As part of my training and consultancy work, I often support schools and colleges with setting up and developing coaching networks. In mature coaching networks, I am noticing an exciting evolution of their role from 1:1 coach to the broader role of “internal consultant” for teams. With current demands for quality improvement and budgetary constraints in all sectors of education, this broader and richer role has a lot to offer.
When coaching networks are set up, they initially have to grapple with establishing credibility, clarifying their offer and becoming a trusted resource for teachers and managers. This involves a great deal of thought, communication, skills development and persistence and it also takes time – in many colleges, I have seen it take three years or more for the coaches to become part of the fabric of improvement work, as they formed relationships with staff, worked out where and how they could contribute and developed the skills to do this sensitively, supportively and effectively. At this stage of their evolution, they are often focused on 1:1 work to support teachers with improving the quality of T&L, related to lesson observation processes.
As coaching networks develop and bed in, I am seeing their role evolve into something broader and more integrated into the life of curriculum teams. They are becoming “internal consultants” to a specific team or teams, providing a range of support and development, for example:
- Attending team meetings to discuss training and development needs for that team or drafting questionnaires to gather that information
- Designing or sourcing bespoke CPD for the team, to address those needs
- Sourcing relevant research or pedagogical reading or links on topics that interest the team
- Working 1:1 with teachers on areas of interest, be they areas for improvement or simply areas of exploration
- Setting up and coordinating peer observation triangles or groups
- Coordinating action research groups or professional learning communities/ Supported Experiments
It is exciting to note this evolution of role, as the “internal consultant” model has the potential to provide a rich range of tailored support to a team, with relationships developing over time. It helps schools and colleges to avoid the broad brush, sheep dipping approach to CPD much criticised in recent research.
Certain conditions help this “internal consultancy” model to flourish, I think. The coaching network needs a coordinator for the coaches to report to, with sufficient seniority to command some budget and influence at SMT/SLT. I am seeing too many talented and insightful coaching leads stuck at a junior level in the hierarchy, with their potential to drive improvement severely limited. The coaching group need to have a range of curriculum backgrounds among them so that they can connect easily to different subject teams. They need a range of advanced coaching and CPD delivery skills so that they can facilitate reflection and action planning as well as deliver engaging and relevant training sessions to groups. This means that they also need to be up-to-date with current pedagogy and research by reading, use of social media and attending conferences/external events.
There is also something about time and timetables here. I have seen many colleges move from a big group of coaches with a small amount of remission to a smaller group with more time to dedicate to the role. In some cases, this can be several coaches with 0.5 remission in a large FE college. They tell me that having more time available means they can deliver more support within different timetable slots and coaches can be more flexible in their work with teachers than when they were constrained to only coaching 2-4pm on a Thursday, for example. Arguably, coaches may also develop skills more quickly through the greater number of opportunities to coach, deliver CPD etc.
For coaches to make this transition to “internal consultants” some training and guidance may be needed. It helps them to consider approaches for identifying training needs, ways to work collaboratively with managers, ways to pitch CPD delivery to staff with different levels of expertise and engagement. Advanced coaching skills are useful to their 1:1 and group sessions too.
With staff development budgets contracting and less and less money available to bring in experts or attend expensive external events, this model of coaching has great appeal. It builds capacity within the organisation for bespoke support over time with more potential for closing the loop on improvement work. It also provides an interesting career route for teachers who want to work in development, so forms part of talent management in our schools and colleges. It will be interesting to see how this role evolves further with time.