“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a
whole orchestra to play it”
John Williams, the musical composer for the films E.T., Jaws, Schindler’s List and Harry Potter to name a few, quoted ‘writing a tune was like sculpting. Using four or five notes and taking one out, working with it and eventually, as the sculptor says, “in that rock there is a statue, we have to go find it”.’ Perhaps that note can be symbolic of providing a vehicle for writing a film score, but also symbolic of a culture of coaching where teachers adapt their practice as a result from working with it and crafting their practice till it plays the tune that they are curious about.
It’s a tough educational landscape and one that keeps changing, but one reality that doesn’t alter is teachers’ learning and development underpins school improvement and provides a vehicle for raising attainment and achievement. Continually reflecting, testing different tactics, facilitated by feedback teaching and learning conversations with colleagues, is a concrete cycle for building a whole school learning culture. There are constraints to the level of coaching that school systems allow, and schools develop their own unique approaches to coaching, but with this is mind, I think there is a relevant question which is powerful to look at not only from a big picture perspective, but a solution focused approach too; are we facilitating coaching that is likely to make a difference to teaching and learning? In the Academy where I work, I can categorically say a resounding yes.
Be curious. It drives us to keep learning and moving forward. With new insights into neuroscience, there is much to be curious about. Take science and the teaching of those things that you can’t actually see. Research has concluded that dual coding is a powerful weapon in helping knowledge to stick, so what if dual coding was used as a concrete example followed by the transitioning of concrete examples to abstract? What about reciprocal reading strategies to support text discussion and generate curiosity in young readers to comprehend text? Fine tuning and adapting practice keeps teachers progressing in the right direction – we never stop learning because life never stops teaching. Being curious collaboratively generates teaching and learning conversations with a real sense of distributed leadership and the autonomy to explore personalised pedagogy.
Descriptive data. The bread and butter of how our coaching conversations are shaped at the Academy and how reflection is directly underpinned through non-judgemental evidence – evidence that informs practice and enhances thinking around teaching and learning. Take for example a lesson where most of your attention is directed to a particular area of the room – cue for a movement chart. Quickly draw the desks on a page and follow the teacher with your pen on the paper. During coaching feedback, a drawn representation of the focus becomes a visible platform for reflection. Open-ended questions serve to unpick coachee thinking and through collaboration, solutions and tactics to try soon follow.
What about collecting descriptive data around student collaboration and discussion versus the sage on the stage? Stopwatch at the ready – collect timings so the coachee can reflect on the balance. The quality of the dialogue taking place? Use script and reflect on the frequency pattern of focus words, for example. It’s informative, insightful and enlightening.
Feedback provides greater openness for staff to share practice, take risks in trying new things, to admit and learn from mistakes and to be fully supported in a collaborative whole school learning culture. Beliefs are challenged by the descriptive data which guides coachees to reflect on their assumptions. Self-reflection grows dynamic learning conversations. Teachers are busy people, and stepping back to examine practice can be challenging. Asking the right questions can give that time and space, a sort of ‘stopping you in your tracks’ through triggering self-reflection. Questions beginning with “what”, “how”, “who”, “where” and “when” set up space for reflection. “Why” feels confrontational, “what was your intention” is much better placed. Be genuinely curious about the responses – the aim is to get to that moment of self-discovery.
Seeing your actions supports in envisioning a new solution to a recurring challenge. Motivations and values come into the fore too, a strong ethos and a clearly shared vision supported by aims and values, serve to underpin the coaching conversations that take place.
Coaching certainly has benefits; it raises self-awareness, deepens self-reflection, and delivers the most effective progress and results. Curiosity breeds creativity – speed of adaption and innovation is important in today’s challenging world. Coaching collaboratively encourages the sharing of practice and strengthens professional trust – key ingredients in a whole school learning culture.
Focus, findings, feedback, forward is the coaching cycle model we use at my place of work. It’s generated continuous learning based on the understanding of pupils learning through active research. As a result, adjustments are made to practice which has led to and is continuously leading to real differences in outcomes. Coaching models and school improvement mechanisms can clash due to the cultures that surround them. Managerial coaching is different to what has been reflected on and shared – and will be reflected on in a future blog. What has been reflected on is how coaching can also be recognised and understood as a means to construct new knowledge – a creative lever and a tool to celebrate and share good practice.