A growth model of professional development with coaching at its heart

How does your school enable you to grow? When your colleagues are asked this, what do you think they’ll say?

About a year and a half ago I was asked this question and whilst I was able to speak confidently and thoroughly about all the opportunities, support and development we offer our staff at Wapping High School it highlighted to me that there was a need to explicitly bring our three pillars of development and growth into alignment;

  1. Performance management; an essential document which showcases teacher progress throughout the year linked to targets;
  2. Coaching; training our staff to become coaches and active listeners, enabling those they coach to find their own solutions to problems of practice;
  3. Our professional development programme; keeping up to the date with the most effective pedagogy and strategies to support student learning.

One challenge we faced was that teachers would find professional development sessions stimulating and relevant but not all be able to implement ideas and new knowledge into their classroom practice. This gap between research and practice, is also referred to as the “knowing–doing gap,” (Knight et al, 2013). It was from this space that our Professional Development and Coaching Programme was born.

So what is it and what is our goal?

The Professional Development and Coaching (PDC) Programme aims to provide passionate teachers with the development opportunities they need to support learning through coaching.

We knew that one of the most effectives ways we could develop practice was through feedback on real teaching, as this can provide teachers with the critical feedback they need to improve. Whilst we recognise that there is room for quality assurance based lesson observation in school we cannot deny that this form of feedback is usually infrequent and for different a purpose: evaluation as opposed to development of pedagogy and practice. We also felt that learning and teaching should not just be about accountability. It should be about providing precise feedback, which in return will lead to improvement, reduce stress and enhance satisfaction and as a result, wellbeing. Placing staff in triads with at least one experienced coach meant that we could enable teachers to receive more frequent feedback through low stakes observations.

So what does our new approach look like?

Staff were trained to only focus on one of the four domains recognised by the Great Teaching Toolkit Evidence Review, which identified the four priorities for teachers which will most improve student learning. Through coaching, staff select their one focus for a learning walk which takes place triannually during ‘open door fortnight’. The most important outcome of this is that the observer focuses on providing precise feedback on one GLOW (a strength) and one GROW (an area for development). A bitesize action step is essential. We want to move away from a list of ‘areas of improvement’ and instead focus on the highest leverage action which will lead to the most improvement. Staff then have the opportunity to work in their triads further through coaching feeding into the next cycle of learning walks.

The recent NFER analysis of teacher voice showed that teachers’ autonomy over their professional development goals is most associated with higher job satisfaction. Using this research and linking this cycle of coaching, observations, and goal setting we move towards Performance Management Development; now a live document which provides the space to record and journal the learning and growth colleagues experience through the PDC programme. There is now a thread of growth running through the school as these three formerly separate processes no longer stand alone but overlap and intertwine, revisited throughout the year.

So, how do we support our colleagues to grow? We do so by providing learning opportunities both to build pedagogical expertise but also to visit classrooms and learn from one another. The psychological safety of the open door fortnight provides a space to receive feedback which is precise and actionable. Staff then have the autonomy to choose what they develop and the satisfaction of knowing that they are in charge of their own learning and growth.

I was inspired by a tweet I saw by Peps Mccrea:

If I could claim this as an outcome for the PDC programme I would. By investing our energies into focusing on improving teachers, not evaluating them, we are more likely to improve the outcomes and life chances of our pupils.

Serra Sanders, Wapping High School

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