Shrewsbury College is committed to providing the best quality education for its students. This requires an approach that takes a more subjective and collaborative view of the development of excellence in teaching, learning and assessment practice, and recognises the professional status of delivery staff and their commitment to the achievement of consistently outstanding performance. The continued investment in coaching and mentoring as a key element of this strategy reflects the extent to which this is integral to the philosophy underpinning professional development. Two Advanced Learning Coaches (ALCs) and a team of Learning Coaches worked with curriculum teams on specific teaching topics and developed a Moodle site to promote coaching and supported experiments in teaching and learning.
What is coaching?
Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance: it is helping them learn rather than teaching them.”
It is led by the person being coached; the coach does not need to be an expert in the subject/work area. A real advantage of coaching is that it encourages a person to discover their strengths, to concentrate on areas for development they have identified and to adopt a solutions-focused mindset. It motivates them to move forward in their role and to take responsibility for their goals. In addition, it promotes confidence and self awareness, personal growth and professional development, and enhanced decision making skills and goal setting.
Developing the strategy
Networking events, particularly those facilitated by the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS), provided opportunities to disseminate the impact of coaching and mentoring and in 2012, the two ALCs were invited to run a workshop at the National Teaching and Learning Conference on the development of a coaching culture within the College.
The growing significance of coaching and mentoring was also reflected in the extent to which it was integrated into policies such as the observation of teaching and learning. In 2013, funding was secured to support research into the impact of coaching and mentoring on formative observation. The focus of the new approach was to raise standards of teaching, learning and assessment by supporting delivery staff to improve their professional practice through a structured critical evaluation of their performance, working with coaches to identify strengths and address areas for improvement.
Whilst Action Learning Sets had created a structured forum to facilitate professional collaboration, the concept of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) was introduced later in 2013. These were situated within curriculum teams and led by ALCs and LCs; based on the principles espoused by Etienne Wenger and Jean Lave, they provided opportunities for teachers to focus on professional development and gave autonomy to determine focus and direction. The contribution of PLCs to the quality of teaching and learning was noted by Ofsted following inspection in June 2014:
‘The recently established learning communities, which consist of small groups of teachers working together with a learning coach to improve teaching and learning strategies, have contributed to developing the craft of teaching.’
‘The successful formative and summative internal lesson observation process is designed to bring about uniformity and dissemination of good practice. Advanced Learning Coaches support teachers well, and the recent introduction of learning communities has provided teachers with a supportive forum to further improve the variety and quality of their work.’
A further research project, supported on this occasion by the Education and Training Foundation, endorsed these findings.
Subsequently, review of the formative observation process has resulted in a Peer Review strategy based on a coaching approach to professional dialogue and linked closely to the Professional Standards for the sector. Initial findings are encouraging as staff have embraced the opportunity to work with colleagues both within their curriculum teams and from other areas. Research findings were presented at a conference hosted by Matt O’Leary at Wolverhampton University and will be published later this year.
Earlier this year, the College appointed three further LCs, thereby ensuring that each curriculum area was fully supported both in terms of PLC activity, one-to-one coaching and mentoring and Peer Review. The Peer Review strategy will be revised to reflect staff feedback on their preference to work with colleagues from different curriculum areas and to collaborate throughout the year. Lesson study is to be piloted as an approach to Peer Review within teams.
Jane Martin, Professional Development Manager – firstname.lastname@example.org