The Power of a Coaching Culture in Schools - Steve Barkley

The Power of a Coaching Culture in Schools

Creating a coaching culture may require reshaping the way schools operate in order to foster continuous improvement. At its core, a coaching culture in a school embodies a commitment to growth, collaboration, and personalized professional development.  It requires understanding coaching as a process that goes beyond mere skill development to unleashing potential by guiding individuals to explore and expand their capabilities.

For school leaders, a coaching culture requires a strategic investment in the enhancement of leadership skills and the creation of a collaborative environment. Leaders in a coaching culture don’t just manage; they inspire and support their team members to reach new heights.  They empower their staff to take ownership of their professional growth, fostering a sense of agency and autonomy.

Teachers can benefit immensely from a coaching culture that goes beyond traditional professional development, offering personalized support tailored to individual needs and goals. Effective coaching helps teachers reflect on their practices, identify areas for improvement, and implement targeted strategies for growth. The result is a more resilient, adaptable, and skilled teaching force, ultimately impacting the quality of student learning outcomes.

What might you observe in a school where a culture of coaching is evident?

  • Coaching to welcome new staff to a school’s culture.

I had the opportunity to work with an international school that had to deal with a sizeable number of teachers being new to the staff each year. When the new teachers arrived, they were given the names of two staff members who were requesting coaching from the new staff member. Some schools might inform new staff that there were teachers willing to coach or mentor them. But here the school was saying that staff were anxious to engage and learn from the new members. A great way to communicate a coaching culture.

  • Mentoring extending to coaching.

Mentors who are working with new to the profession teachers can invite the mentee to observe the mentor being coached by an instructional coach or colleague. This provides the new teacher a chance to learn how a teacher “uses coaching.”  One school that I consulted with decided that mentoring could end when the new teacher opened the classroom door and said, “You may all come in.” Mentors’ roles were to raise the confidence and understanding of the new teacher to become a professional, collegial colleague.

  • Component of Professional Development

Dating back to 1982 Bruce Joyce and Beverly Showers identified the need for coaching to provide teachers with specific, constructive feedback on the internalization of new instructional practices. Research supports that targeted feedback is more likely to lead to meaningful improvements in teaching skills. In a school with a coaching culture the plan for coaching feedback from instructional coaches, school leaders, and peers is part of the professional development plan. Teachers might leave a PD session with an observation tool that they will ask a coach to use as they implement the new instructional or management strategy.

  • Coaching as an element of PLC collaboration.

PLC learning for educators can be greatly enhanced with observation of teaching and learning in each other’s classrooms. I worked with a team of middle school teachers looking to increase the development of English language skills among a particular group of eight students whose progress had been insufficient. Initially the teachers visited each other’s classrooms, observing the 8 students’ learning behaviors. Having decided the learning behaviors the teachers needed to generate, they researched and identified possible teacher actions that could generate the student behaviors. Teachers then began observing each other’s practice of the strategies and the impact on the students.

Jim Knight describes the need for a coaching culture to be embedded in the fabric of a school’s ethos.  In such an environment, teachers are not only open to feedback but actively seek it as a means to refine their practice. I had a great example of this from a teacher who had been new on a school staff. Three weeks into the start of the year, the teacher was informed that a new student was enrolling and would be placed in her classroom. The student was autistic, and the teacher had no experience with what his special needs might require. Shortly after being informed, the teacher sent an email out to the staff asking teachers to observe in her classroom during the next two weeks and share observations of what they noticed that would be supportive to the new student and things she might want to consider changing or modifying.

Before I left that school I stopped by the principal’s office with a message of congratulations. I told her that she “hired” well and had built a coaching culture at the school. A culture that was identifiable to a new staff member.


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