Professional Learning Coach
My previous role as a Professional Learning Coach was clear and defined. Supervised by the Dean of Professional Practice, I worked a 3-day week and was situated in the area of Professional Learning. This role was not at high leadership level and I’ve recently wondered where this role should sit. If a coach assists with teachers’ growth, and teachers are the most influential factor regarding student achievement, how can we acknowledge the importance of coaching? Consequently, if the coaches are at the level of senior leadership, how likely is there to be an established partnership of trust? If we want teachers to be vulnerable, is it best to have the coach-
· from another school
· from a higher leadership level
· at teacher level that is well respected and trusted
· that teachers select
· that is a peer, as all teachers are trained coaches
In my role as professional learning coach, it was made very clear that I would not share any conversations, goals or successes, unless the coachee requested it. There were times when I asked if I could share their successes and they proudly agreed. Sharing the great practices that are happening in our own schools should happen more regularly. If schools and leaders value coaching, should it sit with professional learning, should it sit independently, or should it sit within accreditation?
This last year, I have struggled with the idea of utilising coaching within the accreditation process. Accreditation is often seen as a boxing ticking exercise that is extrinsically rewarded with money and status. I have determined that you can use a coaching approach when supervising, but if you are the supervisor, you have to make judgements determined by standards and evidence. It aligns more with mentoring than coaching. I do not think you can honour the ethos of coaching, while judging the evidence of a colleague. I have coached people through the accreditation process, but I was not their supervisor. The supervisor should be their line manager or head of department and blurring the lines between supervisor and coach confuses these independent roles.
Performance management should always be differentiated from coaching. One is about professional growth with a level of autonomy, trust and partnership, and the other is about intervention and judgement. One is done ‘to you’ and the other is done ‘with you’. I would also argue that managing performance must be carried out by line managers or heads of departments. When I was a professional learning coach, there was a strong level of confidentiality and the executives never requested details regarding any teacher and only requested identification of those who elected to be coached. If at any point there was a performance management issue, that would sit with the heads of department. Typically, there is a strict process in place for performance management. It is my belief that coaching is proactive and performance management is reactive.
Coaching is a long-term investment in teacher growth and wellbeing. Depending on your context and culture, performance development can be seen as an accountability measure or a framework for professional growth. I opened up the question on Twitter asking teachers about the expectation of a professional learning plan. I had 86 responses that were very interesting. I also wonder if they believe professional learning plans are effective and purposeful.
I will always believe that coaching should be opt-in with a high level of teacher autonomy. Teacher agency would suggest that the goal, progress and evaluation should be self-determined. A coach can actively listen and ask questions to help develop self-awareness. My coaching experience has been very broad as I have utilised instructional and growth coaching. Often used with early career teachers, instructional coaching consisted of using Swivl to record observations, model lessons and feedback that was strategically designed through questioning. I would also visit classes to learn what teachers were doing with the intention of sharing with others. I was the conduit between teachers. In-house teachers are an untapped resource and we need to share their strengths within our school walls and beyond. The Growth Coaching framework assisted in areas such as to developing self-awareness to create more collaborative teams, determine career pathways, or develop time management skills. As a coach, the teachers always lead the process and determined their goals, process and evaluation.
I’ve been trying to determine why or when performance development plans become a box ticking exercise that is solely about accountability or fuelled by extrinsic motivation. I think the confusion comes when we try to kill two birds with one stone; where we blur the lines between accountability and responsibility; when performance development plans are created because we have to and not because we want to; when we blend some form of autonomy with a mandated process. I’m reminded of Dylan Wiliam’s quote, teachers want to get better because they want to, not because they have to. What is needed to create a culture where teachers are intrinsically motivated to learn?
Here are some questions I’ve been struggling with-
- What is the purpose of your Professional Learning Plan or Performance Development Plans?
- Who determines your goal?
- Are you provided a coach?
- Are you provided time to work through your plan?
- Do you make your goal something you know you can easily achieve?
- Does your goal require you to research, implement, reflect and evaluate?
- Do you really take a risk with your learning if it is a SMART goal?
- Does your Head of Department have any influence on your goal?
- At any time, is your plan used to determine or appraise your performance?
- What if you don’t have a trusting relationship with your Head of Department or the person who works with you to determine your goal?
- What happens if there is no evidence of professional growth or achieving your goal?
Taking into account individual contexts, schools and leaders must determine the purpose of professional learning plans. Blurring the lines only causes confusion and ambiguity. Problems arise when we try and kill two birds with one stone.
Thank you to Dale Zawertailo, Yvonne Thompson, and Peggy Mahy at Scots College. Brad Russell and Susan O'Shea from Albury/Hume Network (NSWDoE). As always, good conversation generate more questions. Thank you Dr Peter DeWitt for your informative webinar on Instructional Coaching. It has been a big week of learning.