In two previous posts, I thought about the role of vision and culture in getting coaching up and running in schools, and some of the things that coaches might need in preparation for working with their colleagues. In this post, I consider how coaching could fit into a wider CPD program.
A good CPD program is varied. There is varation in content, for example over a term, there might be sessions on Marking and Feedback, SEN, SIMs etc. There is variation in style, for example, some sessions will be more of a lecture style, some will be the catalyst for some action research etc. There is variation in speakers, for example, SLT, Subject Leaders, external experts etc. There is variation in venue, in that meetings are held in different places around school. Coaching certainly adds to the variety of a good CPD program.
The driver for planning a CPD program is the school’s strategic plan. There will already have been a thorough analysis of what it is that the school needs to work on and this could well quickly fill up weekly INSET slots. The danger here is that by having a weekly focus for CPD, coverage is wide but key ideas do not become embedded in practice. One off INSET sessions may not necessarily lead to sustained improvement in teaching. Rather, teachers need to act their way into thinking to adjust habits. This is where coaching can complement traditional models of CPD programs. When an idea is introduced in an INSET session, coaches can foster work on strategies over the next few weeks. This will not always be appropriate, though, and before long, if every session is followed up with coaching, there will be too much going on and we risk losing focus of the main thing – improving teacher quality.
One option, then, is for school leaders to have a clear vision for what it is that makes great teaching – generic strategies or principles that can be tweaked over time. It might be of use to refer to Hattie’s meta-analysis of teaching interventions to inform this thinking. Quality of feedback must surely be on any school’s list of aspects of great teaching and according to Hattie has one of the highest effect sizes. Teacher clarity also ranks highly – this could include quality of explanations and modelling. With clarity of thinking about what makes great teaching, any weekly CPD focus can be alligned to the values already established and then practised in subsequent coaching sessions. This provides direction and reinforces the message that teaching quality matters most.
The model outlined above takes the prevailing conditions of many CPD programs (weekly topics) and uses coaching to add further conditions that we know are more conducive to effective learning – deliberate practice, spaced learning and feedback. This could work. However, I think that our CPD programs should reflect more what we know about effective learning. The weekly topics structure that has been the basis of many schools’ programs for years is essentially massing as opposed to spacing. Massing can work for performance – cramming the night before a test can mean success, but all is forgotten soon after. Similarly, a situation where an idea is introduced in INSET, expected to be seen in upcoming observations and subsequently ticked off, is just the same. Learning and performance are different and spacing is the driver for learning. No matter how effective coaching is, we risk betraying our values and undermining our intended message if those weekly INSET sessions contradict what we know works in learning.
So, spacing and revision could be planned into the CPD program. A massed CPD program, supported through coaching may look a bit like this:
Week 1 – Marking and Feedback in English. (Coaching: Shared marking).
Week 2 – Modelled and Shared Writing. (Coaching: Modelled writing).
Week 3 – Implications of new curriculum in maths. (Coaching: Joint planning).
A spaced program would need a little more consideration and could look like this:
Coaching presents a major change in how schools work and this change needs to be thoughtfully managed in order for it to make the impact on teaching quality that it undoubtedly can. For schools to benefit from coaching, there must already be structures in place. A strong vision and clear communication, shared with integrity by school leaders, will pave the way for deliberate practice and quality coaching conversations to take place. Coaches need to be well prepared and knowledgeable so that we can make the best use of time. They must have a range of strategies to draw upon and like any expert, must expect to practise to be as effective as possible. Coaching must also be part of a wider CPD program that reflects the best of what we know about learning.