5th National Coaching in Education Conference Reflections

The two-day biennial 5th National Coaching in Education Conference was recently held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The 2017 conference brought together over 400 school leaders from across Australia, New Zealand, the UK and even as far away as Qatar - educators inspired to enhance learning across their school communities through coaching.

In recent years, interest in coaching in education has continued to grow and the conference theme, The Coaching Approach: Generating Learning, is clearly more relevant than ever - evidenced by the fact that the conference was sold out several weeks in advance.

The very full 2 day program moved at a brisk pace and covered a broad range of coaching in education related topics. Keynotes were informative, challenging and even inspirational…

  • Professor Christian van Nieuwerburgh, from the University of East London, set the scene with the Global Framework for Coaching in Education reminding us that students are always the ‘other client’ in any coaching conversations in schools
  • Dr Simon Breakspear showed how coaching conversations can play a role in supporting any school improvement initiatives particularly those applying ‘agile’ principles
  • Andy Buck from Leadership Matters, UK reminded us that when leaders are in coaching mode it is always important to ‘Ask First’
  • Dr Rachel Lofthouse from the University of Newcastle UK provided a rich theoretical backdrop to coaching in schools and encouraged us to develop coaching as social and educative practice.
  • Professor Lea Waters from University of Melbourne reminded us of the role of parents and community in student success and wellbeing though a focus on ‘strengths based parenting’
  • Mark Scott AO, secretary of the NSW Department of Education rounded off the conference learning by focusing on the big issues in education.

Weaving in and out of these keynote presentations were multiple concurrent workshop sessions on various topics: advanced coaching skills; Reflective Practice; student coaching; coaching approaches with teams; implementing coaching in schools; intercultural coaching; in-school coaching research and others.

Perhaps most inspiring of all were the eight school and system stories that demonstrated wonderfully diverse applications of coaching. This in fact is what a conference like this is all about. While the keynotes and workshop sessions are important to help stimulate and refine our thinking about what’s possible, this learning, if it is to be of value, must always show up in ways that impact student (and staff) success and wellbeing. These school stories were wonderful, sometimes moving, examples of how committed professionals have shaped and contextualised their learning from previous events of this kind and then gone and ‘done it’, often overcoming significant challenges and always learning along the way. The various practitioners who shared their experiences are to be congratulated. (If you missed these the essence of many of these stories were captured in short video clips which will soon be available for download from our website.)

A week on, here are some further reflections on the conference (plus the Coaching in Education Research Seminar that followed.)

  • Coaching work is broad and deep
    There is an abundance of great coaching work going on in schools across Australia and NZ. This is reflected in the various school stories presented at the conference which highlighted innovative approaches to peer coaching, student coaching initiatives, collegiate principal coaching triads, and broader system coaching projects. All of these have made a difference in some way or other; some have been quite transformational. Coaching and coaching approaches are being applied in all sorts of ways across school communities.
  • Context is everything
    The various school stories showcased at this event were all shaped according to the specific school or system context. None of these applications can be picked up and dropped into another school situation since the factors influencing implementation are so varied. We can learn lessons and guiding principles from what others have done but each school needs to find its own pathway.
  • More Research please!
    While there is a growing body of research now emerging in this field and some of it is being generated locally by Australian ‘pracademics’ there is a need for more. Fortunately, people are stepping up to do this and GCI will certainly be continuing to support further research in our field. The Coaching in Education Research Network (CERN) is one way that this research push will continue.
  • Terminology is important
    An important message emerging from the conference related to the confusion around terminology in our field. For some time it has been necessary to explore the similarities and differences between coaching and mentoring, counselling and instructing. Further, it has been important to differentiate workplace coaching from sports coaching. Recently additional terms have emerged – ‘professional conversations’, ‘learning conversations’ along with ‘coaching conversations’. There is no quick or easy resolution to these.
  • DownUnder on the Way Up
    Australia and New Zealand schools are doing leading edge work in this field. While we don’t want to push this too far it seems clear that schools in our ‘downunder’ part of the world are at the forefront of what is happening in this field. Certainly our international visitors were indicating as much. So while we want to keep learning and improving what we do, all of us in schools as well as those supporting teachers in schools, can be pleased about how far we have come so far.
  • Coaching in Education will be around a while yet
    We are now 8 years into this event and 15 years into our broader coaching in education work. It seems that now interest is stronger, more diverse and more mature than ever. I think we can say with some confidence that while coaching in education will continue to evolve it is not going away anytime soon. Too many good things are flowing from this work; too much good research is now emerging and too many passionate educators are experiencing first-hand what coaching can do.

    As one conference participant expressed it
    “…coaching is a way of singing a better world into existence.”
    ~ Scott Millman
    I am very happy to sign up for that and on the basis of the positive vibe that emerged from the event last week it seems that at least 400 or so others are up for that too.


  • To view PDF slides from the Conference, click here

Other Reflections

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