How to build a team of Teaching & Learning Coaches

A year ago I was blogging about the disappointment of trying and failing to set up a coaching scheme within an FE college. Now, a year later, there’s suddenly 6 months’ worth of coaching activity to write about.

The idea for the scheme came about following my accidental enrolment onto a coaching course in the summer of 2015. I was actually trying to develop myself as mentor coordinator for teacher education students and thought coaching would be more or less the same thing. How wrong I was. Filled with enthusiasm, I returned to college, badgered a few people, but never really managed to get anything off the ground. I think this was mainly due to other people not really knowing what coaching was either. I finally resorted to the “Your Ideas” section of the college website, claiming not only my free coffee voucher for the idea, but the £15 voucher for having an idea which was taken up by the college.

Weirdly I was then interviewed for the role of “Teaching and Learning Coach” along with 9 others, right at the end of the summer term. The role play part of the interview certainly challenged my application of non-directional coaching skills but my passion for the idea clearly came across, so I was appointed not only TLC, but lead TLC and allocated a day to carry out the role. This has since developed further into a 3 day secondment to the Quality team.

September came around all too soon and my fellow coaches needed training, so I delivered a couple of sessions  using the CET/DET unit “Preparing for the Coaching Role” for accreditation. The aim of this was to equip the team with basic coaching skills. The unexpected by-product was that they bonded very strongly from the outset. From a teaching point of view, I have never felt quite so daunted by a group of learners, as they of course comprised some of the best and most experienced teachers in the college. The interview panel had, however, done their work well and appointed 9 other coaches who had come into it for all the right reasons and with all the right skills: positivity, genuineness, warmth, humour and an open mind. They all started to feel like family right from the outset.

We were assigned to different sections in the college, according to the outcome of internal “learning reviews”. At least three sections had been graded 3, so were in need of some urgent “TLC”. These sections were allocated more than one coach, enabling us to meet and discuss what they needed, as well as creating opportunities for paired learning walks and co-delivery of workshops. Single TLCs would be allocated a section graded as 2 or above, with the idea of gathering and sharing the good practice across college. Our work with these sections of course involves further support and stretch for staff. Section Heads proved our greatest allies in the early days. Most had already taken great strides in terms of putting post learning review action plans into place and the warmth and enthusiasm with which they welcomed us into their teams was striking. Some of the staff were initially a little wary, when two of us asked one group what they had heard about us and our role, one teacher answered “You’re the police”. We have certainly gone some way towards turning these perceptions around, although our roles are a little blurred at times, as all of us coaches are also members of the college observation team.

So our role has grown, developed and moved flexibly in line with subsequent reviews and re-reviews. Monthly meetings have proved vital, informal TLC drop-ins have certainly given me the chance to compare notes with others and forge new relationships with the team. A recent trip to Bristol to attend a workshop run by Mark Adams  @AdamsPsychology on “Coaching skills for developing lesson observations” was, quite honestly, the best CPD I have ever been on. Support  from @JoanneMiles2 has been invaluable  as has advice from @Rissol_Gruffis , a fellow TLC at another college.

What else have we been doing? 

  • Attending team meetings to and explore training and development needs
  • Designing and delivering bespoke CPD workshops for teams
  • Sharing relevant research, reading or links on topics that interest the team
  • Creating Google+ pages, plus padlets for staff to share resources, ideas and comments
  • Recording video clips for the “Best practice shots” initiative
  • Working one to one with teachers to develop skills, knowledge and confidence.
  • Attending workshops and completing coaching qualifications to develop own knowledge and skills
  • Leading sessions on CPD day
  • Input on Teacher Education programmes and observations by trainees
  •  Supporting Best Practice lunches
  • Observations and learning walks as part of COT team

And what next? 

  • Linking up with the Advanced Practitioners from another local college
  • Recruiting 5 more TLCs
  • Moving into the college’s HE provision – two TLCs have been deployed here already
  • Involvement in an ETF project relating to English provision
  • Recording ourselves and others teaching
  • Co-ordinating peer observations within and between teams

The challenges have been many, but so have the benefits. I can only describe it as a privilege to work with my fellow coaches. I would dearly love this to become a permanent part of the college’s staff development programme. Wish us luck with our contractual negotiations for next year…

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