I was wrong about Coaching (Part 1/7)
I have captured my thoughts on coaching (and to a less degree mentoring) at various points in my teaching career, recorded here on the blog. Snippets here and there, segways and the occasional diversions within leadership post. Aligned articles, more general reading on leadership. There were eight more tangible encounters with Coaching and Mentoring. First, an underwhelming introduction to Coaching and Mentoring via the NPQML. Second, an important meeting Maureen Bowes (though at this point I didnt know what a coach was /did). Third and fourth, a semi-successful introductions to coaching via the Wellington College Coaching programme and a proscribed and brief opportunity to be Coached whilst at The Wellington Academy in the role of Vice Principal; laterly a key reflection point investigating ascribed versus proscribed coaching. Firth, over 2017-18 I took taken part in an experimental 12 month Complexity Theory in Education course with Keven Bartle, delivered in part by guest speaker seminar and narrative enquiry, of form of group or co-Coaching. This experience was particularly demanding and illuminating and it most certainly encouraged me to think more deeply about coaching, narrative enquiry, complexity, communication and how organisational management (it had a profound impact on my concept of leading and organisations). Then in April 2018, I attended a seminar with Dr Paul Browning, Trust in Leadership: How trusted are you as a leader? with my AHT colleague, which led to his reading his book Compelling Leadership, then going onto reading his PhD thesis and pretty much anything else I could find on trust.
…we notice trust as we notice air, only when it becomes scarce or polluted. – Baier (1986) (p234).
Of course, much of what is discussed around creating a trusting culture in schools,is related to leading, communication, coaching and mentoring and people intelligence. Finally, in late May 2018 I convened two separate meetings, with two trusted Head Teacher colleagues, one of which I know worked with an Executive Coach. With their affirmations ringing in my ears, I accepted an invitation to work with an Executive Coach myself, early in the summer term. After all, I had two years of Headship under my belt and plenty of experiences, missteps, reflections and successes to explore and a clear line of professional enquiry – how to develop trust in schools.
To be honest, it was a very telling experience, with a very skillful and knowledge Coach.
Given an opportunity to temporarily step back from school leadership, I made the conscious effort to reflect on these encounters and a range of others leadership experiences. I wrote a number of summative articles, on developing pedagogical expertise, on change management, on personal-professional productivity and a rather lengthy one on my personal engagement with Coaching. In that summary I acknowledged that ‘I was wrong about Coaching,’ and that I would put the record straight. I made a committed to seek a formal coaching accreditation (which turned out to be with the Institute of Leadership and Management,) with the forethought of incorporating coaching within leadership practice and possibly making a wider contribution to the Education Support Partnership.
That ten year journey reflection started as a post, became a few parts, bumped into Jane Suter from Red Tiger, became a narrative enquiry and ended up here as a seven part explanation as to “Why I was wrong about coaching.’ I write this, knowing that, there will be other parts, as I move through the course and start coaching myself. Perhaps that can be titles as a different series?
Find the right
It started with the commitment and then moved onto finding the right qualification and Awarding Body. That was far from straightforward. Multiple organisations, all with various levels, with varying components, support and costs. (I will explain why, in later posts). So I turned to a trusted coaching friend, Maureen, who’s recommendation led to an early morning coffee meeting Jane Suter (Executive Coach and owner of Red Tiger Consultancy).
Jane very kindly and thoroughly took me through the various accreditation pathways and options. In making her recommendation, she noted that she had read a few posts from this blog. A little embarrassed (and impressed by her level of preparation), I told her that I had also recently documented my thoughts on Coaching, from unimpressed, unconvinced and inexperienced Middle Leader to the point of this very conversation – beneficiary, investing my own time and money on getting accredited. Jane asked if she could read the post and I saw no reason not to, it was only in draft and I had not decided what I planned to do with it.
What resulted from that initial meeting with Jane Suter was two main options. What level accreditation and how much could I afford / invest. Second, Jane should a genuine interest in how I had come to my decision to seek a coaching accreditation and I offered to share the first unpublished blog post. Afterall, it was a ready made answer. At least I thought it was.
What followed was a series of emails, with lots of clarifying questions (mainly about word choices) and points for clarification,after all it was only a messy unpublished draft, it was never meant for anyone else to read. This led to further questions and conversations that resulted in me moving the draft post to Google Docs so we could exchange comments more freely. We were in fact adopting a narrative enquiry approach to the conversation and as Jane asked further questions so the explanation and insight deepened.
‘I was wrong about Coaching,’ through the unintentional narrative enquiry approach, quickly became a three part series and then four. Further questions meant that I had to revisited part four, adding to it, and then separating it into two more manageable reads as the themes solidified. So now we were at five, however the same happened again with part five and I felt a conclusion was required, so we ended up with seven parts.
I want to be very candid here. This series was initially written as a way to clarify and unpick my own professional thinking on coaching and mentoring. It was afforded by the rare opportunity to pause, notice and record my feelings and thinking at this moment in time. In my humble opinion it benefits heavily from the past records of this blog which, somewhat embarrassingly, provides a record of my immaturity but also of my development. As complex and chaotic as that may have been. It is also benefits from the expertise of Jane Suter’s questioning, the advice and prompting from Dr Sean Warren and Maureen Bowes, and the guidance of those mentors and colleagues I have worked with along the way.
It is my raw, initial reaction, that is largely shared here, rather than my refined, considered response. The validity of which, is not whether it appears to true, but rather the informed actions and reactions that resulted from my experiences. I am enrolled on my first formal Coaching accredited course. (That, my friend, is written for you, Dr Sean Warren).
Unimpressed or unconvinced by your introduction to Coaching? Frustrated with the mixed messaging of Coaching and Mentoring? Continue reading.
Curious? Previously left underwhelmed as I was? Ready to see what Coaching and Mentoring can offer your school, your leadership, your personal or professional performance? Looking to enhance and extend your own effectiveness and influence as a leader then feel free to skip forward to Part 3.
You find yourself at the forefront of education professional development. Prof Lofthouse (2018) recently made the case that coaching and mentoring is “suited to helping individuals dealing with authentic challenges, professional interests and dilemmas experienced in complex educational settings, while also acting as a counterweight to some of the consequences of performativity.” Meanwhile “Instructional Coaching” has been widely reported as one of the most effective models for teacher professional development. I hope that you are excited and as curious as I am, to see where you will find yourself following this series why I explain why I was wrong about coaching and mentoring.
10 years under my belt
I had been teaching near on ten years, been promoted, led a successful and experienced PE and Sport Department, led a Grade 1 Department, lead departments outside my area of expertise, joined an External Review collaboration, been inspected and secured my first whole-school leadership role, before I had ever heard of coaching or mentoring.
It was December 15th, 2009. What is more, I am a little embarrassed to share with you, that ‘coaching’ was met with insouciance. (I choose my words very carefully. You learn very quickly to do that when you work with a skilled and experienced coach (and also when you are developing your coaching skills too. More often than not you will be expected to, or prompted to explain yourself.) These are not hazy reflections. Since 2007, I kept a professional diary / blog. My indifference for coaching is not well hidden, not even camouflaged in a summary post titled LftM Development Day (LftM Leading from the Middle) now the National Professional Qualifications in Middle and Senior Leadership. I report it in black and white. With a little more compassion, of miles on the clock, you decided which is more important, I have chosen to politely summarise my thoughts as being left feeling ‘underwhelmed.’
It didn’t work. It felt contrived. I don’t like role play at the best of times.
If you stay with me, and I hope you do, I plan to explore how I journeyed from a position of poorly considered indifference to coaching advocate and student. And eventually, coach.
Now, with twenty plus years in education, at a time where ‘Instructional Coaching’ is making surfable waves in teacher professional development, where the profession is failing to retain teachers, recruit enough teachers. At a time where I have personally and professional benefitted from being coached, I am planning to invest both time and finance getting accredited.
Though I did not know where to start my investigations, I knew exactly who to approach for advice and guidance. More about Maureen Bowes (People Intelligence), Julian Stanley (CEO Education Support Partnership) and Jane Suter (Red Tiger Consultancy) at a later time point, for I am about to tuck into a rather large slice of humble pie.
Professional journey sans coaching
My PGCE at Loughborough University was a blur. The two school placements felt more like a professional initiation than preparation. I best remember the evenings, returning to University hall digs, eating and haphazardly preparing the following days lesson plans (and that is a loose definition) before clambering into bed at a little after 8pm, exhausted. Other than that, I have a handful of potted memories, most rather worrying, and a notion that finding a job present a real worry.
I left my first PE teacher job at West Bridgford School at the end of my NQT year to continue my studies at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. I can remember very little formal professional development during that first year. I do recall being explicitly shown how to manage the PE changing rooms, school uniform standards and setting expectations of behaviour. I can recall feeling very much a part of a PE team. As for formal professional development. Nada. No pedagogical support, planning or delivery. No official mentor. No appraisal. Plenty of mentoring. No coaching.
With a Masters degree and some fantastic memories, I returned to the UK and took up a role at Tauntons College, Southampton. I had two great unofficial mentors, experienced PE teachers, who did what was right and expected us to do likewise and one or two experienced colleagues around the College who I looked up to and admired. I still do. No formal line meetings, some co-planning and moderating of BTEC coursework and some rather horrendous Faculty meetings. We did have one or two whole-college INSET days, one memorable training session on assessment – ‘TAGs and PEGs,’ (target grades and predicted grades). Memorable for all the wrong reasons. I remember one staff INSET Day visit from the Farnborough College Principal – who introduced me to the term “discretionary effort.” I still make reference to that to this day.
Coaching, no. Mentoring, yes. Informally, but definitely mentoring. I still catch up with my ‘Head of Faculty’ Howard Tear, to this day. He is named here because he deserved to be. Kath Rudd too. If I had to summarised what they ‘taught me,’ it would be to have high, personal-professional standards, we work with people and to do a few important things brilliantly well.
It was not until I reached Hamble Community Sports College that I experience formal one-to-one line meetings. I had taken on the ICT Department and a whole school role on Digital Learning. These were both formal, “report and justify,” type conversations, as well as informal, “on-the-fly, how are you getting on” conversations with my line manager. In addition, once a year the Head Teacher drove us the three hours drive up to the SSAT Conference in Birmingham. Though I was not aware of it at the time, the journey was a prolonged ‘coaching and mentoring’ session. 30% coaching and 70% “best be aware that…,” and “don’t do that again” mentoring. I would have hoped by the third year, we were 60:40 in favour of coaching.
The conference itself was stretching and motivating. Unbeknown to me, attending with the Head Teacher, was very clear strategy employed to expose me to leadership culture and conversation (a strategy I have borrowed since – attending a number of professional events with senior staff.) As far as my own Middle and whole-school Leadership – I shudder to think how blunt my leadership practice must has been and the wake I left behind my good intentions.
Despite my reservations, the ICT results rocketed. I was promoted onto the Senior Leadership Team. I reflect and recognise that I had modest self-awareness, I perceived that leadership and management were pretty much the same thing. I expected myself to be out in front – leading. I didn’t look forward to the late Monday evening SLT meetings. I had been mentored and recognised it and I was expected to act in a leadership manner. After three years, I had received a lot of mentoring, and some coaching. The coaching was covert and I most certainly didn’t recognise it then – (I do now). I was not aware that I was about to enter a phase of a senior leadership that I would now characterised as “trial and error,” or “learn through experience” and “reactive action.” And I did not know any better.
I am confident that coaching would have made my personal journey both more productive and less painful for both myself and those I was dragging along with me. Coaching could have been used to increase my “self-awareness and a sense of personal responsibility.” I missed out.
Formal professional development, as I recognise it today, was not a part of the schools improvement plan. Coaching was not part of mine.