Teaching & Learning Coaching: Transforming Teaching & Learning at Tarleton Academy
Lesley Gwinnett (Headteacher) & Joanna Bacon (Assistant Headteacher) reveal how they have used coaching to transform Teaching & Learning at Tarleton Academy >> Results include increased confidence, better communication and dramatic improvements to questioning & independent learning.
Lesley: My name is Lesley Gwinnett, Tarleton Academy Headteacher. I’ve been here since September 2012.
Jo: And I am Joanna Bacon, Tarleton Academy Assistant Headteacher and Director of Maths.
Lesley: As the Headteacher coming into Tarleton one of the very first things that happened after I was appointed, was that I was invited to a presentation at Brownedge St. Mary’s which is a local school, where basically 3 staff from here and 3 staff from Brownedge St. Mary’s had done the Coaching Programme together. And so I was invited along to the presentation at the end of the coaching programme, and I was blown away by what clearly happened in terms of an impact for all those individuals that were involved in the programme. And I knew that Jo had a reputation of being a hard task master. And she had to be convinced of things to be sure that they’d be worth doing, because she’s got such high standards. And what I felt there was we had 3 very, very different members of staff who in very different ways were completely sold on the whole thing. So then talking to Jo about it afterwards we very quickly agreed that it was something we then wanted to roll out in Tarleton Academy as much as we possibly can. At that point in time we were very much convinced we had a gem here that could be transformational in terms of me coming in as the new Head, and I was bringing it into school to make that difference.
Jo: To me, the coaching programme’s opened up a massive dialogue, not just with myself and students, but also with being a line manager. It’s enabled me to open up a dialogue with the people my department, and also senior members of staff, and it’s the sharing. And its enabled us to listen to each other and actually effectively communicate, and I think that was lacking before we started the coaching programme.
Lesley: Yeah, the effective communication part was.
Jo: Yeah…I was very, very sceptical before I went on the course, and I’d just returned from maternity leave, and I needed something to get my teeth into. And it was totally transformational for my teaching, my personal life, and my managerial skills. And I thought that if I could carry on and enthuse other people, like Annie had enthused myself and my other two Accredited Trainers here, then the snowball effect would be amazing.
Lesley: Yes. And I think for me as Headteacher it was how do we actually effect change in the most powerful way, but in a way that is sustainable, you know. There are so many things that schools do, they get involved in Kagan or Teacher Effectiveness and all that kind of thing. And they use these different things to try and make a massive difference in the school to the way it runs and the way that teaching and learning’s delivered, and people being part of something that’s transformational. So I was looking to see what that might be, anyway, and having been on the edges of coaching, particularly with the Secondary Strategy, I knew that coaching was fantastic tool. But even working in coaching with secondary strategy I hadn’t seen anything that was as transformational as this [coachinginschools programme] seemed to be. So, in trying to find something as a vehicle for change, it became very obvious that here was something already… that we already had a Trojan horse and that’s really how it’s been. I wanted these guys trained as trainers so that as many people as possible in our school can benefit from it, and we would have, as I say, what we’re calling this “Silent Revolution”, where just bit by bit by bit people have got the badge. And I mean got the badge. Literally putting the badge on as Jo has here. And being part of this almost ‘secret society’ that others are wanting to then to be a part of. So it’s not anything that we’re forcing down people’s throats. It’s not anything that we’ve stood up in September 2012 and said “Right – you’re all doing this!” It’s just got its own momentum that’s just making such a change. It’s fantastic.
Jo: I have seen results within my classroom. And I have seen students understand things better and want to learn in a different way. They want to know the knowledge rather than being spoon-fed. And it’s all the way. It’s how you deliver it. And it changed my teaching dramatically. I was always told that I was very good at questioning within a classroom, but it’s changed it dramatically, and I think that it’s one of my strengths – and it’s down to the coaching programme.
It’s changed the way that I go into meetings. It’s changed the way that other people behave in meetings, and it’s made us a lot more productive – silently – “The Silent Revolution.” But it’s permeated in all ways. And other members of staff – teaching and non-teaching – they speak differently now.
Lesley: I mean what’s fascinating is sometimes you’ll be in a meeting and somebody will say something, and if there’s two people who’ve been coach trained they’ll kind of go “I know what you’re doing there!” And I think as well for me, it’s seeing the confidence that’s developed, you know. The coaching programme has taken in such a wide range of people. So you’ve got teaching and non-teaching staff, but you’ve also got staff that who are really, at a successful part of the career, and then you’ve got other people feeling a little bit nervous in where they stand and what their place is in school, and they’re on ‘capability’ really. So you’re bringing together so many disparate groups – particularly the teaching and the non-teaching staff working together – and the support staff realising that their role is as important in the school and starting to get the two different ways of working seeing that even that one’s teaching and one’s non-teaching, they both have a real role to play, and they’re all essential in the cogs in the wheel. And so that understanding of each other’s roles has been enhanced.
But I also think in terms of that confidence development. It’s while they’re coaching other people they’re naturally self-coaching. And the times that I’ve had people - particularly a member of staff that I’m thinking of now, who knew herself that she wanted to change the way that she related to other people. And I asked her one day when she was doing something that was very much under pressure as a deadline, “How are you coping with such a big job in such a short space of time?”
“I just self-coach, I self-coach. I give myself manageable things to do in certain [times]. And I just thought “Gosh! It isn’t just about… I mean in the classroom it’s powerful enough, but it’s literally about the way that we work professionally and personally, and I think that’s what’s been so powerful. It’s people standing up and giving testimony to how it’s changed their relationships and, you know, it is quite transformational, I keep using that word but that’s because it is.
Jo: I think the change. If you want to change something it comes from within. If somebody tells you to change something, you’re less likely to do it and that’s the powerfulness of it. The coachees take ownership of everything and they’re more likely to do it. And they get such a sense of achievement for doing it. I still do. And I do apply it to almost everything.
Lesley: It’s the old adage, isn’t it? You know - “teach a man to fish, feed him for a day, teach them how to coach and they can do it for the rest of their lives”. It’s fantastic
Annie: So what would you say your biggest success story is?
Jo: I think my biggest success story is actually not being sceptical any more. I apply it to everything that I do. And I break everything down, and nothing ever looks too much anymore – “aint no mountain high enough!” Everything gets broken down, and I know now that I can face a lot of things, and I think that’s what people get from it.
Lesley: And to me, it’s not selecting any one person, it’s knowing that every single person has gone through the programme – and it makes it sound like some kind of a crazy thing, but it’s not! It’s so simple, but so powerful. And everybody who has gone through the programme has seen themselves change for the better, without even realising they needed to. You know, it’s developed, and it’s enhanced, and it’s empowered…and in that way it is a huge impact, but not a big ‘in your face’ kind of way. It’s just happening. The reason for doing it, first and foremost, was to transform teaching and learning. What I wanted was a school where relationships enabled students to learn more independently, where people felt confident to step back and let children think for themselves. And that’s what I wanted. You know, when we talked about the 7 aspects of outstanding teaching and learning that we do, the key features, and getting teachers to talk about teaching and learning – that was the driver. That was the reason for doing it. And I think therefore, for the school, we are ticking boxes without fabricating it. It’s just become a natural part of practice, which means it’s not a case of me going in and saying to people “You need to get people thinking for themselves more in classrooms!” – It’s naturally happening for those who’ve actually gone through the coaching training. So that’s the big driver in the first instance, and everything that comes out of that is a fantastic additional.
Annie: Absolutely! Right, let’s see if we can nail it down then! What are the three biggest differences that coaching has made to Tarleton Academy?
Lesley: The communication between people in all different walks of the school. Different roles. I would say the huge impact in the questioning and the independent learning, and the confidence. I think building confidence in coaches and coachees, and all these amazing things happening that are almost too much to quantify because as I’ve said it is all this little things that all add up to this big whole, isn’t it?
Lesley: What it’s given us is a vehicle for change that makes it more sustainable because it is embedded in practice. It’s a real change, not just a change for that fad. I mean I think for the people who’ve gone through the coaching training – it’s changed who they are for the rest of their lives.
Jo: In my first term coaching, I coached a Year 11 pupil, and we only did one coaching session. And it was about the January and she said “I only need one. I can do this now, Miss!”
And she wasn’t on for her GCSE results, and she got them at the end. And on Results Day she said “Thanks for that little chat we had in January, Miss - it worked!” And if it just happens with that one pupil, think what you can do!
Annie: If you could sum up the programme in three words what would they be?
Lesley: ‘Powerful’, but understated. And ‘longevity’.
Jo: Yeah. ‘Sustained’.
Lesley: ‘Sustainability’. ‘Impact’.
Jo: ‘Remarkable’. It has. It’s been totally remarkable for me personally, and for the school. I cannot imagine the school without it. I cannot.
Lesley: [Laughs] That didn’t really…we didn’t do very well there, did we?
Annie: Are you happy with that?
Lesley & Jo: Yes
Annie: Is there anything else that you want to add?
Lesley: I think that any school that really, really wants to effect a real transformation, what they should be doing is looking at something like this [coachinginschools programme] that just goes to the roots of everything they’re trying to do. And, therefore, without reservation I would whole-heartedly recommend the investment.
Congratulations to Lesley and Jo who have both been promoted since this interview was recorded. Lesley is now an Executive Headteacher and CEO of Endeavour Learning Trust and Jo is a Deputy Headteacher and Director of School Improvement at Endeavour Learning Trust.