Teaching and learning coaches have gone viral! Most colleges I work with in the FE sector have a network of T&L coaches, Advanced Teachers, Advanced Practitioners or Learning Practitioners. I find them some of the most inspiring, creative, engaging people in the sector as they have real passion for supporting colleagues and improving T&L through collaborative development.
A while ago I worked with two teams of ATs/LPs from Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College and College of North West London on a joint training day. They were full of incisive reflections on the challenges of working with staff, the benefits of their role and the approaches that help. There was a wealth of lively debate about the conflict of working in a truly developmental way and the sector pressures for rapid perceived improvement within hoop jumping graded observation processes. They were utterly rejuvenating to spend time with!
It struck me during the day how pivotal this role is in moving colleges forward in many ways. The 1:1 and group conversations these coaches have with staff can accelerate change, intervene to support individuals and build new ways of sharing within and between teams. They are a positive developmental task force at the chalk face. If resourced and timetabled appropriately, they can provide, space, time and focus for staff in a unique way within college life. Yet I see colleges forming a network of coaches and then expecting them to be able to perform effectively with little or no development and poor or no coordination.
The role is challenging and the skills involved are sophisticated because:
1. Coaches often have to deal with angry, resentful, stressed or defensive people who have been told their practice needs to improve when they may not agree. Collaborating with them to create positive development is complex, challenging work.
2. Pitching your tone and approach with a colleague is something that requires skill and thought. There are many sensitivities involved linked to hierarchy, experience, role and personalities. It’s not appropriate to just transfer your teaching skills so coaches need need training and guidance on how to proceed.
3. The role involves a wide range of skills – listening, questioning, rapport building, appropriate challenge, action planning, follow up, administrative tracking, liaison and case load management.
Tips for developing the skills of the coaching network
1. invest in core skills training related to solution focused thinking, coaching and developmental feedback techniques. If you need support in this area, I hope you will get in touch:
2. set up dual observations and coaching sessions so coaches can watch each other, reflect and discuss skills and approaches.
3. run regular network meetings with reflective slots about what is going well, what they are learning and where there are glitches. In these sessions, embed peer coaching slots for action planning individual points.
4. set up a buddy system so more experienced coaches can hook up with those who are just starting off.
Tips for coordinating the network
In my experience, there is not enough attention focused on this aspect of embedding coaches/ ATs/APs/LPs. Many colleges leave them reporting to curriculum managers, getting side tracked by agendas that are not appropriate to their role which prevents them from working in agile ways across college on key priorities for development. So here are some ideas on coordinating the coaching network effectively:
- create publicity about their role and services on a flyer and via video clips.
- publicise this at team meetings, where coaches can brief teams and run a Q&A slot on their role and services (we do this, we don’t do this)
- hold meetings where managers and coaches come together to talk about ways to work together and what the coach role is and isn’t. Misunderstandings about this can cause a world of pain so a focus on drip drip communication pays off.
- develop a clear process for referrals and self referrals for coaching, to help coaches get access to staff.
- get clarity on confidentiality, what is recorded and tracked and who sees it and be transparent about that.
- encourage people who have experienced coaching to leave a testimonial quote or video diary to help others see the benefits and how it works.
If you develop the skills of the coaches and coordinate their work dynamically, they can contribute a great deal to positive culture creation in colleges. They can be part of really walking the talk of the learning organisations that many colleges purport to be.