COACHING IN SCHOOLS:IT MATTERS!
‘The Middle Leader as Lead Learner’
By Rachael Edgar
Goes without saying that key to all succesful schools is the quality of the learning experiences that goes on within it. Seems obvious doesnt it? Lessons are for learning, of course they are, its hardly a revolutionary concept but an important one to remember when we get bogged down on a Wednesday evening with a set of books to mark and 3 lessons to plan for the next day, or when we get disillusioned because of too many initiatives in education and there is too much pressure on us to perform. Strip it all away though, for me, the vast majority of us came into this profession for the same reason, to facilitate children’s learning and its this that binds us all together with a common bond. Whatever your degree of passion or love for learning, there should be a commitment to furthering your own professional development, we are all in it together and a school in which staff share, support, collaborate, develop and most importantly learn together truly has the student’s best interests at its heart.
I am a very strong believer that high quality CPD really does make a difference. Staff development is the single most important factor in ensuring the consistency and quality of our student’s experiences and it is paramount that we establish a climate within school of life long learning for all and place a great deal of emphasis on it. If we dont love to learn then we can hardly expect the kids to? The opportunity for Personal Development and Self Reflection should be built within a teacher’s weekly timetable, we don’t learn anything unless we reflect upon it and in order for CPD to make a difference adequate time should be given to teachers to reflect on and build on what we’ve learnt properly. Over the last 12 years I’ve lost count of the times where I’ve been on courses and thought “What a great idea, I could do that with my year….” Only then to return to school, all too often, to find the ‘great idea’ soon gets lost amongst the marking, preparation and day to day mayhem that comes par for the course of being a hard working practitioner.
Alongside staff development in bringing about improvement in teaching practice has to be high quality professional coaching and mentoring systems. In any great school coaching is embedded and leadership of learning should not be left to senior staff to direct from above, ‘leaders of learning’ should permeate a school to include middle leaders, classroom teachers and even the students themselves. ‘Coaching weeks’ explicitly built into the calendar, with all staff mentored and coached regardless of the stage they are at in their career. CPD when done on an ad hoc basis or as a bolt on will rarely make a difference to someone’s teaching practice unless it is revisited and built upon.
I have long advocated that Middle Leaders are the glue which holds any learning community together. They have more access to the students than most senior leaders and importantly more access to staff on a day to day basis. In education today Middle leadership comes with great responsibility, no longer the H.O.D (This phrase should be slung on the education scrap heap along with wordsearches and gap fill exercises in my opinion!!), we don’t manage our teams, we lead and importantly we lead Teaching and Learning.
Developing a coaching culture amongst Middle Leaders can have a significant impact on learning and achievement. Creating opportunities where leaders can work with each other and with their teams to share good practice and create opportunities for reflection, self review and goal setting can have a powerful effect on motivation, the management of change and the development of the individuals in your team.
Ownership of CPD in a school must be shared and the emphasis placed on Middle Leaders to drive forward Teaching and Learning within their own area, to improve the progress and attainment of students and also ‘push their staff on’ in terms of their career and professional development. It is a Middle leader that knows their team best, that is best equipped to decide what will work best with each individual, as they move forward on their own personalised path of professional development.
If you have aspiring Middle or Senior leaders in your area then it is always wise to encourage them to get involved in the planning and delivery of whole school CPD. One approach I established in my final year at my previous school was the development of ‘Teaching and Learning Hubs’. We divided staff into cross curricular groups of 15-18 people. We calendared 6 workshops/meetings (One per half term) that would concentrate on a particular aspect of pedagogy. We had 3 areas we concentrated on, that had come out as areas for development from the collation of formal observation data. These were ‘starters and plenaries’, ‘Collaborative learning’ and ‘Classroom Talk’.
I persuaded 12 members of staff (all bar one had no other responsibility) to join me as ‘Leaders of Learning’. They were not going to be paid for this role, it was sold as professional development for them as they aspired towards Middle Leadership.They would help me in planning and the delivery of the Hub meetings. Following the meeting staff would commit to trying out a particular strategy in the following WOW (Watching Others Work) week. Staff who had buddied up then peer observed each other and filled out a simple evaluation form.
There was a great deal of positive feedback about the initiative and staff welcomed the opportunity to learn from each other and spend time in each other’s classrooms. A pleasure that should not just be open to those in a position of responsibility.
Outstanding Middle Leadership? A mixture of challenge and support should make your team just ‘GREAT’! Read my top 10 tips for driving Teaching and Learning forward in your team: 🙂
1) Model expertise in practice or through conversation: You are the role model for T&L in your area
2) Know people’s strengths and areas for development, get to know them as people and what makes them tick
3) Make T&L your number one priority: Share best practice in T&L (Dept meetings, CPD, plan together, examine student’s work together, shared teacher folder on network) Leave talk about admin to emails
4) Establish effective coaching partnerships (peer-coaching, specialist coaching) buddy up people in your team.
5) Learning walks- Establish trust amongst team members, go out and see the fantastic lessons that are happening around you
6) Formal opportunities for student voice- What makes them tick? What do the students enjoy about your team’s lessons?
7) Tailor activities in partnership with your professional learners ( provide opportunities for peer observation, team teaching etc)
8) Observe, analyse and reflect upon the professional learners practice. Observation associated with professional growth rather than performance
9) Facilitate growing independence
10) Listen actively- listening not telling!