Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Walk this way

Walk this way

Coaching and mentoring is one gateway to personalising learning and raising achievement. Kate Spiller of The Sweyne Park School talks about consultant menus, coaching days and other ways to engage staff and students.

The Sweyne Park School was opened in 1997, following the closure of two secondary schools which had a history of surplus pupil places. From the outset I was determined that the school would have a culture of respect and value for all individuals in its community.

I believe that people want to succeed, yet to develop their capacities and self-esteem, they require praise, support and challenge. Coaching and mentoring - both for staff and students - is for us key to achieving this.

When the two schools combined, about 45 per cent of pupils were achieving five A*-C GCSE grades. Data suggested that 60 per cent were capable of gaining five such grades. I knew this level of school improvement would only be possible if we raised the expectations of staff, pupils and families.

Staff coaching

Continuing professional development has played a crucial role in helping staff see the school as a learning community for all stakeholders. For us, a learning community requires people to behave with integrity, trust each other and so be able to take risks without fear of blame.

Coaching and mentoring is a part of people's entitlement to be all they can become within a learning community. It is a means by which everyone is given the challenge they need to succeed.

We were very proud to gain training school status in 2003 as it reflects our commitment to staff development. We hold weekly workshops and an annual residential conference where good practice is shared.

Our workshop sessions are always active and employ a range of learning approaches so that good classroom practice is actually modelled. Sessions place staff in learning situations that relate closely to pupils' classroom experiences.

Frequently a member of staff, often a junior member, facilitates part of a session, sharing practice and coaching colleagues. This drives home the message to staff of all levels of experience and responsibility that professional development is a continual process. Even very good teachers need help to get better and we try to get people to achieve things they didn't think were possible.

Giving feedback can sometimes be uncomfortable and staff are trained to respond without undermining self-confidence. The normal pattern we encourage is to offer five positive comments and identify one area for further development work.

We make sure that staff are praised and thanked for their contribution to the improvement of the school. This has been crucial in creating a positive and enthusiastic ethos about coaching.

Initial teacher training

As a school we have worked together to produce a very comprehensive training offer for beginning teachers. We work with PGCE students from five higher education providers and also offer a graduate teacher training programme. This work has meant a large number of our teachers have trained as mentors, which helped teachers become comfortable coaching each other.

Beginning teachers raise stimulating questions about pupil learning and their interest in motivation and behaviour encourages experienced staff to reflect on the choices and actions they take in the classroom.

Our 'consultant menu' lets individual staff take this further. A number of consultants who have contributed to our school improvement work, such as departmental reviews and staff training activities, are available to staff. Individuals can name a specific focus and request time from these consultants for coaching to improve their own practice.

A further strand of coaching is offered to those who hold a 'deputy' position. Deputy heads spend a week as acting headteacher each year. Deputy heads of department and year teams also step up into the role of head of department or head of year for a week.

During these periods of acting responsibility, trainees undertake a full range of tasks and coaching is offered by the person who holds the position. This has proved very useful preparation for promotion and useful security when longer term staff absence has occurred.

Coaching meetings

All staff who have responsibility for leading and managing others have a timetabled meeting each week with a member of the leadership team. This is partially information exchange, but also has a significant coaching element. Questions are raised about the performance of all members of the department and strategies are planned together which could lead to improvement.

The meetings are used to explore issues such as organisation of pupil groups, classroom resources, use of rewards within the department, allocation of staff to specific teaching groups and analysis of pupil monitoring data.

The department leader also has the opportunity to investigate ways to tackle situations; for example, how to approach discussion with an under-performing teacher, or how to initiate a change that is likely to meet with resistance. Line management meetings also provide an opportunity to work with the middle leaders to ensure high quality monitoring and self-evaluation strategies are in place.

Performance management has become central to professional development by incorporating coaching and mentoring. Nothing in a performance management session should ever come as a shock and therefore each staff member is observed about three or four times a year by senior staff. They, in turn, have plenty of opportunities to observe their colleagues with identified expertise in particular areas.

Our school also places great importance on self-evaluation and reflection. In the summer term, middle leaders have the opportunity to spend a coaching day with a member of the leadership team, observing and discussing both the day-to-day and the development work of the leadership team.

Pupil voice

Our commitment to making coaching and mentoring part of the school ethos has had a positive effect on classroom practice. We feel that the focus on respect has had a particularly powerful effect on pupil-staff relationships.

Our coaching approach has also influenced us in our work with pupils and they are now given many opportunities to develop their own coaching and mentoring skills. Each year we organise a number of pupil conferences where pupils work in groups with adult experts from the community. During these events, pupils take leadership roles and support other pupils during activities.

The conferences culminate in a presentation of what has been learned. Pupil peer evaluation is used to provide feedback to enable pupils to further develop their skills.

Our year and school councils provide an arena that we also use for coaching pupils and developing their skills, attributes and overall self-confidence. Evaluation and feedback enable pupils to focus on how they will improve their skills and performance.

Our PE department offers the national Sports Leader Award for Key Stage 4 pupils; this too focuses on pupils developing coaching skills to support other pupils within physical education.

Peer mentoring

There are also programmes involving individual year groups. We organise a peer mentoring scheme where Year 9 pupils can apply for an in-school training course. They then become mentors to students who are experiencing difficulty at school.

Year 10 pupils can undertake a course focusing on teaching reading. Once they have completed it, they are partnered with a Year 7 pupil whose reading age is below chronological age.

Our Year 7 induction programme involves Year 11 prefects and selected Year 8 pupils supporting tutor groups to ensure that Year 7 pupils make a confident start to secondary school life. Younger students can approach their older role models about any concerns. The older students are as enthusiastic as the younger ones, and we are always inundated by pupils who want to be mentors on the induction programme.

Overall, I believe we have developed an ethos at Sweyne Park in which both staff and pupils view the school as a learning environment. The culture is such that people are sufficiently confident to work together for improvement, and willing to assess their performance openly so they can improve their progress.

All members of our community are encouraged to contribute to the development of the school and the people in it. We are committed to working together, continually improving our practice and achieving further success.

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