Sunday, 3 February 2019

Video Coaching in School: How does it work?

There are multiple research articles which rate coaching as the number one method to ensure teachers continue to get better at teaching in the classroom*.  Sports coaches play a prominent role in the success of individuals and teams: they watch, film, analyse, identify, discuss and practice to find small improvements (marginal gains) to develop overall performance.  Last year, I joined a school which prioritises a similar style of video coaching for teachers.  I've experienced, as a coach and a coachee, how transformational it can be for staff, pupils and the school as a whole. 

Before joining my current school, "coaching" had been mentioned in various guises in my career.  Once, I was paired up with a teacher and we spent some time in each other's classrooms looking at areas specified by the person being observed (I asked her to watch a specific child I was worried about). We then had to find some time after school to meet up to go over that area.  More recently, lesson gradings were (rightfully) removed from observations in the hope that they became more like coaching. Different members of SLT would observe and give feedback - strengths and areas for development - after the lesson.

However, in both of these scenarios, I didn't really learn much.  The first model was useful in that the other teacher could look at something you were missing but it didn't delve particularly deep into teaching and learning, and it rarely altered my day-to-day practice in the classsroom.  There was no saying how good a teacher your coach was so it was pot luck whether you'd learn anything useful.  In the second model, feedback was given after a lesson and a couple of development points were provided.  The discussion was dominated by the observer and, again, nothing really changed in my classroom as a result of those 20 minutes after-school.

The coaching model my current school uses is very different and has been in place for a few years.  It was devised and embedded by Alexis (HT) and Emily (Former DHT)** and is based on the Observation and Feedback chapter of Leverage Leadership.  I highly recommend this chapter if you are considering coaching in any form as it gives a very logical and effective approach and lays down some important principles to remember. 

Before I explain how the coaching model works, it's important to point out that there are two important things to consider when choosing who will coach other teachers.  Firstly, coaches must have a solid understanding of what makes great teaching and learning; they must be great teachers themselves and able to reflect on why learning has been effective or not. They must have the knowledge of pedagogy to dig below the surface with teachers and learners to identify where classroom practice can be improved.  Secondly, they must be able to successfully communicate with colleagues. They need to be able to use questions to tease out a reflective discussion with teachers, enabling the coachee to be dominant in discussions rather than spouting off their own information and ideas. Any coach must hold the respect of others as a teacher and ensure important messages  resulting from discussions are clear. 

With that in mind, we have five teachers who coach in our school and we use a teaching and learning document based on the principles in Making Every Primary Lesson Count to ensure we're all speaking the same language.  New teachers are given this document so they can start in our school knowing the general ideas we focus on with learning.  This means their first coaching sessions can begin with tweaking rather than laying down the foundations.  

Complete with a tablet and tripod, coaches watch and film a specific lesson.  Teachers know the dates of their coaching in advance because they aim to include any previous action steps in a lesson and many experienced teachers now plan to try new techniques to reflect on with their coach in these sessions. While spending time in the classroom, coaches devise reflective questions to guide a discussion later in the day, noting down times of video clips which will complement the direction they want to go with the teacher. These questions stem from many areas: anything children or teachers say or do, books, plans, support staff, classroom environment etc.  The questions written by coaches prompt a discussion about a specific element of the lesson. In most cases, it's an area which they've previously discussed and are now improving further. At times it may prompt a discussion about something completely different. 

Later in the day, the coach and teacher meet together for an hour to discuss the lesson. Sometimes short video clips are used to prompt further conversation and reflection, always through questioning.  The overall aim is for teachers, expertly guided by their coach, to decide what they will focus on to further develop their teaching and their pupils' learning.  From this discussion, the teacher devises some actions steps (1-3) to work on before the next coaching session. The intricate elements required to achieve that action step are identified, analysed, modelled (if appropriate), practised, and the coach ensures this is clear.  This action step then forms the basis of the following coaching session, digging deeper and further improving that area of teaching and learning. 

Most teachers receive two coaching sessions, a fortnight apart, each term, with NQTs and RQTs benefiting from extra sessions. The lesson is either first thing or after break and then cover is given for an hour that afternoon to reflect with the coach.  These discussions are recorded in note form on a very simple template which follows the Leverage Leadership model: feedback (on previous action step), probe (questions - this is the longest and most important part), action step, plan ahead, practise, follow up.

As someone new to the school last year, it was clear to see the impact that this model of coaching has on classroom practice but also on the ethos of the staff.  Hardly a day passes without a conversation somewhere in the school which leads to improved teaching and learning.  I had always considered myself to be a reflective teacher but teachers at my school are more openly reflective than any staff team I've worked with. Staff members regularly discuss the intricacies of what they say and do in the classroom and the impact this has on children and their learning.  

The impact of coaching on the ethos of the team was exemplified to me a few weeks into my new job when I was sat in the afternoon discussion after a teacher's second coaching lesson. She kicked off the reflection by saying, "After our last session, I went and spoke to (another teacher) about my action step..." This really made me stop and think. Up until that point in my career , teachers in the schools where I worked had only ever discussed the grade they'd received for observations and, rarely, the strengths seen in that lesson. I'd never experienced a teacher going out of their way to discuss a development point and get advice from outside the observation process. That is why the coaching method is a selling point to prospective teachers; I don't know of any other schools who give as much time to the best form of CPD*. 

Coaching really does have the power to improve the learning experiences children have at school and transform how staff reflect on their own teaching, but not necessarily in all the different guises labelled as "coaching".  Make sure, as you embark on your coaching journey as a school, that you use a model which has the elements that make the biggest difference for your children. They deserve that...and so do the staff.

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*See the Teacher Training & Development section on Sam Sims' blog here
**Emily has written a brilliant article about embedding this approach in schools. Members of the CCT can read it here