In this guest blog, WE hear from Windsor Academy Trust on their approach to instructional coaching.
At Windsor Academy Trust (WAT) we are committed to fostering and developing a culture of continuous learning for all of our staff, building a culture where we are all getting better all of the time. We wholeheartedly believe that, in the words of Dylan William, “If we create a culture where we all believe that we need to improve, not because we are not good enough, but because we can be even better, there is no limit to what we can achieve.”
We don’t do this for self-fulfilment. It is the significant impact on student achievement that drives the motivation and energy behind our continuous professional learning (CPL). “There is no improvement for pupils without improvement in teaching, and no improvement in teaching without the best professional development for teachers.” Knowledge building – school improvement at scale (Confederation of School Trusts, 2021).
We have clear underpinning principles behind the design of CPL. Principles that research evidence tells us are embedded in impactful programmes. Some of which include ensuring that there is rhythm and duration to CPL, that it builds on an individual’s starting points and is research-informed.
We also create clarity and a sense of purpose by focusing CPL on pupil outcomes. The Education Endowment Foundation research report, Characteristics of Effective Teacher Professional Development (2021), outlines the mechanisms that cognitive science tells us will enhance the impact of CPL. Relevant mechanisms have been carefully woven into our professional development programmes to ensure the greatest impact possible.
Instructional coaching is one such programme that incorporates the core principles and mechanisms of effective CPL. It particularly emphasises the ‘Developing Techniques’ group of mechanisms. This focuses on instructing staff on how to perform a technique, modelling it, monitoring and providing feedback and rehearsing the technique.
Why Instructional Coaching?
“In terms of impact on student outcomes, instructional coaching has a better evidence base than any other form of CPD.” Steve Farndon (2019). Dr Sam Sims (2018) corroborates this view of how effective and impactful instructional coaching is as a form of CPD for teachers “Instructional coaching is now the best-evidenced form of CPD we have.”
So often we hear teachers commenting on how regular school CPD is poorly aligned to their individual and subject specific needs, how it is too generic to be of any real value and also how it often fails to ‘close the loop’ in terms of teachers actually going away and implementing what they have learnt in CPD in their own classrooms.
When considering how feedback from formal lesson observations is also often of little use or benefit to teachers, in terms of specifically identifying exactly what needs to be done in order to improve their pedagogy and with the added complexity of formal lesson observations often conducted as a judgement tool for performance management purposes rather than a tool for purely developmental purposes, moving away from this formalised observation-feedback process makes sense.
Tom Sherrington concedes that “most of the top-down fly-by feedback I’ve given over the years has been ignored or wrong with no impact on teaching quality. Because I was giving it – not helping the teacher to generate it; imposing my agenda, not helping the teacher with theirs.” Instructional coaching is a means by which both of these long-standing dilemmas can be effectively addressed, with expert teachers working closely with their more ‘novice’ colleagues in an individualised, observation-feedback-practice cycle.
Improving Teacher Practice and Overcoming Classroom Habits
With instructional coaching, coaches observe part of a teacher’s lesson and then identify the area of pedagogy that they think will most improve the teacher’s practice. They then explain to the teacher how they can improve in this area, creating a manageable, bite-sized step for improvement, known by some as ‘the highest leverage action step’. The coach then co-designs the suggested action-step with the teacher and both practice the action-step in controlled conditions, known as ‘deliberate practice’, before the teacher attempts the new technique in their classroom.
This helps them to overcome their existing classroom habits or what is commonly referred to as the ’knowing-doing’ gap. So how does instructional coaching compare to what others often refer to as ‘business coaching’ or ‘facilitative coaching’? In these types of coaching models, the coach asks a series of open questions to draw out the answers that people already, in some sense, know deep down. Instructional coaches are more directive and take an approach very similar to coaches within sporting contexts. Dr Sam Sims describes this process of instructional coaching as “very intentionally laying a trail of breadcrumbs to move the novice from where they are currently, to where the expert wants them to be.”
How Instructional Coaching is Implemented across our Trust
After conducting an instructional coaching pilot last year, at the start of the 2021 academic year, we have been implementing an instructional coaching programme across all nine of our schools. Jon Hutchinson, Director of Training and Development at Reach Foundation, has been working with us to design and deliver three bespoke instructional coaching training sessions to almost 100 expert teachers across our Trust.
Feedback from our coaches who attended the training sessions have been extremely positive:
“It was useful that the key messages were supported with a video for us to practise putting the skills into action. The leadership of the content was excellent – Jon’s passion and knowledge was inspiring.”
“Really clear messages were shared about the coaching program, with deep rooted research into its effectiveness. I feel honoured being chosen as a coach for the program, especially after the list of qualities and reasons why we were all here.”
Fantastic feedback from Jon Hutchinson also validates our commitment to developing our teachers through our instructional coaching programme:
“Working with the Windsor Academy Trust has been a real privilege. It is clear that this family of schools are driven by a deep and passionate mission to ensure that all children receive world class teaching and I was in awe of the level of commitment and expertise of the coaches and teachers. WAT has such a clear, comprehensive and well-evidenced approach to teaching and learning, and I’m thrilled that the lucky pupils will continue to get even better teaching as coaches and teachers work together to improve every day.”
To support our teachers on their instructional coaching journey, we have purchased copies of Teaching WalkThrus: Five-step guides to instructional coaching by Oliver Caviglioli and Tom Sherrington, for all teachers across our Trust.
We have also created a handbook for our coaches, which gives essential tips and guidance on ‘Instructional Coaching the WAT Way’. When providing feedback in the form of coaching conversations, our handbook guides our coaches to follow Paul Bambrick-Santoyo’s “6 Step” Feedback Guide for Post-Observation Coaching taken from his book Leverage Leadership.
Looking forward we are now working on collaborative approaches to sharing best practice for our instructional coaching programme across our Trust. This involves creating sample coaching clips and banks of primary and secondary focussed example action steps to support our coaches to become even better.
We are confident with the research evidence behind this approach to teacher CPL, with the green shoots of impact already emerging from our instructional coaching programme. Our focus is now on embedding the programme across our Trust for the benefit of teachers and students. This will be built on our culture of continuous improvement, refining and improving our approach as we go.