Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Informed, Innovative, Empowered & Successful

Early June, I Tweeted out a request asking to visit schools to learn how early career teachers are supported through coaching. Principal, Greg Turnbull from Blairmount Primary School reached out with an invitation to visit, as they currently have 3 full-time Assistant Principals that are pedagogy coaches. It wasn’t until I viewed a Tweet from Blairmount that I realised @tickytechy was also a part-time technology coach who works between 2 schools. An inspiring educator, I met Ashleigh in 2013 at ISTE and also attended #PBLAustralia with her. 

While living in the US, I was training to be a math coach, but told that we don’t really do teacher coaching in Australia. It's exciting to see how coaching is being incorporated into the professional learning of teachers. So why am I wanting to learn about how schools are implementing coaching? I’m currently a doctoral student at UNSW, Gonski Institute and my cohort is focused on School Reform and Equity in Education. My research topic is the early career teachers’ perspective of their first few years of teaching. While the working conditions and school climate influence the teacher’s experience, the accreditation process and professional learning is of particular interest. This professional learning may be personalised through coaching.

It was amazing to talk with Greg as he explained his journey over the past 5 years. By implementing coaching years ago, his team has learnt, adapted and incorporated coaching within the day-to-day learning at Blairmount Primary School. Greg chooses to invest in 3 full-time coaches that work with all staff on their goals. These goals are separate to the Professional Development Plan but often align. Blairmount Primary School has 3 strands to which the teachers’s goals can align.

  • Reflective Practitioner that includes the Spiral of Inquiry (Linda Kaser & Judy Halbert) & Learning Sprints (Simon Breakspear).

  • Student Voice – Greg is part of a collective network from New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. The research and information from Russell Quaglia is a valued resource.

  • Visible Learning that includes ‘Learner Dispositions’ or as the students named them, ‘Learner Qualities’. The students were involved in selecting and identifying the qualities and designing the icons to represent them.

  • The Learning Pit
    Coaching can facilitate learning within all these focus areas and Greg emphasised the importance of personalised professional learning. In every focus area, each teacher was at different point on the learning continuum. Some teachers were new to the school and had limited ‘Spiral of Inquiry’ knowledge. Others may have a strong understanding of most of the areas. Coaching recognises and respects each teacher’s point of need.

    Each coach works with 7 teachers and they meet once a week for an hour. In addition, teachers also meet 2 hours a fortnight in Stages. The coaches meet with Greg once a week for 45 minutes to debrief, share and as Greg indicated, at times, he coaches the coaches. Once you observe the benefits of coaching, you are unlikely to return to being the 'expert' or the 'rescuer'. I asked Greg what was his first experience of coaching? He shared that Kathy Powzun is an amazing Director who introduced him to coaching. Years later, he is fully committed to coaching and investing in his teachers’ professional growth.

    The coaches each have reflective journals to document their journey and thinking. Sharing the reflective journal is optional, as some parts may be personal and sensitive. Clearly, confidentiality is a respected component of their coaching culture and is practised by coach to coachee, and between the coaches and the Principal. At the end of each term, the teachers are asked to share their learning and while this is optional, Greg advised that the majority of teachers are keen to share their learning. I spoke with a coach and also with an early career teacher who is fortunate to receive coaching. Both shared their experiences and the positives they have witnessed. Coaching provides a level of emotional and professional support. We discussed how it is important to first establish what coaching is and what it isn’t with the staff. The high level of trust was evident, as classrooms were open and teachers were willing to share. While sharing and celebrating student learning is vital in project-based learning and design thinking, we need share more teacher learning between schools. Many schools are doing amazing things and while context plays a vital role, we can learn from each other and adopt and adapt to suit individual contexts.

    Greg mentioned that some of the teachers have always been coached, as coaching has been embedded within school for over 5 years. To support teachers' professional growth, coaching is their way of being. Greg provided me with his school 'Evidence Book', which had 'Informed, Innovative, Empowered & Successful' on the cover. I commented that this could apply to the teachers at Blairmount too. He replied, 'and our parents too'.

    I would like to showcase other schools that support their early career teachers through coaching. If you're interested in having me visit and write up a short blogpost, please send me a direct message.

    Thank you Greg Turnbull & the staff at Blairmount Primary School for sharing your learning.
    Let's share great practice more often.


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