Promoting Outstanding Teaching and Learning Practice Through Coaching
A whole school CPD model using focus groups and coaching
By Luke Jackson and Catherine Underwood
Swanshurst School decided to trial a collaborative approach to whole school CPD during the 2014 to 2015 academic year.
Following on from the guidance received in a recent Ofsted inspection (November 2013), it was felt that the school needed to raise the profile of innovative teaching and learning practice.
Furthermore, in order to maximise the impact of such practice, any training would need to ensure that best practice was disseminated amongst all teaching staff.
Therefore, the chosen approach would need to maximise the sharing of existing best practice, whilst also allowing staff to discuss and devise innovative solutions to existing barriers to learning within lessons.
For these reasons, it was essential that the programme was collaborative, thus enabling colleagues to support mutual improvement.
During the previous academic year, the school had targeted specific teachers to be involved in an outstanding teaching programme.
These teachers worked collaboratively to improve a number of different areas relating to teaching and learning, including: promoting greater challenge in lessons, student independence and effective feedback.
Within sessions, teachers collectively devised new strategies to perceived problems to then subsequently share with departmental colleagues. The results of this programme were deemed to be successful within departments, but the next stage of improving the quality of teaching and learning would need to publicise the lessons learnt from this collaborative training at a whole school level.
It was decided that this could be achieved by using a joint practice development approach. Therefore, all teaching staff undertook training to improve the quality of their teaching through a model which employed teaching and learning focus groups and coaching.
Each focus group consisted of eight to ten members of staff from a variety of curriculum areas, with each group being led by a member of staff who had been part of the outstanding teacher programme previously.
These leaders were neither in charge of curriculum areas nor members of senior management. Each focus group centred on an area that it was felt required further development in terms of teaching and learning, such as: ‘stretching the middle’ or ‘creating a positive classroom climate’.
Teachers were able to choose their own focus group, from the variety of areas available. Furthermore, it was felt that an added layer of support was needed within focus groups, so as to ensure that all staff involved felt fully engaged and able to participate in the programme.
Therefore, within focus groups, teachers were sub-allocated to coaching triads or quads that would trial similar strategies. This would enable staff discuss and observe ideas with colleagues, before offering their feedback to the larger focus group.
Each focus group met four-five times over the course of the year to discuss progress towards their chosen targets.
There were complimentary resources produced to enable focus group leaders to chair meetings, as well as guidance on how to conduct coaching conversations using a coaching model. Teachers were encouraged to peer observe within their coaching groups, in order to support discussions within meetings around the strategies that were being implemented.
Teachers would then provide mutual feedback through coaching conversations, eliciting ideas for further development (or further implementation of the chosen strategy), as well deciding how they could embed what they had observed within their own teaching practice.
The final meeting of focus groups was dedicated to planning how the group could best showcase the work that they had undertaken in a final ‘market place’ event that took place on one of the school improvement days in the summer term.
This event proved successful in capturing all of the work that had taken place during the year. Each focus group prepared a stand, which displayed samples of resources, examples of students’ work and student voice feedback.
Staff members were able to circulate to view other stands, as well as discussing their own strategies with colleagues during the time period. Finally, teachers were encouraged to write down ‘take away’ ideas to inform their planning for the next academic year, as well as committing to trial the strategy of a colleague that they felt could impact positively on their own teaching practice.
To help measure the impact of the work conducted so far, in the autumn term staff will be encouraged to reflect on what they learned from both the process of the study groups and also the content of the ‘market place’ activity and to incorporate this in their targets for the coming year so new practice becomes embedded in their teaching.
The model of cross-curricular groups working together with a narrow pedagogical focus has also been taken forward. Lesson study is one of the key teaching and learning priorities for 2015-16 and staff will again be contributing in small groups to deepen their understanding of a specific strategy or whole-school priority such as differentiation, supporting assessment and study skills.
To help facilitate this, the school will also be setting up a teaching and learning advocacy group which will oversee the process of lesson study and also explore the breadth of information available on social media and through new and existing links with other schools.
Huge thanks from Vision for Learning to Luke and Catherine for their excellent article. If you have a story to tell about coaching please get in touch.