Coach your staff to the top

3rd March 2006 at 00:00
I am considering introducing coaching as a way of improving staff development in our secondary school. There are one or two members of staff who are interested in taking the lead on this. I want to introduce it in the right way so that it does not prove to be counter-productive. We are thinking of making a presentation to all staff about this, but before we go ahead what advice would you give us?

The first thing you need to make clear is why you think coaching is going to improve staff development. This will involve defining what you see as the nature and purpose of coaching. Be clear about the why: what is the outcome that you are after? Heads have used coaching to achieve a variety of outcomes, including one or more of the following:

* to improve pupil behaviour

* to embed assessment for learning

* to build a team

* to improve pupil progress

* to spread good practice across their schools.

The beauty of coaching is that you can match the expertise of your coaches to the specific agenda you are working on. And there are probably as many different ways of understanding what coaching is as there are members of your staff.

Some will immediately think of the coach from the realm of sport; others may think of the recent increase in the practice of the use of life coaches in business.

What image do you want yours to have and why? Do you want them to develop their professional skills, knowledge and strategies in relation to a specific area of the school improvement plan?

Some of your staff will want you to tell them how a coach is different from a mentor. One difference is that usually mentoring involves a relationship between a more experienced person and one who is less experienced, where the more experienced person takes the lead. Coaching does not necessarily require this type of relationship. The coach does not have to be more experienced than the person receiving the coaching.

Heads who have used coaching in their schools usually talk about not just their desire to make a difference to pupil learning but also their intention to make a commitment to professional learning, as you appear to want to do as well. They also believe that they already have staff who can facilitate this process with their peers.

This gives a powerful message to staff that you trust, value and want to use their own expertise for the greater good of the school. This can increase confidence and raise the self-esteem of colleagues.

There is a really sensitive toolkit of skills required by the coach if they are to be effective. They need to possess high-order listening skills and be able to ask questions to elicit real and profound understanding. They need to be natural and comfortable operating in this mode as opposed to adopting an instructional style.

They must be able to create an emotional climate based on trust, respect, honesty and openness so that challenge is enabled in a natural and non-threatening way. All this is easier said than done and one slip-up can unravel the whole endeavour. Choose your coaches carefully.

Get this right, though, and you will reap fantastic dividends. If you successfully unlock this potent potential in your coaches then you will be able to bring out the best in those who are coached. Be sure that the staff who volunteer match up to this photofit. If you are unsure invest in developing these skills first.

Key messages for your staff presentation need to include:

* I want to promote your learning as well as our pupils

* succession management is important in this school, therefore we cultivate potential

* coaching will enable us to achieve these

* I have the people here who can make this happen.

Patrick McDermott is head of St Joseph's Catholic college, an 11-18 girls'

school, in Bradford. This is his third headship, and he has been a head for 12 years and a teacher for 27. He is a facilitator for the National College for School Leadership and mentored Catholic heads for 10 years.Do you have a leadership question? Email

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