Good practice for professional coaching

Written by: Helen Webb | Published:
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Drawing upon the literature and her experience as a professional coach, Helen Webb discusses the importance of effective contracting for in-school coaching programmes, including return on investment, goal-setting, confidentiality and demonstrating impact

Professional coaching is becoming an increasingly popular strategy to support with the professional development and wellbeing of teachers.

Coaching can have both direct and indirect benefits on student outcomes (Sims, 2019; Sardar & Galdames, 2018).

However, at a time when schools are facing significant funding issues (NAHT, 2018), it is more important than ever that schools can not only benefit from but can also demonstrate the impact of any investment they make into professional development.

Effective contracting ensures that school leaders have a clear idea of the purpose of any coaching programmes, the limitations and boundaries of the coaching relationship, and realistic expectations around intended outcomes and measures of success. This is essential for schools to avoid later disappointment, conflict or unnecessary investment.


Barber (2015) describes three main objectives of contracting:

  • To set a sense of direction and purpose for the assignment.
  • To provide a practical basis for relationship review and assessment of progress.
  • To ensure that expectations are aligned (outcomes, process, responsibilities, behaviours).

Bennett (2008) places the responsibility of contracting with both the coachee and the organisation of the coach: “Contracting requires agreement; agreement requires understanding. And understanding takes time. Therefore, coaches must commit to taking time to explain the elements and intentions of the coaching contract.”

First, to ensure that the expectations of all stakeholders are aligned, there needs to be clarity on the general purpose of the coaching programme and school leaders need to understand exactly what return on investment (RoI) they are seeking to achieve.

For example, are they seeking to improve the outcomes of a specific group of students, develop leadership skills for aspiring middle leaders in order for them to gain successful promotion, or do they simply want to improve staff recruitment and retention and reduce absenteeism by providing staff with bespoke professional development and wellbeing support?

It is then the responsibility of the coach to clarify any limitations of the coaching programme and manage expectations of desired outcomes and measures. Problems in the organisational coaching relationship may occur if assumptions around these issues are not articulated and reconciled.

Bennett (2008) explains that “when contracting does not occur or is done poorly, it can lead to unfilled expectations about the coaching process, violated boundaries, and disappointing outcomes”.

He continues: “Lack of contracting can damage relationships among the coach, coachee, sponsors and other stakeholders. And can lead to a reduced likelihood for future coaching opportunities with the individual and/or organisation.”

In addition, the Department for Education (DfE, 2016) has produced a series of standards for effective professional development that may be useful for school leaders and coaches to consider when developing and contracting for a new coaching programme. The leadership of effective professional development:

  • Is clear about how it improves pupil outcomes.
  • Complements a clear, ambitious curriculum and vision for pupil success.
  • Involves leaders modeling and championing effective professional development as an expectation for all.
  • Ensures there are sufficient time and resources.
  • Balances school, subject and individual teacher’s priorities.
  • Develops genuine professional trust.


A particular issue that needs addressing during the contracting process is confidentiality. Bennett (2008) explains how “confidentiality is critical for building trust”.

He continues: “Contracting agreements should include the confidentiality of topics discussed and what information will be shared, with whom it will be shared and in what manner.”

One implication of confidentiality is the difficulty it poses to demonstrating the impact of coaching to school leaders. As a coach, I have observed many successes achieved by clients as a direct result of our sessions. However, due to the confidential nature of coaching, I am not at liberty to share details of this success with school leaders.

This is a frustrating position to be in, given the current pressure in schools to continually evidence impact. As such, during the contracting process it may be prudent to agree that certain topics or themes discussed during coaching sessions can be shared anonymously and hypothetically to school leaders.

This information could be used to demonstrate agreed outcomes or be used to further drive school improvement.

Measuring the impact of coaching

According to the standards published by the DfE (2016), effective CPD should have a clear focus on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes. As such, not only does consideration need to be given to how coaching will benefit students, but also to how you will know if it has had an impact. It is important to understand that coaching can have a direct or indirect benefit for students.

Direct impact

Drawing on the DfE guidelines noted above, it makes sense that coaching which has direct impact will have goals that are targeted to improve specific student outcomes. For example, rather than using broad and generic goals such as “to improve questioning skills”, Weston & Clay (2018) explain that teachers should be able to “identify specific students and evaluate whether their professional learning is having an impact on these students”.

They suggest that it can be helpful to include the words “so as” or “so that” as a way to ensure that the benefit to students is specifically stated. For example: “A series of one-to-one coaching and observation activities to help a teacher improve behaviour management so as to eliminate most disruptive incidents in a year 4 reading class, evaluated through observations of behaviour, student surveys and formal behaviour records.”

Weston and Clay (2018) explain how staff can evaluate the direct impact of any professional development that has taken place: “At a micro level, staff might test student achievement in an assessment of their knowledge of simultaneous equations, or they might observe how often a child raises their hand to contribute in a particular lesson, or perhaps how often a child uses technical vocabulary.

“At a macro level, staff members might use standardised assessments to measure students’ overall reading ages over time, compare overall performance in exams against target grades, or observe overall attendance or behaviour trends.”

Indirect impact

Coaching may also focus on developing and improving the organisation and its staff. Coaching of this kind aims to improve the ability of the teacher (e.g. through improved wellbeing, resilience and efficacy) to have direct impact on their students.

Weston & Clay (2018) explain that: “The key part of designing an activity with indirect impact is to be clear how it helps individuals, teams and the organisation function more effectively so that teaching, learning, and direct-impact professional learning can have greater impact.

“For example, a coaching programme could ... support staff in middle leadership positions to develop management and leadership skills so that teams are able to focus more effectively on improving students’ learning.”

Alternatively, an indirect benefit of a coaching programme could be to ensure that staff feel regularly supported and valued so that absenteeism is reduced, recruitment and retention rates are improved, and fewer classes are taught by non-specialist or cover teachers.

A point to consider here in relation to retention rates is the contradictory nature of success. A coach may encourage disillusioned staff to identify their motivations and values in education and enable them to view their current professional situation from a more positive perspective.

In this example coaching can be instrumental to staff not only remaining in post, but may also encourage staff to take on new projects that inspire and engage them in their role.

Conversely, coaching can lead to staff gaining promotions in other schools. My personal belief and my coaching approach prioritises the needs of my clients first. However, coaches need to address this particular conflict with leaders during the contracting process and clarify what the benefits and drawbacks look like in this scenario from their perspective.

Monitoring and recording impact

Whitmore (2017) explains that in order to measure the benefits of coaching, it is critical to record three things:
Goals and objectives –goals that the coachee owns.

On-going actions – both coachee and coach need to record information to refer back to regarding action taken.

Notes on what happened – both the coachee and coach should record information about progress made, for future reference, including any feedback from peers that happens along the way.

While this practice does raise further contracting issues surrounding confidentiality and accessibility of records, I have found that it does enable progress to be monitored more easily, the level of impact to be evidenced more readily, and communication between all parties is improved.


Professional coaching can be hugely beneficial both supporting staff with their wellbeing and professional development as well as having impact on student outcomes.

Effective contracting should ensure that the coach, school leaders, and all coachees have clarity over the purpose of the coaching programme, including the desired RoI and its measures, the coaching approaches employed and the limitations of confidentiality.

It should also clarify what information is recorded and shared, in order to demonstrate the impact of the coaching relationship and also to further support with school improvement and staff wellbeing.

  • Helen Webb is a professional freelance coach and an experienced science teacher and lead practitioner with a professional interest in developing CPD for teachers. Helen works at Lutterworth College in Leicestershire. Visit or follow her @helenfwebb. Read Helen’s previous SecEd articles at

Further information & research

  • Four reasons instructional coaching is currently the best-evidenced form of CPD, Sims, February 2019:
  • School leaders’ resilience: Does coaching help in supporting headteachers and deputies? Sardar & Galdames,
  • Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 2018.
  • School funding still in crisis, NAHT, 2018:
  • Managing the three way contract in executive coaching and mentoring, Barber, April 2015:
  • Contracting for success, Bennett, The International Journal of Coaching in Organisations, 2008:
  • Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development, DfE, July 2016:
  • Unleashing Great Teaching, Weston & Clay, Routledge, 2018.
  • Coaching for Performance, Whitmore, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2017.


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