Learn how Richard Cloudesley School embedded a culture of coaching throughout the school and the positive impact it made.
Our 86 pupils come from 12 London boroughs. They travel in from as far as Barnet, Lambeth and Redbridge and all rely on local authority transport. All have a physical disability, and many have complex medical needs. Most (82%) use alternative forms of communication (AAC). We are an all-age split site school.
Having previously come from a school with a well embedded coaching culture, I wanted to develop a similar culture within Richard Cloudesley School. This desire was born out of:
- the knowledge of this working in a previous school
- the need for staff to work independently and autonomously in order to meet the complex needs of our pupils and a growing school population
- a few members of staff feeding back that they didn’t feel valued by leaders
- my desire to ensure staff felt empowered and were solution focused
The year before this initiative we did a small pilot of a coaching programme to raise the awareness of coaching. I always knew it would need to be widespread but wanted to test it first. We had a few people trained in coaching and the outcome was really positive. The challenge was then to get everyone engaged.
From the start, coaching was brought in at every level of the school. It was decided there would be a team of coaches, called coaching champions who would drive the embedding of coaching as a practice. Every staff member had a coach and each coaching champion coached between two and five people. Each person had a coaching session approximately once every half term; each session lasted 50 minutes with a ten minute review for the coach.
Currently we have 22 coaching champions and they come from every area of the school: teachers, TAs, maintenance staff and members of the SLT. We started from a credit-based approach (as opposed to deficit, ‘there’s something wrong’). The staff team were engaged, committed and motivated. The approach was about bringing the practice of the school forward and looking and seeing how coaching could be a tool for improving teaching and learning.
We made it clear that coaching was not part of line management but that it was intended to provide broad support to complement rather than to replace existing structures and processes. We used coaching to:
- set goals and generate ideas
- discuss challenges and issues being experienced
- discuss and explore practical aspects of school life such as in strategies around classroom and behaviour management
- improve relationships, with colleagues, parents and students
- develop confidence and personal growth
- promote career progression and professional development
- improve team dynamics
- discuss personal issues outside of school life.
Training – preparing to begin the coaching programme
- An initial whole staff team training workshop: this was an introduction to coaching aimed at everyone being
- excited about the potential of coaching
- clear about the purpose of coaching
- clear about how they could apply to join the coaching champion team if they wished to do so.
- Governor training: this was to support them cohesion within the group and to explore how they could best support the school in their individual roles.
- Two-day training for coaching champions: the training was designed for staff to experience and clarify what coaching is and isn’t. They explored coaching as a tool for teaching and learnt how to embed it as a practice within school. The objectives for the training were for the coaching champions to:
- understand the principles and practices of effective coaching
- understand the importance of coaching as a tool for teaching and learning
- understand the benefits of modelling coaching in order to drive the ethos of taking personal responsibility through the staff team and students
- explore and work past personal blocks to coaching.
Embedding coaching into the culture of the school
The programme was led and managed by me as head, along with the leadership team, heads of department and the wellbeing group. There were various elements that were key to the programme’s success:
- The coaching sessions were part of staff’s work time and they had two extra days of summer holiday to make this happen. When anyone is undertaking a coaching session, they informed me and once they had done the requisite number of sessions, they would get the two days off. If they missed any sessions, they had to work the full day.’
- People arranged sessions in their own time – they took place before or after school and continued through the lockdown period, either though Zoom or socially distanced meetings in person
- There was a half termly review of coaching in both the leadership and the wellbeing team meetings where we considered how we could continue to support the effectiveness of the programme.
- The annual wellbeing survey included questions about coaching which helped to keep it live.
- Every meeting started by asking ‘what’s the weather like?’ This is a way of checking how people are feeling in a light-hearted way and we could unpick things further from there. It was modelled from the leadership down, which has had various knock-on effects in making coaching a high priority.
- Every month the spreadsheet of all coaching activity is reviewed.
- In the beginning there was a lack of awareness among the staff team about what coaching could bring to the school and a scepticism about how they would find the time to use it. Embedding this programme required the SLT to be very clear about the purpose of it and determined to see the programme through.
- What made the programme work well?
- One-to-one time – A lot of people felt the programme worked well, due to having regular space and time on a one-to-one basis with their coach. This was time where they could talk about their professional development, aspirations and/or issues that might be impacting on their role.
- The coaching style (or approach) – A lot of people highlighted that the approach of the coaches helped to make the programme work. These included coaches being flexible, supportive, and encouraging. The fact that the coaches understood the school environment helped people feel comfortable in their coaching sessions.
- The process – some people referred to the process and felt that the way the programme was set up contributed to its success. This included confidential sessions, being able to choose your own coach, attending coaching in place of an inset day and whole school involvement.
- The training – the training and support sessions were well delivered and gave the opportunity to build skills
- Whole school approach – the SLT buy-in was important, including the fact that SLT took part in the process both as coaches and coachees. This was a whole school programme rather than being directed at only teaching staff.
The main aspects of the school culture that have been impacted upon are:
- the use of a commonly agreed and understood coaching model and language
- people feeling more valued, which in turn has improved the atmosphere in the school
- uniting the two school sites
- fostering a more positive outlook and culture
- changing work practice.
- “My coach has been supportive, encouraging and committed to help me to envision my own success. Each session was well thought out, my coach created a comfortable space where I felt I could share and reflect.”
- “There is a lot more positivity around the workplace and in how we are interacting with each other. We are thinking more about delivery, and conscious of the messages we give out when talking to each other.”
- “It has improved the school culture as we feel more included and a part of the school community therefore, we can grow in our own professional development.”
- “There has been a change of language with pupils and staff. There has been a shift of mindset across the staff. The programme was brought in to help staff – it’s done that.”
The success of the coaching has encouraged the staff team to consider how we might apply coaching to other aspects of school life:
- We are going use coaching to create appraisals that are more like developmental conversations so the focus is less about what has been achieved and more about how a person might unlock their own potential
- Group coaching will create even more solution focused, agile teams that are more resilient to today’s shifting educational landscape
- All school staff are mindful of the demands on families and aware that this can affect home school relationships at times. Using coaching tools to shape conversations with parents will open the way for more reflective dialogue that recognises everyone’s contribution to improving outcomes for disabled children.