coaching can unlock a leader’s full potential, fostering significant improvements in performance and overall effectiveness. Gone are the days when simply providing enhancements and training in curriculum, assessment, behaviour management and other areas of pedagogical provision are enough to stimulate and develop teaching colleagues and therefore drive student outcomes and school improvement. Now is the time to understand, value, and champion teachers and put their progression at the centre of a school’s priorities.

Supporting colleagues to understand their areas of strength and development must now be at the heart of a school’s core business alongside the focused provision of dynamic and personalised continuing professional development and performance management. Executive coaching is prevalent in all areas of society and this should be replicated across all sectors of education.

Executive coaching is a personalised, one-on-one developmental process designed to enhance performance, self-awareness, and impact. Unlike traditional professional development that often takes a one-size-fits-all approach, executive coaching is tailored to the unique challenges and goals of each teacher or leader. This individualised attention helps leaders and teachers navigate complex issues, develop new competencies, and achieve their professional aspirations. The focus on the development of well-being in schools, which has rightly escalated since the Covid pandemic is supported by a closer and more personalized approach to staff development and progression.

A critical component of effective leadership is self-awareness, the ability to recognise and understand one’s own emotions, strengths, and weaknesses. Executive coaching helps colleagues develop this self-awareness by providing a mirror through which they can view their own teaching and their impact on student progress and learning. This is particularly true when considering the effectiveness of pedagogy in the classroom and interactions with students.

As colleagues become more attuned to their pedagogy, they can understand their strengths and areas for development in their teaching more effectively and build stronger relationships with their students.

Teachers and leaders are often faced with complex decisions that require careful consideration and strategic thinking. Regardless of the seniority of the colleague, encouragement of the ‘bigger picture’ and strategic thinking in schools must be in place to support organisational cohesion and development. Executive coaching equips teachers and leaders with the tools and frameworks needed to approach decision-making with greater clarity and confidence. Coaches challenge leaders and teachers to think critically, consider multiple perspectives, and weigh the potential outcomes of their choices. This enhanced decision-making capability is invaluable in navigating the ever-changing demands of educational leadership.

The ability to adapt to change and bounce back from setbacks is essential for long-term success. This is central to the well-being focus that schools must have in place. Executive coaching fosters resilience by helping teachers and leaders develop coping strategies and a growth mindset. Through reflective practice and guided exploration, colleagues learn to view challenges as opportunities for learning and growth. This resilience not only benefits colleagues themselves but also sets a positive example for modelling to their students.

Executive coaching is a holistic process that addresses both personal and professional development needs. Coaches work with teachers and leaders to set specific, measurable goals that align with their career aspirations and wider school improvement objectives. The ongoing support and accountability provided by a coach ensure that leaders and teachers stay focused and motivated, continually pushing the boundaries of their potential.

The value placed on staff well-being, personalised self-evaluation, and development must be balanced with the wider school priorities. A system of self-evaluation, coaching, performance management, and whole-staff consultation is therefore needed to support the broad agenda of development and progression across the school. Executive coaching is an integral part of this wider supportive approach to staff development and supports staff retention and recruitment.

The Performance Development Programme was used in a leading international school to support and develop pedagogy through a coaching and progression model. The following elements were embedded for all staff teaching and assisting teaching across the 3-18 age range within the school. The key elements of this coaching process, building a strong coach-coachee relationship, creating a safe and supportive environment, using insightful questions and active listening, and providing constructive feedback and accountability are at the heart of this process. Coaches are members of the senior or middle leadership teams who receive bespoke coach training before the programme begins.

The coaching journey begins with a thorough assessment to self-identify the teacher’s strengths, areas for improvement, and overall goals. This is self-assessment and is centred on a review of competency against the teacher or leader standards. Based on these insights, the coach and coachee collaboratively set clear, achievable goals that guide the coaching process. Lesson visits are conducted by the coach only and a strong working relationship is established between the coach and coachee that supports more general well-being.

With goals in place, the coachee creates a tailored coaching plan that addresses the teacher’s specific needs. This plan outlines the lesson visits, book and data scrutinies that will take place and the review sessions that are planned alongside the coaching sessions throughout the school year. The emphasis is on the coachee to drive the process with regular sessions and time for review scheduled alongside the programme of three lesson visits through the school year. Judgements on lessons are not included but a focus is added to support lesson planning, assessment and targeted impact with the class that is being taught. Observations of the coach as a teacher may also take place to support understanding and development.

Coaching sessions are the heart of the executive coaching process. These one-on-one meetings provide a safe space for teachers to explore their progress against the agreed goals, reflect on their experiences, and define what is working and what needs further development. Coaches use powerful questions and active listening to guide leaders and teachers toward their next steps and to celebrate their achievements.

To ensure the effectiveness of the coaching process, progress is measured against the initial goals at three points throughout the academic year. This involves evidencing qualitative and quantitative data. Adjustments to the coaching plan are made as needed to keep the coachee on track and maximise their development. This process then feeds into a PDP portfolio which can inform and support the Performance Management processes in school.

Executive coaching is a transformative process that can significantly enhance the leadership potential of educational professionals. By focusing on individualised growth, fostering self-awareness, and providing ongoing support, executive coaching helps colleagues navigate the complexities of their roles and achieve their highest aspirations. As schools continue to face new challenges and opportunities, investing in executive coaching for teaching staff is a strategic move that can drive meaningful, sustained improvement in educational outcomes.

By embracing the power of executive coaching, educational leaders and teachers can unleash their full potential, creating a positive ripple effect that benefits their teams, students, and entire school communities.

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