Using a bespoke coaching and mentoring system to improve teaching

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Oldcastle Primary School has a bespoke approach to coaching and mentoring for teachers based on their individual needs and stage of development, which has resulted in consistently good teaching practices across the school. The ability of senior leaders to take part in open and honest feedback has improved because of additional bespoke training on leadership and coaching. This means that all leaders are comfortable challenging their own and each other’s ideas about what makes good teaching.


Context

Oldcastle Primary School is in the centre of Bridgend.  There are 421 pupils on roll, including 57 in the school’s nursery class.  Pupils are organised into 15 classes. 

Around 8% of pupils are eligible for free school meals.  A very few pupils are looked after by the local authority.  No pupils speak Welsh at home, and a few pupils speak English as an additional language, and many of these pupils have only very recently joined the school.  The school identifies that around 14% of pupils have additional learning needs.  A very few pupils have a statement of special educational needs. 

The school is currently a pioneer school and is working with the Welsh Government and other schools to take forward developments relating to the curriculum and other professional learning.

Strategy and action

The headteacher took up his post in March 2013.  One of his first actions was to carry out a series of lesson observations to make an informed judgement about the quality of teaching in the school.  His observations found that, although all staff were working hard, they were not necessarily focusing on the right things to help them improve their teaching and in turn pupils’ learning.  Prior to his appointment, teachers had attended numerous external one off professional development courses and sabbaticals.  The headteacher identified that teachers had a range of different strengths and areas for development.  He did not believe that attending further external events would bring about the improvements needed.  He wanted to improve teaching by using internal mechanisms of support.  The headteacher introduced an intensive twelve-week coaching and mentoring system to assist further teacher development.  The school released a senior teacher from her classroom duties for one year to run the programme and to establish partnerships with other schools and institutions to develop newly qualified teacher and student development programmes.

The coaching and mentoring programme was personal and bespoke to the teachers involved.  Individual programmes focused on areas identified as needing improvement through lesson observations and book scrutiny, as well as on areas the teacher identified as wanting to hone.  The teacher coach met with every teacher at least once a week.  She provided in-class support through modelling lessons and co‑teaching.  She also worked with teachers on lesson planning and classroom management strategies.  After every coaching session, teachers identified what they were going to work on prior to the next meeting.  A key to the success of this programme was the honest and open working relationships that senior leaders established with those staff involved in the programme.  This led to high levels of trust for those involved in the programme and built teachers’ confidence and self‑esteem. 

A similar coaching and mentoring programme is in place for newly qualified and graduate teachers who join the school.  The school currently employs two teachers on the graduate teacher programme and a teacher in their second year of teaching.  The deputy headteacher meets these teachers each week to plan their professional learning experiences, such as arranging for the modelling of lessons, co-teaching and peer observations and to set future pedagogical targets.  The school tailors the experiences effectively to meet the needs and stage of development of the individual teacher.

The headteacher is very aware of the demands of the teaching profession and the additional pressures that some staff place on themselves.  In order to raise awareness of the importance of a work-life balance and of staff taking care of their mental health, he invited all teachers to attend a mindfulness course.  A national teaching union funded the course and teachers attended on a voluntary basis for two hours after school for eight weeks.  Nearly all teachers attended.  Teachers agree that attending helped raise their awareness of each other and the importance of communicating honestly and openly so that issues became shared rather than hidden.  This has helped to improve further lines of communication within the school and encouraged a more openness so that teachers are now comfortable with colleagues just popping into their classrooms. 

The school takes a whole-school approach to professional learning.  For example, when the school decided to introduce new mathematics resources and ways of working, all staff attended regular in-house development events.  After each event staff agree a focus to work on linked to their learning.  They share the outcomes of their work at staff and senior leader meetings.  This helps to ensure consistency of implementation and approach across all classes.  Staff attend regional and local update and information sessions, but very rarely attend standalone professional learning events. 

Leaders encourage teachers to take part in action research and to trial new ideas.  For example, teachers have used research inquiry techniques to explore how games can improve pupils’ mathematical and spelling skills.  Teachers also trial ideas for improving pupils’ comfort and wellbeing by introducing bean bag seating and wearing slippers in classrooms.  The school’s leadership is not afraid to abandon projects and trials if they are not meeting the needs of pupils and staff.  For example, a few years ago the school introduced the use of video technology for lesson and peer observations.  However, at that time teachers were not at a stage of sharing practice to be comfortable with this type of approach.  The school also trialled and abandoned triple marking when teachers agreed that it was not improving the quality of feedback to pupils and was not an effective use of their time. 

Over the last academic year, the school invested heavily in a six day bespoke leadership programme for all members of the senior leadership team.  Over the six days, participants learnt about their own behaviours and leadership styles.  They explored how to best communicate and give feedback, avoiding conflict and raising staff confidence, by using assertive positive behaviours.  They learnt about coaching and mentoring techniques and received one to one coaching and feedback on their own performance from an external mentor.  All teachers that took part in the programme feel that it built their confidence and grew their ability to have in-depth professional discussions about the quality of teaching and provision.  This has resulted in higher levels of openness and honesty when examining and sharing practice within the school.

The school is moving away from formal lesson observations.  Leaders in the school do not believe in grading whole lessons or breaking down and grading separate components of teaching.  In 2017/2018, they are trialling a system of drop-in sessions where leaders will regularly pop into lessons for around 15 minutes and then have professional dialogue with teachers.  Over time, staff in the school have become accustomed to the headteacher and other senior staff dropping into their lessons unannounced to talk to pupils and take part in the teaching and learning.  In 2017/2018, teachers will be encouraged to observe each other more frequently. 

Outcomes

The school’s approach to coaching and mentoring teachers based on their individual needs and stage of development has resulted in consistently good teaching practices across the school.  The ability of senior leaders to take part in open and honest feedback has improved because of the bespoke training on leadership, coaching and mentoring.  This means that all leaders are comfortable challenging their own and each other’s ideas about what makes good teaching.  This has led to all staff being reflective practitioners.  The whole school approach to aspects of professional learning ensures the consistent implementation and development of new initiatives across the school. 

Next steps as identified by the school

The school’s three main priorities are to:

  • Refine the lesson observation process so that teachers can access a higher level of professional support
  • Continue to conduct and publish high level research to improve the quality of learning and teaching
  • Use lesson observations to listen to learners and conduct book scrutiny, ensuring that activities for basic skills pupils are more closely matched to their ability

Links

http://www.oldcastleprimary.co.uk/