Coaching research from Deborah Netolicky

Dr Deborah Netolicky is an Australian educational leader and practitioner who has researched coaching in her own school context. Her research for her PhD thesis has been acknowledged with national and international awards and her 2016 peer-reviewed paper ‘Coaching for professional growth in one Australian school: “oil in water”’ won an Emerald Publishing award. Deborah is presenting at this year’s National Coaching in Education Conference.

The 2016 paper examines the insider perspectives of teachers and school leaders during the development of a model for teacher growth. The model, which the paper refers to as the Teacher Growth Initiative, used a combination of cognitive coaching and the Danielson Framework for Teaching with the intention of improving teacher practice and developing the depth and precision of professional conversation.

The study was designed to answer two coaching-related research questions:

  • How might a school-based coaching model interact with teachers’ identities, practices, and professional growth, and with school culture?
  • What role might middle and executive school leaders play in the embedment of a school-based coaching model?

The paper outlines the coaching-related findings of the study:

  • that being a coach is an empowering and identity-shaping experience
  • that coaching for empowerment and capacity building benefits from a non-hierarchical relationship
  • that coaching can be enhanced by the use of additional tools and approaches
  • and that any intervention requires the support of the leadership team

The ‘oil in water’ metaphor was a comment by one of the study’s participants about the unexpected, non-linear, and far reaching impacts of coaching on individuals, relationships, and organisations. This participant explained the impact of the school’s coaching interventions as follows:

“It goes without saying that's it’s got to make a difference. To me it’s like sort of oil in water. … you don't know where it's going to go. … It's absolutely marvellous. So that would be an oil thing. It’s sort of a little insidious thing … it’s marvellous.”

The paper argues that coaching interventions require a slow bottom-up approach to change, an organisational culture of trust, and coaching relationships free from judgment or power inequity. It demonstrates that coaching interventions in schools are slow strategically-aligned evolutions, not quick piecemeal revolutions.

Watch Deborah elaborate more on the below.

An abstract of Deborah’s research paper can be found here. Deborah also has an upcoming Routledge education book, Transformational professional learning: Making a difference in schools. The book contains a chapter on mentoring and coaching that builds on her earlier thinking and ties research together with vivid stories of practice. The chapter suggests that when introducing and developing coaching, schools look to and start from their own contexts, paying particular attention to organisational conditions for coaching including organisational trust and semantic space where coaching becomes a ‘way we talk around here’.

For more on Deborah’s exploration of semantic space and professional learning, see her paper “Fostering semantic space in schools for professional collaboration and growth” from CollectiveEd Issue 4 (pp.11-14).

These and other key concepts that underpin coaching in schools will be covered by Deborah’s keynote presentation at the National Coaching in Education Conference later this year.

Twitter: @debsnet Instagram: @theeduflaneuse 
Deborah’s academic profile
Deborah’s website section on coaching

Further reading:
  1. PhD dissertation
  2. Coaching for professional growth in one Australian school: “Oil in water’. (2016). International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, Vol 5 issue 2, pp 66-86.
  3. Rethinking professional learning for teachers and school leaders (2016). Journal of Professional Capital and Community, 2016. Vol1 issue 4 pp270-285
  5. Flip the System Australia: What Matters in Education:

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