Instructional Coaching in Schools – building professional learning communities
The term instructional coaching puts a new emphasis on the value of coaching as a vital component of CPD in schools. With the introduction of the Early Career Framework and huge spotlight on the role of the subject expert in the delivery of a substantive and high quality curriculum focused professional learning is essential.
Equally the many issues that remain unresolved for pastoral leaders and their teams require a focused approach to team-working and collaboration that will support learners who have struggled with events of the past few months.
Instructional coaching requires the coach to understand the principles of a specific subject area, conceptual learning, pedagogy or leadership. In order to transform practice, the coach must have the expertise in the arena for which he or she is supporting another. Coaching creates a powerful narrative that is non-judgemental, motivational and inspiring. It is therefore a highly effective approach that can transform practice and build confident professionals. Instructional coaching is, essentially, more structured, more directed in terms of what the process sets out to achieve. It does however, still use the principles of coaching that remain the same and necessarily so to ensure successful outcomes that can be sustained.
The principles of coaching and instructional coaching
- There is an imperative for all those involved in the process to establish SMARTE goals that form the basis of their coaching journey
- Goals are set within the context of improving learning for pupils, developing staff expertise and working in harmony towards a clearly defined whole organisation vision or mission
- The coaching process is collaborative, those who are coached set their own agenda where the coach is supportive non-directive and respectful
- Those who are coached have a responsibility to focus on their learning journey and continuously reflect on their progress towards their clearly stated goals
- The instructional coach has the skills to empower change, build confidence and guide their coachee to identify the specific learning needs that will support their development
- There is no judgement or advice given so that coaches are accepted as giving support but not evaluating performance.
Instructional coaching and the Early Career Framework
The Early Career Framework now statutory in all schools in England sets out a series of clearly defined indicators of the aspects of teaching that early career teachers should know and what they should learn how to do over the two years now set aside for the process.
Where ECT mentors learn how to use instructional coaching principles as part of their repertoire there is a profound opportunity for the new teacher and their mentor to engage in deep professional dialogue that will create structure and opportunities for learning, progression and reflection. The new teacher works with their mentor using carefully crafted principles that lead to a continuous process of learning, self-evaluation and growing expertise.
The ECF provides a basis for the coach and the coachee to work together to define a set of incremental steps linked to the ECT’s own goals. The process is manageable and gives the participants opportunities to work within carefully structured evidence-based indicators, reflect on progress, understand where further support is needed and share good practice outcomes.
Subject expertise and specialism in developing high quality curriculum outcomes
A high quality education is predicated on the richness of its curriculum content. Subject experts must work collaboratively with others within their subject and across subject disciplines to ensure breadth and balance and a process of sequential learning that leads to the acquisition of deep and profound knowledge over time.
As with the Early Career Framework there is an opportunity to use instructional coaching to create the cohesion leaders with responsibility for curriculum and teaching and learning need. In order to collaborate there should be carefully structured professional learning communities that begin to define the process that will lead to high impact change and challenge. Where coaching is integral to this process transformational change happens. If subject leaders and their teams collaborate to define their strategies for implementation of a deep and rich curriculum the combined effort leads to evidence that there is a synergy that weaves subject specific learning, conceptual learning and skills competence.
Instructional Coaching for Well-being and learning
This new academic year will inevitably bring its challenges for both new and experienced teachers and certainly for those with responsibility for the pastoral care and well-being of pupils. Once again, deciding to use a coaching approach will provide pastoral leaders and their teams with the skills to foster self-esteem, share successes and create opportunities for pupils, their peers and their teachers to reflect on the positives and find ways to fill gaps in learning that strengthen the belief that the future will ensure successful outcomes for all.
Instructional coaching techniques build structure that allows the coach to look closely at the needs of individuals and develop coaching strategies that support an incremental and step by step approach towards self-belief. Conventional coaching does require the coach to leave the person being coached to find their own solution with little guidance except through the skill of deep and rich questioning. Instructional coaching requires a collaboration between the coach and the person they coach. The coachee knows what they want to achieve and understands the research that underpins the theory behind their aspiration. The role of the coach is to support their coachee to articulate the philosophy and work out a set of actions that will lead to success and to measurable impact.
Instructional coaching is about partnership working. Where two individuals work together towards a common goal transformational change can happen. The teacher or employee knows what they want to achieve and understands how their goal is underpinned by a proven philosophy or sound research. The coach knows how to make it work through their own research and deep experience in the classroom or elsewhere. The coach does not impose their beliefs or knowledge onto their coachee but carefully creates the culture where he or she makes the right choices in how to improve practice, change approaches or try something new.
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