A Coaching Strategy for Schools and Colleges


In 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account through which he rapidly became the ‘most followed teacher on social media in the UK’. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the ‘500 Most Influential People in Britain’ by The Sunday…
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How do school and college leaders implement coaching successfully?

I had the privilege this week of returning to a further education setting to work with the college leaders. Again, our focus was on embedding coaching strategies across the team before considering sharing the concepts and methods with the wider staff population.

Developing ‘coaching’ as a strategy…

This group of leaders has really embraced coaching as a way forward and is on a trajectory towards a strong coaching culture throughout the organisation. It was fantastic to see them uncovering various ways of coaching that work for them. The college leaders are already experiencing benefits in the way they work together and communicate with each other. The challenge for them is how this fits in with the rest of the college.

In my experiences of doing this kind of work with all schools and colleges, embedding coaching ideas across any large organization is the greatest barrier. This challenge may be limited to ‘rolling out’ any coaching methods and tools to a team of 10 to 50 teachers for most schools. In larger schools? Possible 100-150 teaching staff.

The larger the task, the greater the problem!

Just take a moment to think about the vast range of subjects taught at this college, and how many teaching staff they potentially have, including peripatetic and part-time? This number almost reaches 350-450 teaching staff, not counting the support staff and potential benefits for them and the skills they can offer! The total staff population is ~520.

Where would you start?

The answer is to start with the team you have around you and work with them to embed the coaching culture within their team, starting with themselves. They need to understand coaching inside-out, including how it can be misused and fail, before they can ‘sell’ it to others.

This is the same problem for any organisation. The leadership team at this college are doing a great job in this respect, and I’m looking forward to seeing them progress further. Before anything can be ‘rolled out’, every aspect of any strategy needs to be fully understood, tested and evaluated.

Initial reflection questions

As a suggestion, I’ve included a timeline template for leaders to use as a starting point, plus a set of reflection questions below for you to get started:

  1. If coaching is the answer, what was the original question?
  2. What does coaching mean to the leadership team?
  3. What are the benefits/pitfalls of coaching?
  4. How can staff use coaching in their various roles with colleagues and students?
  5. What are the challenges of coaching?
  6. How can the organization overcome these challenges?
  7. What are the logistical headaches?
  8. How can the leaders ensure that coaching is sustainable over time?

One of the biggest barriers to any school or college executing a strategy is having a coherent implementation plan from the start. Simple tracking tools, clear roles and responsibilities are sometimes all it needs to help things get started.

Coaching Timeline for Schools and Colleges by @TeacherToolkit

Developing a coaching strategy

A starting point is to get everyone on the same page to ensure they know what they need to do, and by when:

  1. What is the coaching strategy?
  2. Who is responsible for leading and delivering the coaching strategy?
  3. What are the key milestones for the coaching strategy?
  4. What are the key resources required for the coaching strategy?
  5. What are the risks and challenges associated with the coaching strategy?
  6. What are the contingency plans for the coaching strategy?
  7. Costs, documentation, timeframes and quality assurance etc

Identifying priorities

Personally, as a method for urgent establishing the above as a group, I have always liked using Eisenhower’s and important matrix (see example photo) to help identify key priorities. This simple tool can be used by individuals or teams to help focus on what is important, and what can be delegated or put on the back burner.

The matrix looks like this:

  • Urgent and important (to do now)
  • Urgent and not important (delegate or outsource)
  • Not urgent and important (plan and schedule)
  • Not urgent and not important (eliminate)

If you are looking to embed coaching across your school or college, I would strongly recommend using this tool (collectively) to help identify key priorities.

Identifying coaches and potential pitfalls

The next step is to identify what methods you will use, who your coaches will be and what training they will need. This phase alone will take substantial time to develop the paperwork and training. Another step, not necessarily the final step, is to create a clear and concise action plan that everyone can buy into and follow. This will ensure that your coaching strategy is sustainable and that everyone knows what they need to do, and when they need to do it.

Once you have this thinking strategy on paper, of course bringing people together regularly to discuss problems and actions are essential. However, the greatest and most important stage is identifying who will receive coaching, and how coaches will be among them.

Another big headache!

Identifying teachers to coach!

Identification harbors the potential for plans to fall down before they have even started, or for misconceptions amongst staff to emerge. Communication and regular updates with all stakeholders are vital! One potential misuse and misconception example is when coaches are assigned to work with ‘weaker’ teachers – however well or poorly this is identified – rather than coaching as a method for supporting everyone, including high-performing colleagues!

Just because I am at the top of my teaching game, doesn’t mean I can’t improve or need further support …

There are a few questions that you could ask yourself at this stage:

  1. What are the coaching needs of the organisation?
  2. Who will be the coaches?
  3. What kind of coaching do we need? eg Directive, facilitative or instructional?
  4. What are the benefits of coaching?
  5. What are the risks and challenges associated with coaching?
  6. What are the contingency plans for coaching?
  7. How can we ensure that coaching is sustainable over time?

Costs and long-term capacity

Another key consideration in part of your strategy is the costs involved and the capacity available. In some cases, it may be more cost-effective to outsource coaching to an external provider or to use internal coaches who have been trained and are familiar with the organisation. There are a few things to consider when making this decision:

  1. What are the coaching needs of the organisation?
  2. What is the budget for coaching?
  3. What is the capacity for coaching within the organisation?
  4. What are the benefits of outsourcing coaching?
  5. What are the risks and challenges associated with outsourcing coaching?
  6. What are the contingency plans for outsourcing coaching?
  7. What are the logistical headaches associated with outsourcing coaching?
  8. How can we ensure that coaching is sustainable over time?

I could carry on with various strategies and examples, and I haven’t covered everything, but I hope the above outline and questions posed will give you a good starting point.

The key thing to remember is that any coaching strategy needs to be sustainable over time, well-planned and executed, and that everyone involved needs to buy into the concept.

Only then will it be successful, and not everyone gets it right!

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