Coaching impacts schools profoundly, transforming the culture and empowering the staff.
Our flagship coaching school East Park Academy in Wolverhampton has been named in the DfE top 100 most improved schools.
Hayley Guest, the Head Teacher and Leadership Edge Master coach writes about their journey from Special Measure to Outstanding and the role of coaching in her response back to the DfE:
“As a long standing advocate of coaching, I began to develop a coaching approach that enabled leaders, in the first instance, to be the best that they could be.
The Strategic team began to coach each member of the senior leadership team, providing them with a safe, confidential thinking space where they could explore whatever they wanted to explore, we describe this as ‘pure coaching’. This could be directly associated with their leadership role but could also be used to tackle personal challenges too.
The impact of this was felt immediately as we began to see leaders lead! By exploring their ideas and strategies, through coaching, they were able to act independently and were empowered to follow through with their considered strategies.
The voice of East Park was incredibly important throughout our journey, the voice of the children, the staff and our families. It sounds obvious but we talk to them all the time! In written form this is carried out at least once every half term. By actively engaging with everyone and actively listening, we were able to shape our school using our whole community and our coaching approach started to spread!"
How do I see coaching?
If coaching means anything, it needs to deliver positive change. I have personally found that coaching creates a structured opportunity for professional dialogue to play out where new solutions can be found in the safe haven of a thinking space whilst built on trust, relationship, openness and honesty. It is this golden thread that makes coaching so powerful in the development and empowerment of people, their thinking and their capacity.
I believe that when a school signs up and embraces the core principles of coaching thoughtful and committed relationships are forged with trust, respect, sensitivity to the emotions involved, then the culture of coaching can breed.
As part of the coaching journey ignited this year, I feel that coaching at Manor Primary is not just a ‘Buzz’ word but is now slowly beginning to be part of the culture in the ‘way we do things round here’ and ‘what staff talk about’. As part of the coaching this year, I can see the growth of staff who would have in the past, ‘passed on their monkey to senior leaders’ and now are growing in self-direction, taking increasing responsibility for their own choices with the skill and confidence to execute those choices to drive their own development. From this, a learning environment is created that has opened new doors to innovation, risk taking and positive change.
Through experience on both sides of the fence, I have found out that empowering staff through coaching rather than mentoring (telling them what to do) counselling or teaching, gives staff clarity of mind and pathways to grow through a ‘future focussed’ approach. This is instrumental in creating an environment where autonomy and ownership can significantly impact on school improvement.
I truly feel that coaching (at all levels) has the potential to bring about both significant improvements in performance and to unlock very positive and profound changes in ourselves and in others.
Master Coach at Manor Primary
We went from RI to Good!
Empowering others I feel is my favourite part of the coaching process. Seeing my colleagues grow in confidence and self-belief as they talk things through and realise that actually they aren’t as far away from their goals as they thought, or that they now have a clear plan or pathway to achieve their goal - I find really satisfying.
Empowering others so that they rely on their own skills and knowledge and not become passive learners has been critical.
I have to be honest and say that in some sessions I found myself offering ideas/advice and had to stop myself as I look at the image on the front of my file – ‘It’s not my monkey!’ J
It was also the realisation that actually I don’t know best and my coachees were all capable of coming up with their own ideas, plans or suggestions. I have gained so much information about each of the coachees and can honestly say in all cases my working relationships have improved as a result of honest conversation and a build-up of trust.
I would be very proud to gain Master level accreditation in the next academic year. I am aware that there is a commitment to share ideas and practices regularly and I feel this would be so valuable for myself personally and for our school.
Practitioner Coach at Abbey Primary School
Coaching in a school that Requires Improvement
Coaching above all has given me confidence. As a leader, I doubted my ability to create change. I had a number of important goals, goals I had had for a while but couldn’t see a way forward. I believe I had the leadership skills and knew what I wanted to achieve but at times couldn’t decide upon the best course of action. This resulted in me ignoring these issues rather than meeting them directly.
Being able to talk without judgment and in a confidential environment, meant that I could see a way forward. It made me realise that the task ahead was manageable and by breaking it up into sizable chunks meant that week on week I was able to achieve my goal. Each session built my confidence further allowing me to reflect upon what I had achieved already giving me a sense of achievement.
Each time I felt like giving up, I could hear my coach inside my head. I started thinking about what they would say to encourage. What questions would I be asked to help me reflect?
Change is beginning to occur within our school setting and I feel excited that I have been instrumental in that, but the biggest change has been within myself; I have developed the right mindset in order to have impact.
You need to approach the sessions with an open mind because until you take part, you do not appreciate how powerful they can be. I also found the first few sessions exhausting and emotionally draining. I felt this was because I was challenged and I found that following the sessions I continued to reflect and search within myself for the answers. I would advise them to be prepared for challenge, but be prepared for how empowered you will feel!
Foundation Stage Coach
Val Hughes - a fictional coach on 'what matters most in school leadership
Once upon a time a school leader sat in her officer secretly wishing that she had a magic wand to help her sort through the pile of papers and the list of urgent tasks ahead of her.
She had read a lot about the power of POSITIVE THINKING and also believed in POSITIVE SELF TALK. She said aloud “When I want to park my car I pray to the car parking god, when I want good weather I pray to the sunshine god, who can help me in school?”
Before her eyes there was a flash and a strange little woman no more that 25cm high stood on her desk “Why she said, you need me. Let me introduce myself VAL HUGHES, I teach leadership lessons.”
The school leader stared at Val in disbelief.
“I’ve never heard of you before,” she said.
“I know but you have often wished for a helping hand, at last you have decided to ask for help and here I am. What can I do to help?”
“Right” said the school leader, “I have so much to do and not enough time, can you do some of these jobs for me?”
Val laughed, “You need a proactive system to guide you through your day,” she replied, “Then you will have enough time to do what is urgent, but also to do what is important to you. I am here to guide you through the process; you have all the resources within yourself to handle your workload.”
Val gave a wink and a rainbow appeared on the school leaders’ office wall. “Just follow the rainbow,” said Val. Here watch the screen in your mind and my leadership lesson will begin………..The leader closed her eyes and the film began…..
A smart looking lady stood on the platform of a train station, her name was VAL. She was carrying a bunch of VIOLETS which she had just purchased.
A PLATFORM GUARD came up to Val just as her train had stopped and the train doors opened. INDIGO, get IN-TO-IT he said pointing at the train
Val got into the train and found a seat. Before long a ticket collector appeared. He was wearing a BLUE uniform with a peaked cap. The band around his cap had the words “WHAT MATTERS MOST?” written on it.
The train continued its’ journey, before long it came to the next stop, the local footaball ground. The lush GREEN pitch had been well prepared and the GOAL posts were firmly in place, ready for Saturday’s match.
Val could see that the TEAM were on the pitch practicing for the match, they were wearing their team colours of YELLOW, their shirts had the familiar U on the front of them. This was to remind them of the teams slogan “We can’t spell success without U.” This was also written in bold letters along the top of the clubhouse.
As the train continued its’ journey Val saw a strange looking man hopping along the side of the track, his toe was wrapped in an ORANGE bandage. “He looks like he’s had a mis hap !” thought Val, good job he has that stick to help him walk.
As the train approached Val’s stop, she gazed at her REFLECTION in the train window, then gathering her violets and her RED bag she got off the train. She looked ahead and saw the familiar sight of the news-seller who was shouting “READ all about it!” Val walked over to him and purchased her nightly paper and sat down on a bench to look at it.
The leader opened her eyes, Val was still there. “Well..” said Val, “what has my journey taught you?” I’m confused replied the school leader, what’s any of this to do with leading in a school?
Okay, let’s start with the first colour of the rainbow: RED, said Val.
RED for READ and REFLECT. Take time to reflect on the tasks you have to do, order them according to IMPORTANCE not just urgency, or you can fill your day dealing with just the urgent and never getting round to the things that are important to you. You also need to make time to learn, you are the leader so make time to read books which energise and inspire you, this will keep your energy levels up.
ORANGE for OPTIMISTIC. It is important that you have a positive attitude, staff look to you as their leader, if you have a negative aura around you, then everyone else will follow your lead, they will soon be the same and the energy level of your school will plummet.
“Stay positive, even when times get challenging and remember it’s not just your language but also your body language which speaks volumes. Optimistic staff stay energised even when times are stressful.
YELLOW for YOU. Every member of your team is important if your school is to be effective. You are the leader, you set the example, your role is to ensure that each member of the team know that they count too. You need to tell them often “YOU are important to this school.” Catch them doing things right and praise them; re-direct privately when necessary and cheer them on to do their best work, one where they find purpose and meaning. You can’t have a successful school without committed staff.
Pupil improvement and achievement starts with the staff-all of you!
GREEN for GOALPOSTS. Everyone likes to know where they stand. It is your role as leader to keep the goal posts as stable as possible. It is frustrating if as a member of staff you get different messages about what you need to be doing. Keep your language clear and concise, check that staff know what you expect of them, share the workload, get their feedback, offer support, coach them and enable each person to fulfill their role. This will increase job satisfaction.
BLUE for BIG QUESTIONS. What are the IMPORTANT issues? What matters most? These are the matters that you should focus your energy and attention on. Prioritise and when the top job is complete, look at the list and re-prioritise, this way you will deal with the most important issues every time.
INDIGO for INTUITION. So often decisions made by a good leader are intuitive, then they become strategies. What feels right? What solutions about the task in hand are going through your mind? Go with your feelings, or sound them out with your leadership team. Ignore your intuition at your peril.
VIOLET for VALUES. It sits at the base of the rainbow, supporting all the others. If in doubt, go back to your organisational values. What have you and your staff agreed as your organisational values? What matters most in your school. Do all staff, children and families know what values you live by? If not, why not! Agree them, display them, speak about them, live by them.
After all said Val why do you think I am called Val Hughes!
So now you are ready to start your day. You are the leader, follow the rainbow and create the school you want to be the leader of.
Your leadership rainbow will help me with organisational leadership, how do I know how to organise and lead myself said the school leader? “I can help you with that too,” said Val, YOU NEED A COACH to support you on your journey!