Coaching Pupils: Case Study by Suzette Mondroit (Passmores Academy)

If "Educating Essex" TV Star Vic Goddard wants something, he makes it happen! Learn how Project Manager Suzette Mondroit has turned Principal Vic's coaching vision into reality so that absolutely everyone in this outstanding school – from kitchen staff to “struggling” students – can access high quality coaching.

Transcript:

I’m Suzette Mondroit. Passmores is an outstanding school, and it’s in what is designated a socially deprived area. My role is aimed at looking at that middle area of “invisible” students – your C/D borderline, your ones in the middle band that just sort of tick along and don’t really flag up for any particular reason.

What was Passmores like before the coaching?

Passmores has always had a brilliant atmosphere to work in. It’s a very teamwork orientated place. I think the coaching has developed what we already had within Passmores, which was already really good – it’s helped us to enhance that even more.

What’s it like now?

There’s a lot more connections between departments. Staff have built relationships that they wouldn’t have had the time or opportunity to build before. It breaks down those barriers that are sometimes there.

What made you want to get involved with our coaching programme?

I really got such as sense that this was just the way to move forward. Not to be stuck in a position, maybe talking over or around the same stuff again and again and again. But to actually have something that practically worked on a day-to-day basis to move forwards.

It was really good fun. It broke down a lot of barriers, and you really got to see other members of staff – including senior staff – as just the people they are, and that was brilliant. It’s quite challenging at times. It does take you out of your comfort zone, but it’s just brilliant.

How have you then used that in school?

The team name has changed and our focus has changed. Not with the students we work with or our actual initial remit, but in our approach, and also in our outcomes, because what we’re not doing is telling the kids over and over again what they already know. They know if they’re underachieving. They know if they’ve fallen behind. They know if they’re getting homework detentions. They’re getting nagged and told all around. And to be able to sit with a student and ask them questions and listen to them does take them off guard a little bit, and they really like that sense of what they achieve they own: They’ve done it, they’ve said it, they’ve committed to it, and they’ve followed through with it. And then to catch up with them a while later and you can really see how they’ve built upon that for themselves is just fantastic. And the more students are coached, the more it becomes the norm, and it’s accepted and then it’s valued.

Within school it’s very much part of our well-being which is very high on Passmores agenda.

All new staff now are offered a coach, purely for them to work through anything really:
organisation, time-management, work-life balance, deadlines, planning. We’ll look with them then to see if we can help them find some strategies that work for them, so that we’re addressing that before it actually becomes an issue for them.

How do you select them?

Some of it’s data – we do look in that middle band of students for ones that are underachieving. Staff referrals, and increasingly we’re getting more and more self-referrals, where they just go “Oh Miss, so and so’s having coaching – can I come along for that?”

What sorts of results have you and your fellow Coaching Champions got from actually using the coaching system?

We have evaluation sheets that at the end of a set of coaching sessions we ask coachees to fill out anonymously about the benefits that they’ve received. I will then send them out one about a term afterwards to see if those benefits have been sustained and if they’ve built on them, and generally they have.

Rather than just going to somebody and ask for an answer to a question or ask for something to be resolved, or say “How do I do this?” or “What do I do about that?”, they’re more likely to look at different things and to self-coach before they go to somebody else wanting to be given that answer. And being able to work within their teams in a more effective way. And certainly within lessons in their questioning and the techniques that are used in plenaries – that’s changed.

Certainly the coaching ethos is developing and growing. We’ve got staff that are thinking there’s something going on and they want to be part of it, rather than thinking “I haven’t got time for that!” It’s becoming more the norm. Everybody wants to be a part of it.

Most staff within school are aware of somebody that has been coached or is a coach, and is starting to see the impact of that. And also a lot of staff are really happy to talk about it, very open talking about the coaching they’ve received, and they’re starting to see it for themselves and see the differences that it’s making, so they want to be part of that as well.

How did the impact that you’ve achieved compare with what you’d originally hoped for?

Oh my goodness – it’s completely exceeded all of my personal expectations and the expectations that the school had. It’s become so much part of us, and what we are and what we do, and how we support ourselves and each other, and therefore the community within the school.

What would you say your biggest success story is?

Keeping the momentum going and being able to keep it high enough on peoples’ agendas so they’re aware of the changes, the developments, the opportunities, what’s open for them, available to them, and that it’s becoming more the norm. This is how we are. We have a coaching ethos, and that’s what Passmores is about. I think that’s been the biggest success, and much more than I ever expected it to be.

Good – so how have you done it?

One of the key things is that from the top down, from the Headteacher at Passmores, coaching is bought into. He wanted coaching. He wanted all new staff to have a coach, and all newly promoted staff to have a coach. And the fact that within Passmores, it’s not about hierarchy, it’s not about line management. Because it’s about that individual it’s not about top down at all. And leading by example, Vic asked me to be his coach – which I have been ever since. That very much set the standard for us. That was the benchmark – Headteacher and Co-educator [Suzette’s previous role] – coaching works because I can’t guess his answers and second guess them; I can only work as his coach, and that does work.

Obviously Vic brought it in and you struggled to sustain it, didn’t you, at that point? Just tell us what happened there.

Yes we did really. There was a really good amount of buy in, there was a lot of enthusiasm and interest in the beginning, but there was nobody to oversee that. There was nobody to hold it together, to co-ordinate it because Vic didn’t have the capacity, and so probably within two terms at the most, it had kind of fizzled out. So that was a real eye-opener that it needs more to sustain it and keep it growing and keep it moving forward. So me being the Coaching Project Manager, holding the overview of what the coaches are doing, their capacity, who’s coaching whom, what’s going on, keeping staff aware of updates and changes and all sorts of things like that, I think that’s been the key part.

And I know that Vic’s also encouraged you to do things like going out of school for your coaching which is great.

Yes absolutely. And there’s another area of where it’s really valued. The coach and the coachee can book time out and go out of the premises – go to a coffee shop, wherever, and just have that time out to be able to switch the work head off. And that really makes the quality of it so much more, and the coachee gets so much more from it. And staff are allowed to protect their PPA and non-contact time for that so they can’t be used for cover. If they’ve got a coaching session they put it down, and that’s protected.

Brilliant! What sorts of challenges or priorities do you think it’s helped Passmores with?

There’s been a lot of changes. We’re moving to a new building very shortly, we’re changing to Academy status, but there’s the feeling of security within staff that if they feel that they’re struggling with something or if something’s bothering them or they’re worrying about something they’ve got somewhere they can go with it. It’s about them, and it’s for them. Anybody in any area, if they’re part of Passmores community can access coaching. Certainly comments that I get time and time again are about how lucky we are here to have this, that Vic has brought this in for us, and it’s really valued, and staff are always just so grateful that we’ve had the opportunity and this is here for us.

A lot more staff feel empowered. They’re taking the reins a bit more. What’s amazing with kids is when the ones that have really realised that they’ve got ownership and control over this. I’ve seen a young man turn his homework detentions around from nine or ten a term. He’s made that zero this term, but it’s had knock on effects, like he’s gone to a particular teacher and asked to move in a class. And I think once they’ve started getting a win, and they realise they’ve done it, they’ve achieved it, they want more of it. And they need that experience, rather than being told they can do it. For them actually through the coaching to be able to find their way of having that experience for themselves, and owning that they’ve done it.

It’s amazing looking at the initial and final self-assessment sheets with them as well. That is so powerful because they’ve done the initial sheets, and then they do one at the end and it’s like “Wow!” – and they really get a sense of what they’ve done and how far they’ve moved.

Wow. And that’s just over six weeks, working through the toolkit?

Yes. If things look like they’re slipping again we can pick them up again, but quite often students will come back to us actually, and say “Miss this isn’t working” or “I’m really struggling with this – can I meet up with you?” And when they’re willing to do that in their time – in their break or their lunch or after school, you know it’s something that they really value and they want to do it for themselves.

What do you reckon would have happened if you hadn’t invested in the coaching programme?

With my team’s role as Progress Mentors I don’t know where we would have gone. We would have just kept on doing what we were doing, but we needed extra tools. We needed an extra something else to be able to work with. Coaching gives us a whole extra set of skills, and a whole different way to help them move forward. And I certainly think that working with some students as well that are a bit disengaged with their own learning – I don’t know if I could have got the same results if I was purely just mentoring them (as I would have been before the coaching training).

If you could sum up the programme in 3 words, what would they be?

Exciting. Empowering. Thought-provoking.