If we want instructional coaching to make a real difference to teachers and pupils, we need to focus on getting the implementation right. Importantly, this is likely to mean adapting the programme to fit our school’s unique context. How can we tackle existing school pressures of workload and time, to make space for high quality coaching? At Ridgeway High School, Kate Hytner’s relentless enthusiasm for instructional coaching, coupled with a carefully designed, context-specific coaching programme is having a marked impact.
We are a double ‘requires improvement’ secondary school in a ward with one of the highest deprivation measures in the country. We have 65% of pupils eligible for Pupil Premium and 35% of pupils identified with SEND. Like many schools, we have pockets of excellent practice and lots of good teaching. That said, we were aware that some students faced a ‘classroom lottery’ where their learning was often dependent on the skill, expertise and experience of the teacher standing in front of them. How could we rapidly ensure that students' experiences in the classroom were more equitable, benefiting from effective teaching in every classroom, so students got a great deal?
The Senior Leadership Team at Ridgeway were convinced that working with Steplab and using the training, tools and resources they provide, would help drive real impact. Through reading Josh Goodrich’s article on implementing effective IC, I knew there were four key challenges to overcome to ensure we achieved the intended impact. In the rest of this article, I’ll share the specific decisions that helped us to build a coaching programme that works in our context.
1. Build the right culture
We took the bold move to separate the professional development of teachers from the formal Performance Management process. This meant teachers were able to concentrate on getting better without worrying about being judged.
2. Recruit and train coaches
I assembled my team of Lead Practitioners - ‘the Avengers’. Most departments have at least one Lead Practitioner, with 2 or 3 in English, Maths and Science. The credibility of the coaching team is one of the key ingredients in our success and this has been boosted by the training that they have undertaken provided by Steplab such as the ‘Coaching Skills Builder’.
We have adopted a model where teachers are either a coach or are coached. The pairings are carefully considered to suit each individual.
3. Structure our programme to work in our context
Create a manageable schedule: It was important for us to really think about how to make coaching right for our context, and that teachers understood that this was not a fad, or a new idea which would be abandoned in six months. I knew that coaching had to be manageable, and fit into busy teaching schedules for it to be sustained. Weekly or fortnightly coaching cycles were proving extremely difficult to schedule and so we adapted.
I devised a half-termly programme with a two-week coaching cycle at the start and end of each half term, with the weeks in the middle left for subject-specific drop-ins, and time for more embedding of practice of the allocated step from the initial cycle at the start of the half term.
Align coaching with whole school priorities: We knew that our coaching programme would be most successful if it was grounded in our well-established principles. These are our five pedagogical principles that form the foundation of all practices in the classroom: Classroom Culture, Literacy Development, Excellence for all, Assessment-rich and Ratio Maximised (CLEAR).
We created our own coaching content on Steplab based on these principles, ensuring our shared language remained at the heart of our coaching. Our key focus this year has been on adaptive teaching: the use of data for effective planning and adaptive teaching during lessons. I ensured that all staff were aware of these priorities, and focused their coaching on these specific teaching goals and steps.
4. Gather data, respond and improve
It’s really important to know what is working by continually evaluating our coaching programme, and of course, if there is anything to make the process even better. I used a combination of the lead page on Steplab to gather data about engagement in coaching, plus termly surveys with teachers to gauge buy-in, understanding and impact. We’ve also had an external review by our School Improvement Partner and asked the Investors in People team to review our work.
I am pleased to report some measures that demonstrate our programme may be starting to have a positive impact. There is a real buzz around school: illustrated by 98% of teachers reporting they have found instructional coaching positive, meaningful and effective in improving their practice. Staff feel that the coaching cycles are helping them improve in a far more concrete way than any previous PD. Staff participation on Steplab is consistently high, with above 80% participation in each coaching cycle.
Our School Improvement Partners were ‘exceptionally impressed’ with the quality of the programme and its impact. We are delighted that Ridgeway also recently achieved the Investors in People award and our coaching programme and the structures that we have in place were highlighted as a great example of our investment in staff.
In addition, a recent Ofsted monitoring visit highlighted that school leaders are “steadfast in maintaining a rapid pace of improvement…[placing] great emphasis on providing comprehensive training opportunities for staff. This is supporting teachers to use appropriate strategies to help pupils to embed their learning over time.” We were particularly delighted that our key focus for coaching, adaptive teaching, has led to an improvement in practice: “Leaders have …ensured that teachers have received helpful training and strategies to improve their practice and confidence [to support pupils with SEND]. As a result, teachers are better informed about pupils’ additional needs and how to successfully adapt the delivery of the curriculum for pupils with SEND.”
The feedback is overwhelming: Instructional Coaching is professional development which works, and with careful planning around school systems, it can bring significant and lasting improvement. The support we have had from Steplab has been invaluable and we are so excited for Ridgeways’s next steps!
Kate Hytner [email protected]