The power of teachers as coaches


Phil Parker looks at how schools can develop an effective coaching programme as part of a whole-school approach to teachers' CPD.

CPD is vital for school improvement, yet according to the Teacher Development Trust, while £200 million was spent on staff development in 2011, half of that went on supply costs.

It leads you to question the extent to which that funding meets the four “general principles” that lead to high-quality CPD as identified by research in 2011 by the then Training and Development Agency for Schools. The TDA concluded that CPD should:

  • Improve outcomes for children and young people.

  • Encourage teachers to be reflective practitioners.

  • Encourage sustained collaboration.

  • Use an effective needs analysis.

Coaching is growing as the means to improve the quality of teaching and do so cost-effectively. It captures these four general principles brilliantly. Coaching is focused, teacher-centric and it differentiates need too. So what might a school that develops teachers as coaches do?

Establish the values of coaching

Effective coaches have a set of beliefs – presuppositions – in the potential of those with whom they work. Sir Clive Woodward, inspirational coach of the 2003 Rugby World Cup, describes the need for “teachability”: “It’s about being ready to learn, unlearn and relearn. I look for sponges, not rocks.” The coach’s role is to action those beliefs with their “coachee”.

Establish coaching, not compliance

Ensure staff share improvement goals. Rather than foisting goals upon them, people need to own them. Coaches need empathy and good communication. 

As the TDA research stated, teachers need to see the link between their professional learning and their pupils’ learning.

Recognise excellent practice, inspire others to emulate it and embed it across the school. To paraphrase the principal of one school I know, “some people think that a struggling teacher will improve just by observing outstanding teachers in action. It’s not true. Often, it only reinforces their lack of self-worth. They can’t see how they can ever reach that standard, they can’t see what it looks like from their perspective”.

A framework of skills and methodologies can facilitate improvement. When embedded, teachers can observe, compare and action plan within this framework.

It may be a cliché, but teachers must be learners too

Development goals, coherently aligned with the school’s goals, can be differentiated to avoid identical training. Training days can launch the focus but aren’t the end in itself.

Coaching can represent the school’s culture and when explicit at all levels will include students. They are in a partnership with teachers, explicitly so. Students need to reflect on their learning like teachers; why not do this together? 

In a coaching culture, students share a common understanding of what defines learning. Sir Clive defines this understanding as the “common denominators” of learning, where you can focus areas of improvement, define what they will look like.

Skills-led learning

I’m an advocate of skills-led learning. It not only raises achievement, it provides a framework to raise the quality of teaching too. Many schools with whom I work use these skills as a performance management objective, which can achieve a school improvement goal but be differentiated so it’s pertinent to each teacher’s development.

For instance, coaching a teacher to develop creativity in their lessons means focusing on skills such as problem-solving, curiosity and imagination. Lessons can be observed by coaches and “coaching triads”. Lessons delivered through a problem-solving lens can be jointly planned and videoed for the teacher to review. Students can be encouraged to review their success at problem-solving and perhaps suggest challenges they’d like to try next time.

The best schools encourage teachers as facilitators of learning; where this facilitation extends throughout the culture. Teachers can be coaches, not only of students – but of each other.

  • Phil Parker is an ex-senior leader of a successful school and is now a director of Student Coaching Ltd. Visit

Further information
Support for this article came from Joyce Matthews (@Passionateaboot), David Weston (@TeacherDevTrust) and Alex Quigley (@HuntingEnglish).


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