The right drivers of a Coaching program

Dr Mark Dowley August 25th, 2019 · 2min

How do you navigate conflicting views and competing demands when developing an effective coaching program?

School leaders may want under-performing staff improved immediately or prefer a system where all teachers are appraised.

In navigating these demands, first the school needs to decide on which drivers to base the coaching program.

Educational leadership expert, Michael Fullan would argue that conflicting views and demands can be settled by identifying which drivers are behind these decisions. In his latest book ‘The Principal’ he argues there are right and wrong drivers:

The Wrong drivers are: Accountability, Individualistic Solutions, Technology or Fragmented Strategies.

The Right drivers are: Capacity Building, Collaborative Effort, A Focus on Pedagogy and Systemness.

I will discuss a staff development program in the context of the right drivers:

Capacity building: Professionals need dedicated time to be introduced to new skills. Workshops (preferably run internally) introduce new ideas and skills into the system and must be based in evidence: experts like Bill Rogers and Peter Myles for Behaviour Management, Dylan Wiliam for Feedback, John Hattie, Douglas Fisher & John Sweller for teaching strategies or Jay McTighe for curriculum design. We need to invest in leadership as well, and Michael Fullan is a great resource.

A focus on pedagogy: Of the variables we can control. The teacher and everything they do in the classroom has the greatest impact on student performance. As a result, most of the conversations in the school should be about what we do in the classroom. This can be challenging for some people but discussion should centre around, how do you teach ‘x’, what are the specific examples you use, what evidence to do you use to show students have demonstrated a concept. Almost everything else is an inefficient use of time.

Collaborative Effort: A school needs to be a community of people, all trying to get better at what they do. This includes collective goals. As a school, we have whole school goals around engagement, disruptions and the culture and climate we set in our classrooms. Faculties also have strategic goals, aligned to school goals and we support people to work towards them.

Systemness: Any staff development program is a system. This system includes clear goals for students, a collective understanding of what good teaching looks like, clear responsibilities for teachers, heads of faculty, deputy leaders and all other members of the school community. More importantly, there needs to be a system around helping staff improve, this can include reading, workshops and coaching. A coaching program is not a staff development program. Coaching is a strategy that fits into a broader system.

Finally, if you find yourself in discussions with leadership about how to make your colleagues more accountable, refer them to Michael Fullan:

‘My colleagues and I have shown, time and time again, that if you give people skills (invest in capacity building), most of them will become more accountable.’ — Michael Fullan

Happy Coaching,


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