Designing an effective coaching programme is complex, and there are lots of hurdles to overcome.
When an instructional coaching programme isn’t working very well, it’s often because coaching has been launched too quickly, resulting in three key barriers):
- there isn’t sufficient buy-in from staff or a shared belief in the power of coaching; it feels like yet another new initiative or task
- systems are not in place to protect coaches’ time and to support them to complete their observation and feedback cycles consistently
- Coaches haven’t had enough training on how to plan and deliver impactful feedback and rehearsal
In this blog, Lizzie outlines the series of incremental steps she took to launch coaching and ensure she did not encounter these barriers at Harris Academy St John’s Wood.
Lizzie’s approach is an excellent blueprint for launching coaching for the first time, or for taking a step back and making tweaks to improve an existing programme.
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you are in a similar position to me: a school leader who is a big advocate of the power of instructional coaching and keen to get staff involved, but also aware that launching a whole-school initiative can be fraught with difficulty. The last thing you want is to make coaching yet another task on staff to-do lists.
At my previous school, I’d seen what a positive impact coaching has on both teacher practice and the teaching and learning culture in a school. When I started leading on Teaching and Learning in September 2021, I knew I wanted to start an instructional coaching programme.
I set myself the aim of having all staff involved in an instructional coaching programme by September 2022. I developed an implementation plan that involved achieving a series of manageable steps throughout the year, and laying the foundations for a strong whole-school launch the following September.
The steps we took worked because we had buy-in from the whole of SLT, and an agreement that we would prioritise coaching and remove other focuses to make time for it.
Step 1: Launch positive lesson drop-ins and build a culture of peer feedback
In the Autumn term, our first step was to ensure staff felt comfortable welcoming colleagues into their lessons and receiving peer feedback. We achieved this by launching drop-ins, encouraging all teachers to visit 2-3 lessons a week and leave some positive feedback or a shoutout.
We wanted to ensure everyone recognised that this was not an accountability measure, but a way to learn from each other and celebrate success, hence keeping it to positive feedback only.
When we launched this in a whole-school professional development session, I asked everyone to bring their laptops so we could get accounts up and running straight away and asked everyone to schedule 2 or 3 drop-ins that they would complete that week to make it ‘sticky’.
We also launched a competition for the department that completed the most drop-ins per person during the first half term of the initiative.
This had a strong start, with dozens of drop-ins being completed each day and multiple shout-outs being given. This meant that staff felt familiar with the platform and enjoyed using it to go out into the school and see what people were up to in different departments. In our weekly bulletin, I made a quick suggestion each week of who to drop-in on to see specific strategies in action.
- Start with positive-only drop-ins
- Set the technology up together to remove barriers
- Ask staff to schedule and commit to drop-ins during your launch
- Use competition to celebrate early engagement with drop-ins
Step 2: Develop the quality of drop-in feedback by providing training on how to suggest action steps
Throughout the year, we provided on-going training to develop the quality of drop-in feedback. In January, once drop-ins were fairly established, we wanted staff to begin leaving each other more developmental feedback. We asked staff to focus on specific teaching techniques such as warm-strict and pose-pause-name questioning, covered in our January INSET and professional development sessions. We also teamed this with regular refresher training on cognitive science, based on high-quality research.
We watched videos of volunteer teachers modelling these techniques, and trained staff on how to identify the highest-leverage action step that would increase impact on learning. Our scaffolding gave staff a common language for providing precise feedback, and the narrow focus developed their confidence with writing effective developmental action steps.
This created a common understanding of ‘leverage’ and setting a colleague an action step, which laid the foundations for gradually introducing instructional coaching.
- Once staff are confident with leaving positive feedback, provide training on how to suggest next steps
- Link the focus of drop-ins to recent professional development sessions and narrow their focus
- Ask staff to practise writing feedback in professional development sessions first, providing scaffolding and support
Step 3: Launch a pilot instructional coaching programme with willing volunteers
Alongside our work on drop-ins, in the Autumn term, we trialled a small number of staff completing weekly coaching. We worked with two groups of eager staff – SLT and RQTs (recently qualified teachers).
Serendipitously, we had 9 members of SLT and 9 RQTs, so after some training using The Steplab Coaching Programme resources, SLT began coaching. It was brilliant to speak to colleagues and hear their positive feedback about using the platform and the improvements they were seeing week on week. We felt proud that we had cultivated a group of early adopters who could spread the word on the power of instructional coaching. It was also vital that the whole of SLT were behind instructional coaching and driving it in its early roll out.
After the first half term of the programme, I asked for feedback from both groups. Most respondents were highly positive, but as expected, the greatest barrier was finding time for coaching meetings. This reinforced the importance of having a dedicated time slot for feedback when we launched to the whole school. (See step 5 for how we implemented this).
- Start with a small pilot group who are eager to participate and train them carefully
- Take regular feedback to help shape further roll out
Step 4: Recruit further volunteers and widen participation in the programme
Feeling confident that instructional coaching was gaining a good reputation in the school, at the end of January we opened the programme up and recruited 10 strong staff members to take part. These volunteers had a range of experience, so we decided to set them up as reciprocal coaches, who would observe and feedback to each other. They gave up their own time for coaching training and to set up regular meetings with their coaching partner.
At this point, we had over a third of the staff involved, and plenty more who were asking questions and eager to take part. Once year 11 and 13 exams were out of the way in the summer, we recruited yet more volunteers and widened the programme even further.
- Encourage the pilot groups to share their positive experiences of coaching with the wider staff
- Recruit willing volunteers during the first stages of your launch and build gradually
- Provide high-quality training for each new group of coaches
Step 5: Build systems for a whole-school launch
Regular feedback from staff at every stage of the programme helped to design our systems for a whole school launch this year:
- The Leadership team messaged continuously about the importance of coaching for our context and our students: students experiencing high levels of social deprivation deserve and need the best teachers to close the attainment gap. Instructional coaching supports us all to strive to continuously improve
- Dedicated time is built into the school week, with all feedback conversations taking place on a Tuesday after school
- On-going training is provided for all staff on coaching in professional development sessions and on INSET days
- Coaching happens within departments so that Department Heads can support with maintaining high engagement
- Coaching happens fortnightly, and I provide cover and support where observations or feedback sessions are missed
- I read coaching feedback every fortnight and provide personalised praise and feedback to each coach
- Our early adopters of the coaching programme are used as ambassadors, and support newer staff with troubleshooting and becoming familiar with Steplab
- We take regular feedback from staff in surveys to help us hone and tweak the programme
- Coaching engagement is typically an impressive 70-80% each fortnight, highlighting the level of staff buy-in
- In surveys, staff share how much benefit they see from the school’s programme
- Quality of teaching and results are improving; we got our best over GCSE results in 2022, with a P8 score of +0.83.
5 Ways Steplab can help you with implementing an effective coaching programme:
- Read our evidence summary on how to get implementation right, and plan your approach using our Implementation Workbook
- Watch our webinars on Using Drop-ins to Build a Positive Staff Culture; Designing a Coaching Programme that Works for your School Context; and Analysing Coaching Data and Acting to Improve your Coaching Programme
- Read Building Support Systems at St Luke’s and Making Coaching Work at Woodham and consider how to design or adapt your whole-school systems.
- Read How can PD Leads support busy teachers to become great coaches? And download our Steplab Coaching Programme resources to train your coaches, or use our Coaching Skills Builders (found on the Library page)
- Get in touch at hello@steplab and set up a call with one of the team for bespoke support with implementation
Kraft, M.A., Blazar, D. and Hogan, D., 2018. The effect of teacher coaching on instruction and achievement: A meta-analysis of the causal evidence. Review of educational research, 88(4), pp.547-588.