Coaching approaches for teacher educators

Recently I had the pleasure of working with a group of experienced teacher educators to deliver some training on coaching skills and the conversations we had prompted this blog. I was a teacher educator on initial teacher training programmes for some years and now spend most of my time working freelance on CPD planning, training and coaching. For me, coaching skills are an integral part of my practice in many settings and it was fascinating to meet other teacher educators and explore their experiences and responses to these approaches. As we explored different skills and models, it struck me how much coaching approaches could bring to so many aspects of initial teacher educator programmes.

In my experience, these approaches can play a valuable role in the practice of teacher educators, incorporated into tutorial/review conversations, group plenary slots after teaching practice and the delivery of theory/input sessions. They can have the biggest potential benefit when threaded through the programme as opposed to being restricted to the obvious tutorial setting. The embedded coaching approach means the trainees will experience reflective professional dialogue throughout their course; it sets the tone and establishes the ethos for professional learning. It says to the trainees, “On this course and in your professional life, high quality reflection and independent planning skills are important. We will not spoon-feed you here. We will ask you to think hard and we will support you to do that.”

In my view, coaching approaches can have the following benefits for the trainees:

  1. They encourage deep reflection on your teaching practices and the impact on the learners, building your own skills of professional analysis and evaluation
  2. They foster independent, creative thinking and problem solving skills, helping you to plan lessons and respond to learners in a thoughtful and responsive way
  3. They help you to identify your own strengths and harness them to improve your practice further, owning your professional development
  4. They foster confidence as you learn to identify small changes and signs of progress in your professional development over time

So how can coaching approaches and skills translate into practice on teacher education programmes?

Teacher educators with a strong set of coaching skills tend to use a lot of questions with trainees in theory sessions, observation feedback and in 1:1 conversation. They don’t assume that trainee teachers need to be told everything, as if they are empty vessels. They use questions to draw on trainees’ experiences of learning, their observations of how learners respond in class, their understanding of how theory translates into their practice. These educators might pose several questions to think about in the lesson planning stage of teaching practice. They will provide prompt questions for paired and group discussion after the teaching practice, to encourage deeper reflection. In observed lessons, they may structure the professional dialogue around a set of questions, to see how much the trainee can come up with before they give feedback comments. The action planning stage of this dialogue will be a collaborative conversation with the teacher educator helping the trainee to identify useful next steps, tighten them up and sequence them well. Tutorial/review meetings will be prefaced with a set of questions for reflection, so that the meeting starts from the trainee’s perception of their professional evolution and the trainer can add their comments to that, bring some feedback or challenging questions to explore the areas the trainee might not have noted.

For these educators using coaching skills, their role is to help the trainees to function more effectively on their own in a professional setting. It is not to breed dependence and reliance on the trainer as the font of knowledge, the person who tells you what to think,”the expert.” This does not mean that the teacher educator who uses a coaching approach will never tell their trainees anything, as this would patently be ridiculous. On initial teacher training programmes, part of our role is to share theories, models, pedagogy in different ways and this can involve lectures, presentations, prescribed reading. The educator who coaches realises that they need to think about when it is most beneficial/appropriate to give information and when it will be fruitful for trainees to think something through on their own through questions. The powerful thing is to keep making the choice of how you approach communication with the trainees as opposed to having your default setting as “They are new to teaching, so I just think it is best to tell them.” I have found that it is often surprising how far people think on their own if you provide space and focus through questioning and attentive listening. If you don’t ask and then listen, you will never know what they might have thought and said. They will not know what they are capable of noticing, if you close down that thinking process with your suggestion or piece of expert knowledge. So for me, choosing when and if to give/share ideas is an important skill in a teacher educator.

On the training day with the teacher educator group, we had plenty of discussion about when it would be beneficial to use coaching approaches and when they wouldn’t fit well. This summary gives you a flavour of that discussion:

  1. It could be positive to promote this approach very explicitly in the course guidance and initial selection process, so that trainees are clear on how and why coaching approaches will be used in the programme. This would help address the risk of trainees expecting the course to be entirely instructional in tone.


  1. Some educators thought they would like to phase in coaching approaches across the programme, moving from a more instructional style to a more coaching style as the trainees extend their knowledge and skills in the classroom. The perceived benefit here was that the trainees would have more to draw on from their toolkit and knowledge bank as they gain practical professional experience, so that they would be better equipped to answer probing coaching questions.


  1. Some educators felt inclined to incorporate some coaching approaches and activities into specific aspects of their programmes, such as planning and reflection on teaching practice and observed lessons. In these aspects of the course, the trainees would have experiences to draw on, whereas in the theory/input sessions, there may be less to extract through questioning. In this way, the educators could look at the impact of that specific use of coaching approaches in one part of their courses, and take learning points forward into a wider embedding process later on.


For bespoke coaching skills training delivered in your institution, please contact me

For further reading on the listening skills involved in coaching, please click on the link below:



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Interesting reads on research in schools from NFER

Some interesting reads about the growing role of research in schools from the National Foundation for Educational Research



Posted in Action research, CPD, CPD for Teachers, Culture for Learning, Evidence-based teaching, Professional Development, Professional Learning Communities, Research | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Can the scheme of work be a working document? Conversations with teachers

This week I have been delivering training on planning for learning in several colleges and I have had some fascinating discussions about the way the teachers conceptualise, devise and use these significant documents. It struck me that this can be an under discussed topic in our sector, as we tend to receive input on planning skills during initial teacher training and then just get out there and plan! It is the first time in a long training career that I have been asked to grapple with this topic with experienced staff in a CPD context and the experience has been interesting with a few key themes emerging in the dialogue.

1. Is the scheme of work or plan for learning designed and intended for teachers, management or students and what difference does that make to its layout, style and use?

Discussions here highlighted the notion of the scheme of work as proof of professionalism, of it acting as a plan to ensure coverage of all learning outcomes and assessment criteria within the given timeframe for the programme, both valuable attributes. Some teachers mentioned having a scheme or work as a teacher-facing document written in the jargon of our profession, showing compliance with the current trends in the sector, e.g. Embedding of numeracy and literacy, strands on employability skills etc. It is a kind of catch-all space to show you have covered all bases and here debate and disquiet became evident as some teachers commented that it can become a hoop-jumping exercise to evidence the latest hot trend in Ofsted thinking. Some expressed a tension here – what learners might need if you simply respond to what you learn about them versus the feeling of needing to incorporate “on message” elements in your scheme that may be less relevant, helpful or timely.

In our conversations the notion surfaced repeatedly of the scheme of work as a bureaucratic document that is generally added to the intranet in August and only re-visited before an observed lesson, an inspection or in preparation for the following year. Some teachers mentioned that their ‘real planning’ takes place in a personalised format captured in a paper-based planner or notebook or online folder. Some said that they print off their outline scheme of work and then annotate it with comments, reflections etc after the sessions and keep those sheets in a folder for reference or sharing with co-tutors on their teaching team. This would seem to have many positives in terms of collaboration and communication with colleagues but also personal reflection on your practice. It is too easy to teach a session and not have time or space to capture the interesting things you noticed in that session for yourself and your learners, so a quick note on paper may be a practical approach.

In some colleges I am definitely noting outbreaks of column craziness, as schemes of work get wider and more infested with spaces to cover different aspects of ever-multiplying embedded themes. There is a need for a sense check every time we create a pro forma and a column cull is a recommended activity for every summer term in my opinion. Retaining our focus on the learning of core knowledge and skills is surely important. Some colleges are artfully avoiding column overload by adopting The Embedding Box on either the top of the scheme or work or the group profile. This is completed in overview by the course team and then manifests itself in delivery at session level only as and when appropriate. This means harnessing naturally occurring opportunities to embed literacy and employability as opposed to feeling the tyranny of the column, nudging you to wrench in things that really shouldn’t be there in that session….

Some staff told me that they have devised something more akin to a plan for learning, which is student-facing, including an outline of content, learning outcomes, assessments and resources, written in student-friendly language. This has obvious benefits in terms of learners being able to catch up, review, preview materials in their own time and at their own pace, which sits well with our current emphasis on encouraging learner independence. We are here to help learners learn so this feels appropriate. The plan is for the learners after all.

2. Can we devise and use this plan as a true working document that is revised, re-imagined even, as we work with our learners?

This was indeed a thorny one, with many teachers telling me that it is common practice to devise the scheme of work in detail at an inappropriate time of the year (July/August) under pressure from managers and the way development/planning time is configured in our calendars. The more we talked about this the less it made any sense at all. In July and August we either don’t know learners’ results or don’t know the learners at all. How can we possibly plan detailed activities and resources for the session on February 10th of the following year? We just don’t know enough about those students to do detailed planning with any degree of reliability. In my opinion this is unsound, impractical and a waste of valuable time.

Here is a more pragmatic approach to consider:

1. In July and August, look at your specification for the qualification and chunk it into a top line, provisional plan of areas to cover each term. Spend time reviewing your work this year and identifying what went well and what could be improved, if you are teaching the same programme next year. Gather links, resources, video clips that will help you create a scheme of work or plan for learning to appeal to different needs and levels of learner. Do some of this with colleagues as a sounding board and source of inspiration/alternative approaches. In your outline plan/scheme, leave some sessions intentionally blank so you have room to be flexible and respond to what is arising at that time.

2. Plan in assessment points and assignment deadlines if that is possible.

3. Think about skills and knowledge development over time and how different aspects of the scheme connect and interrelate. Think about how you can create a golden thread through the scheme of core skills, concepts, approaches within your subject.

4. Plan induction and some sessions that involve a range of activities and tasks that help you diagnose needs, skills, preferences.

5. Later in September, use data on your learners and your observations as a professional to plan activities and resources that will help you work with this specific group of learners and then flesh out your scheme of work or plan for learning. By this point you will have a more solid basis of information to draw on in order to plan appropriately at the level of session details.

6. Re-visit the scheme or plan with colleagues for peer review conversations and amend and tweak it as further needs and issues emerge. Bring it to life as a real working document, reflecting your journey with that group as they move with you towards those learning outcomes. Used appropriately, I think a scheme of work is tweaked and altered very regularly as you respond to a live learning environment. Topics may need to shift in terms of sequence and additional remedial work may be needed as issues arise for learners within tasks.

I can hear some of the leaders and managers I know groaning and saying ‘We just don’t have time to do it this way!’ Yes you do, if you re-think the use of CPD/staff development days and curriculum team meetings over the year and that block of dead time in late June and early July. It is about will, focus and priorities. It is about realising that the current planning process in some colleges does not benefit learners or staff and fosters schemes or work as a piece of bureaucracy while the real learning process goes on elsewhere. Teachers really don’t have time to waste on planning in a way dictated more by bureaucracy than their real context. We need to work smarter here and we can.

3. How can we incorporate our own personal and unique ways of planning into a document?

Thoughtful, insightful managers realise that you don’t need one single standard scheme of work template in place to evidence good planning in your college. You need evidence of effective planning in some form. Even Ofsted came out to state that they do not specify a format or expect this to be evidenced in one particular way. This may mean that several sample templates are circulated as food for thought but teachers are also encouraged to submit their versions for discussion and debate.

Teachers working on linear A Level delivery told me they are grappling with how best to plan and represent this as they develop their practices. Teachers who deliver workshop sessions where learners work on individual personalised targets also find that the classic scheme of work template often doesn’t fit with the way those sessions are structured and delivered. For me we need more flexibility, more creativity and more personal engagement with devising planning documents so that they more closely mirror our real practices with learners.

4. How can we plan effectively in teams where we collaborate on delivery of a programme?

Teams who collaborate to deliver a programme need a virtual and physical space to share resources and reflections. This can be a shared folder or active scheme of work online, a box in a workroom and/or a regular slot to meet and share where they are and what they are noticing about those learners. Course team cluster meetings within the wider curriculum team or faculty meeting can help here.

By the end of September, course teams should be meeting for a look at what they know about those learners and how this can be reflected in their scheme or plan. To me it would make sense if colleges scheduled a half day staff development slot at that point and allowed teams to configure the meetings to suit them. After Christmas, another such session would be helpful.

5. Is it possible to over-plan and live to regret it as a waste of time?

Yes, and we need to be wiser about this. You can open the debate in your institution about this if you are a teacher. If you are a manager you can start exploring other ways of working with your team and you can raise this at management forums. If you are a leader, you can give the teachers the valuable gift of time to spend on sharing reflections and planning effectively for their learners. What could be more important?

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Coming soon! Reclaiming Lesson Observation edited by Dr Matt O’Leary

I am very pleased to be involved in this forthcoming publication on reclaiming lesson observation. My chapter looks at the role of coaching approaches in lesson observations in the FE sector.

This publication should be a really interesting read due to the varied passions and expertise of the people who have contributed a chapter on this important topic. Information on the link below:

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Effective Feedback and Feed Forward

  1. Several good reads on how to give effective feedback:

The Secret of Effective Feedback by Dylan William

Education Endowment Foundation summary on marking

Education Endowment Foundation Report A Marked Improvement 2016

2. Some blogs on practical classroom approaches for giving feedback and engaging learners with feed forward responses to it:

Why is questioning missing from book marking?

Making feedback count: Close the gap

Have we got feedback backwards?


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What makes great teaching? – COBIS Annual Conference 2016

12th May 2016

Professor Rob Coe delivered a workshop to school leaders in May at the 35th Annual Conference of the Council for British International Schools.

It has long been argued that ‘teacher quality’ is the single most important school variable influencing student achievement – but what can research tell us about the kinds of classroom practices that are likely to create the most learning for students?

In his session, Rob drew upon a range of research findings, including three reviews he has co-authored: the ‘Teaching and Learning Toolkit’, ‘What makes great teaching?’ and ‘Developing Great Teaching’. See below for a link to the presentations and related research and blog postings.


Posted in CPD, CPD for Teachers, Culture for Learning, Leadership of learning, Learning Leader, Professional Development, Teaching and learning | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Rethinking Lesson Observations: Some Reflections on the Optimus Education Event on April 26th 2016

Still buzzing after a day of vibrant discussions with cross sector colleagues at the Optimus Education event in London. It is a rare thing for staff from Primary, Secondary, Further and Higher Education to join together with colleagues from training providers and share experiences, challenges and practices. I can see how enriching and beneficial this cross fertilization can be as there were so many points of contact, shared concerns but different approaches to bring to our discussions on rethinking lesson observations.

In group discussions and plenary slots, I heard from a range of colleagues who are clearly rethinking, reframing and reformulating lesson observations in their setting. Inspiring to hear of such creativity and ownership of this process. It was great to hear about a number of settings where:

  1. Teachers are centre stage in identifying some areas of focus for the ungraded observation and subsequent professional dialogue. In some places a pre-session meeting is happening, so that developmental dialogue begins even before the lesson is delivered. We discussed the opportunity here for real engagement by teachers in this process as the observation experience can differentiate for needs and interests in this way.
  1. Coaching approaches based on attentive listening, insightful questioning and judicious sharing of ideas/options are considered a natural part of the process of observation. Observers in some settings are receiving training in coaching and developmental dialogue skills, recognizing their need to facilitate reflection as opposed to dump feedback on the person they visited.
  1. Colleagues are very clear on the value of observation as a developmental tool and aware of all the complexities around watching a session while trying not to judge it.

In Dr Matt O’Leary’s session, the idea of observing without criteria or checklists came up in discussion. Some very interesting conversations ensued about whether it is possible to observe without judging – we all have assumptions about what effective T&L look like and these are culturally, historically and socially situated. We all have “the flavour of the month” thinking instilled by current Ofsted frameworks and trends in pedagogy. Colleagues were acknowledging the challenges of “seeing” what is happening in a lesson without triggering considerable subjective bias that will limit the reflective depth of the subsequent professional dialogue. We talked about the notion of trying to be aware of this fact and turning the volume down on assumptions in conscious ways through the use of coaching skills and avoiding checklists that keep us in blinkers. How much more would we notice and be able to discuss if we weren’t grappling with lists of criteria in that moment?

Yet the blank page affrighted some. It wouldn’t help us to report in coherent ways on key themes arising as strengths or areas for development; it wouldn’t provide the overview we need to plan CPD. These are real and valid concerns in our work to enhance the quality of T&L for learners. So several colleagues spoke of allowing for free, open, unconstrained observation without criteria checklists but then using filter key words to look for themes and trends at the point of summary reporting. This might involve some grappling with IT systems to wrestle with the data, or seeking out an Excel wizard in your setting. The benefit here is the summaries allow for profiling by curriculum team and identifying where strong practices sit so that sharing and collaboration can be fostered more effectively. This does not involve grading anyone.

It was an inspiring day as I saw how much thoughtful, principled grappling is going on as we grope our way towards truly developmental, ungraded models of observation. It was clear today that there are pioneer institutions in all sectors that are well on the way to forming practical processes for bringing these to life; they are no longer hypothetical models. Observation is not the fixed entity, the dysfunctional monolith it has been in some settings – it is being reinvented and reformed right now as people take ownership of it. It is deeply exciting to see how much rethinking is going on around lesson observations and long may it last. Cross sector events such as the Optimus Education one today will support people on that journey. If you would like to join this big conversation, I hope you will book in for the repeat of this event in November in Birmingham, using the link below:



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