Account of practice: Using mentoring and coaching to facilitate school-to-school improvement

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1 Account of practice: Using mentoring and coaching to facilitate school-to-school improvement Beryce Nixon, Headteacher and national leader of education, Hill Top Primary School, Doncaster, and Sue Turner, Headteacher, Sandringham Primary School, Doncaster 1/11 This account of practice illustrates how a national leader of education has used mentoring and coaching for school improvement in a school requiring support. It focuses on the mentoring and coaching relationship between Beryce and Sue and their respective leadership teams. School contexts Hill Top Primary School is a larger-than-average primary school, with 340 pupils on roll. The proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals is above the national average, at 37 per cent. The school s most recent Ofsted inspection, in 2011, judged the school to be outstanding and found the school leadership and management to be inspirational and relentless in their pursuit of excellence for all pupils. The school s motto, Every Child, Every Chance, Every Day, is embedded in the school, and the very high morale of staff is demonstrated through their commitment to continuous improvement and promoting inclusion for every pupil. Beryce has been headteacher at the school for six and a half years and says: We are really proud of the ongoing progression we have achieved with our children. Every year, we have increased attainment and we believe it is because we have stuck to our school principles and look at the whole child. We work closely with children and families to create a really supportive environment built upon mutual respect and strong relationships. Sandringham Primary School is a larger-than-average primary school, with 379 pupils on roll. The proportion of pupils eligible for the pupil premium is above the national average. The school s Ofsted inspection in January 2011 judged the school to be requiring improvement. The Ofsted inspection in December 2012 found that the school was improving, though still requiring improvement. The reports states that: Leadership and management require improvement. However, the headteacher and her team, including the governing body, show a clear determination to improve the school. The effective partnership with a local outstanding school has had a particularly good impact. Together there is a clear commitment to build on successes and to further accelerate the rate of improvement. Ofsted, 2012

2 2/11 The School partnership Hill Top Primary has been awarded National Support School status, and Beryce has supported a number of schools. Beryce began supporting Sandringham Primary School in December 2011 as a local leader of education and, from June 2012, continued supporting the school as a national leader of education. Establishing the mentoring/coaching relationship At the start, Beryce and Sue invested the time to share their expectations of each other and the professional relationship. Beryce believes the early coaching sessions, where together they benchmarked the school, underpinned their professional relationship and contributed to an honest and transparent working relationship. She explains: Trust quickly came because I didn t try to do things; I was clear that this was a partnership. I fostered early collaboration by jointly benchmarking the school. We worked on this together. It is paramount for me not to impose my way of doing things. Managing expectations from the outset is critical to an effective mentoring and coaching relationship. Beryce coaches staff to enable them to see what needs to change, and to develop their own understanding and solutions. Sue corroborates this: I never expected Beryce to come in and tell us what to do. I didn t expect to be propped up; I expected her to help us grow and that is what Beryce has done. Beryce believes it is vital for Sue, as headteacher, to have ownership of the planning and implementation process to facilitate school improvement. Beryce believes that, as they have made progress, Sue has been empowered. As a consequence, Sue confidently makes crucial, well-considered decisions for her school. I feel we have had ownership of the whole process of school improvement. It has been needs-led as there have been crucial things that we have had to improve for example, the quality of teaching and this has been led by what we have needed as a school in terms of our own sustainable development. A formal contract is jointly agreed every term and prioritises the focused development work that will be facilitated through coaching, mentoring, modelling, training and peerto-peer support. The contract specifies the time dedicated to leadership development, and this supports the strategic direction of the school. Beryce and Sue have half-day weekly coaching meetings. Beryce is committed to making the time for this.

3 3/11 How mentoring and coaching facilitate school improvement Beryce believes that the resources necessary to bring about change and significant, sustainable improvement usually lie within the school. She also believes that mentoring and coaching nurtures and empowers the senior leadership team to lead change and build capacity. Therefore, mentoring and coaching were a key element of the range of strategies and approaches that she used to support the headteacher and senior leadership team at Sandringham. Beryce used solution-focused questioning and analysis of data to help Sue recognise that her evaluation of the school wasn t reflected in the standards that pupils were attaining. Through her coaching approach, Beryce helped Sue to recognise that restructuring, with clearly defined roles and responsibilities, was necessary to build capacity within the leadership team. Sue had the potential to do this, but didn t have the capacity to do this, as she didn t have a competently trained and trusted team to delegate to. She didn t have confidence that all staff would carry out their roles and responsibilities effectively. The new senior leadership team was appointed from within the school, with one additional new member of staff. Beryce has coached each member of the newly appointed senior leadership team in relation to their individual leadership needs. She describes the starting point: Initially, we worked as a full team, meeting every Tuesday, and we looked at the school improvement plan and identified the action we needed to take to ensure we were evaluating the school accurately at all levels. Primarily, most of my work focused on leadership development and my work with the headteacher. Solution-focused mentoring and coaching approaches Beryce adopts a solution-focused approach to coaching. This involves identifying what is effective and working well, and then reproducing it and building upon it. It focuses on developing the existing skills and capabilities of the person being coached to support them to achieve their self-defined aims. For example, Beryce coached the senior leadership team on the analysis of the autumn term tracking data. As a team, they analysed the data and, through questioning, Beryce empowered the team to quickly identify solutions together: What are the strengths? What are the areas for development? How do we know this? What is the cause of this? How do we know this? What could be the solution? What else could be a solution, and what else? What is already effective practice in this area?

4 4/11 Can we use what we know works somewhere else, here? Would that teacher be more effective working here? Do you think that child will work well with that child, or in that group? Beryce finds that asking questions on an individual child level, and on a teaching and learning level, is very effective as staff can gain real insight into the challenges and get a perspective on the problem more quickly. Collaborative engagement through coaching Collaboration is fundamental to Beryce s school-to-school support, and her coaching approach is underpinned by her school s five core values (see Appendix 1). Led by Beryce, senior leaders from both schools worked collaboratively to facilitate improvements and plan training in assessment for learning. Using coaching interventions, they developed confidence within the leadership team and the belief that they could contribute to and affect change. Through mentoring and coaching interactions, staff identified specific activities to support school improvement, for example: peer support through co-coaching sessions visiting each other s school to facilitate observations, team teaching and joint planning modelling effective practice releasing staff to coach other staff on different aspects of their development, for example, planning and how they identified success criteria half a day a month coaching support for senior leaders from the deputy head Hill Top staff spending the day at Sandringham, with the team teaching and participating in joint coaching sessions Beryce s approach is focused on building capacity within the school by developing potential. Our own school is continuing on the coaching journey. Senior members of the school are matched with other members of staff, and we facilitate coaching relationships. The senior team [at Hill Top] is very skilled now because it is integral to their role and their practice, and this has made it very easy to facilitate in another school as it is what we have done with teaching and learning in our own school.

5 5/11 Time to listen and time to reflect In making leadership development a priority, Beryce recognises it is essential to timetable in discrete time for coaching, and to ensure that this is uninterrupted and seen as important by staff. Staff fed back that they value that cover is provided and that time for coaching is allocated. They say it increases their confidence as they are able to work collectively as a team to identify solutions to very challenging situations, and that they are not working in isolation. Sue confirms this: Our leadership team are freed up every Tuesday afternoon. This dedicated leadership time is important and protected, [and] we work through to 5.30pm or however long it takes. This gives us the time we need. Beryce attends many of these sessions; she has never cancelled and we are high priority for her, and we also give this the highest priority. This has significantly contributed to our achievements as everyone has bought in and is totally committed. In every coaching session, Beryce ensures that the first half-hour allows for reflection, sharing and listening. Issues arising are brainstormed using a professional approach and these are sometimes role-played. Beryce explained how coaching to support individuals to develop and implement an action plan can work very effectively: Following a coaching session, the assistant head said, I just did what you said, Beryce, and it worked. I asked, What did I actually say?, and she replied, You didn t actually say anything in that coaching session, but, by the end of it, we had agreed a plan and I followed that plan of action and it worked really well. Flexible mentoring and coaching roles Beryce acknowledges that it has been important to take a flexible approach when providing mentoring and coaching support. Beryce s experience enables her to effectively move between roles during her interactions with Sue. Beryce recognises that when Sue needs practical support and evidence of what works, it is necessary to act as a mentor, and she is confidently able to model expectations and provide exemplars. Beryce will then move into a coaching role and support Sue to create this for her own school. As Sue explains: Beryce makes a seamless transition between coaching and mentoring. Upon reflection, she is using different approaches and, when working with us on a new appraisal system, she introduced the system from her own school, Hill Top Primary School, and trained new members of my leadership team who hadn t had previous appraisal training.

6 6/11 Beryce recognises that, sometimes, the expertise or example of good practice needs to be brought in and shared: I do slip into a mentoring role from time to time; for example, if I need to model something. Sue might show me an evaluation for teaching and learning. If I felt that document wasn t sufficient or robust enough, then I would model what it needed to look like, utilising my own experience and resources. Building the relationship challenges Beryce and Sue s early meetings were challenging, as Beryce had to support Sue to face the reality of the situation. Beryce recognises that it can be difficult to appreciate the breadth and complexity of the challenge when tackling school improvement. She allows time to reflect between meetings, followed by a discussion with Sue that focuses on achieving the best outcomes for the school, and this has enabled trust to build. Contentious issues have led to challenging discussions, and these were enabled through professional dialogue. Beryce comments: When we looked at areas for development, there were priorities in every aspect of the school. How Sue was evaluating the school was not reflected in the standards of pupil attainment. This was not due to Sue s potential to do this, but due to her not having the capacity within the leadership team to do this. Beryce recognises that coaching was integral to enabling Sue to see this for herself. Sue reflects: It was vital that we reviewed the school together, and Beryce took time to do this, never telling but helping me to see. She didn t try to impose her school s strategies and practice on my school, and this allowed me to develop solutions organically. Through coaching interactions and solution-focused questioning, Beryce supported Sue to identify a staffing structure for the school with clear staff roles and responsibilities. Sue remembers Beryce challenging her and asking: What is the core purpose of what you are doing? What are you trying to achieve for your learners? Who has expertise in different areas? How can we use this expertise to build capacity? This motivated Sue to take the lead, and she identified a team of people who could carry out these roles and undertake the necessary development work. Both Beryce and Sue believe that, through sharing the same values and goals, and by returning to the core purpose, which was to improve outcomes for the children and improve the school, they would always be able to resolve issues. As Sue explains:

7 7/11 Beryce never made assumptions and, if she found things were better than expected, then she would give credit for that. For example, she came in with her team to look at safeguarding and I think she expected to find it in a muddle. She actually said, I like the way you do this and I am going to adopt this for my school. Sue believes that the solid professional relationship she and her team have developed with Beryce has developed from the respect they have for her own achievements. Sue admires Beryce s honesty and readiness to accept that she may not have all of the solutions, and her adaptability to try a range of approaches. Beryce explained that, as the school was lacking in systems and processes, it was essential to invest the time in jointly developing and planning the implementation of these. This was facilitated during weekly meetings, and it was made explicit that it was about doing what is right for Sue s school and not imposing what works in Beryce s school. For example, Beryce says: We needed to create a staffing structure and Sue would ask, What is your staffing structure?, and I would say, It doesn t matter what my staffing structure is; let us start with a blank piece of paper and let s look at what you need. Impact and benefits of mentoring and coaching in facilitating school improvement Beryce has supported Sue to develop capacity within the leadership team at Sandringham School, and this facilitates specialist support in key areas of school improvement. Hill Top School s philosophy is that no man runs an island, and coaching has made a significant impact on collaborative approaches to capacity building and sustainability, both in Beryce s own school and in those she supports. According to Sue: We have developed organically, stripped aspects of our school right back and built it back up again. Using her staff and through coaching, we have collaboratively built my staff s capacity to improve, rather than one school propping up another or imposing a Hill Top model on our school. Beryce recognises the significant impact of mentoring and coaching in developing the agenda for, and attitude to, change in facilitating school improvement. Initially, Beryce found that Sandringham School s agenda for change lacked clarity. Sue recognised that change needed to happen: I knew change needed to happen. Staff were working really hard in the classroom and I had unconsciously fallen into the trap of thinking everyone is too busy and I had taken on too many roles. Beryce enabled me to see this.

8 8/11 Through coaching interventions, Sue has been enabled to see that, from baselining, identifying what needs to be done and delegating responsibilities to teams of staff who have the necessary resources, skills and experience, they are able to facilitate change quickly. The school has continued that cycle of change and has put in plans that can change outcomes, including within teaching and learning, and curriculum planning. Within the senior leadership team, they have developed the mentoring and coaching skills of all staff. This will support the school to use mentoring and coaching strategies to facilitate change for themselves. They plan to consolidate and bring about more change by cascading the coaching and learning from that throughout the school. A monitoring visit, in March 2013, noted that there had been some secure improvements made since the previous inspection, teaching had improved and as a result, the standards reached by pupils in Year 2 were now broadly average, the highest in the last five years. The Ofsted report stated Senior leaders and governors have begun to take effective action to tackle areas requiring improvement (Ofsted, 2013). Beryce acknowledges that the most significant learning for her has been how her own school has truly benefited from the partnership working and coaching relationships she has facilitated: Every time we evaluated an aspect of their school, it encouraged me to evaluate that aspect of my school. When we created new systems and procedures in Sandringham, they were sometimes better and more effective than what I had in Hill Top. I have learnt from that and have been able to introduce them in my own school. Key lessons learnt from developing effective mentoring and coaching relationships at senior leadership level Beryce admits to finding aspects of senior leadership development and coaching emotionally challenging, and she is committed to keeping the focus on taking professional decisions and not on relationships: It is important to be really honest, as that is how you get to the root of the problem and ensure that improvements are not superficial. All aspects of school life have been laid bare and it is paramount that this is within an environment of trust and respect. Beryce has learnt that, for her, the most effective solution when coaching is not to have a clear plan for a solution from the beginning. It allows her to facilitate change with no preconceptions and, therefore, her learning has come from seeing what works for the school and not about what works for her:

9 9/11 I didn t come in with a plan. If I am to create and inform sustainable leadership development within this school that significantly impacts upon children and their outcomes, it has to be shaped according to what the evidence is telling us, and shaping it this way has allowed us to keep layering the impact of what we are doing. Another key factor for Beryce is to allow the school she is supporting to demonstrate its potential. As Sue explains: In this process, you can feel as if everything is wrong. Every school has pockets of good practice; it may just not be spread wide enough. Recognising what is working is motivating, and will lift staff morale. Hill Top School is an outstanding school and senior leaders are fully committed to a continuous cycle of improvement. Through coaching, they are able to evaluate the practice of others and this has encouraged them to evaluate their own practice. Beryce has supported Sue to create clear systems for Sandringham, for example, within school governance, which Beryce has then replicated in her own school. This has generated sustainable improvement, as the basis of the relationship is that all have been learning together. Key messages to facilitate effective mentoring and coaching Ensure the right match of support and personalities. Make the appropriate time commitment. Ensure there is a contract outlining roles and responsibilities. Don t make instinctive judgements. Take the time to baseline and collaboratively self-evaluate. Work transparently, sensitively and establish trust. Be explicit in recognising individual and team potential. Review and evaluate regularly to inform the direction of future support. Identify success criteria and recognise and celebrate achievements and progression.

10 Appendix 1 10/11 Core principles and objectives At Hill Top Primary School our core values All share a relentless drive to support every child to make better-than-good progress in their learning to reach their full potential. (Raising standards) Have the highest expectations of all children and staff. (Raising expectations) Ensure all children become highly motivated and can challenge themselves to meet high expectations and aspirations. (Raising aspirations) Help children develop high self-esteem, respecting and taking responsibility for themselves, others and the environment. Recognise and reward success. (Rewarding success) Deliver consistently high-quality lessons that enable students to learn well. (Teaching and learning) Develop independent learning, communication, literacy and numeracy skills across all subject areas. (Core skills) Provide a creative and challenging curriculum that is personalised to meet the needs of all students. (Curriculum) Create a variety of opportunities to promote students spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. (SMSC) Learning partnerships between school, home and the community. Core values School-to-school support is increasingly promoted as a successful way of ensuring high standards in schools. School-to-school support is about building partnerships between organisations, working in collaboration to share and develop approaches that have demonstrated impact for learners. At Hill Top, we believe that: creative collaboration between schools can deliver sustainable impacts for learners and schools schools with schools draws upon a wide range of knowledge and experience in the implementation of highly effective school-to-school improvement strategies

11 11/11 schools with schools can develop future leadership potential and support staff retention school-to-school support provides opportunities for both schools to reflect and evaluate teaching and learning, which inevitably has an impact on the outcomes for the children in both organisations no matter how good one school and how in need of development another, it is impossible to visit another school without picking up some interesting strategies that can be brought back to the home school

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