Coaching: A performance development approach for our times?

"Teacher performance management, in my view, is mostly unsophisticated, unrealistic and limited in terms of being focused on bringing out the best in everyone. We can do better"
Dr Jim Watterston

In a column in the Australian Education Leader, Dr Jim Watterston, former ACEL President and Director-General, DETE Qld, highlighted the need for more comprehensive, focused and supported performance development process for teachers…

"It is time to focus on what more we can do to help teachers, to create the space, professionalism and support required for them to be the best they can be. The current environment lays bare an expectation for teachers to improve but the scaffolding and policy environment are not in place to universally bring about the whole-scale change required. Teacher performance can no longer be left to chance."

And given that recent research (Hattie, 2009) continues to emphasise the quality of the teacher as the most significant influence on the quality of student learning it is surprising that, unlike other professions, there have been few intentional, focused, performance review and improvement processes in place for teachers.

At the heart of such a performance focus must be the fostering of a growth mindset in each teacher. It is in this context that coaching emerges as a great vehicle for bringing this intentional, growth oriented approach to performance conversations. Developing understanding and skilfulness in coaching conversations about practice, conversations between leaders and teachers or between teacher colleagues is where opportunity lies to impact directly on teacher performance.

Effective coaching
  • Provides a personalised developmental approach. Learning goals can be entirely self-directed or jointly negotiated to really focus on key development areas
  • Develops inquiry and reflection, dispositions at the heart of true professionalism
  • Is just-in-time. Issues that are here and now can be what gets attention in the moment and on the spot
  • Is solution-focused vs deficit focused. Solution Focused approaches direct more attention to what's wanted and how to get there rather than spend a lot of time analysing what's not working and why. The way forward is not necessarily found in analysing causes of what's wrong
  • Supports the transfer of new learning into practice.
  • Is confidential. In the relationship of high trust that develops between coach and coachee those being coached can explore areas that they might not find easy to acknowledge in other contexts.
  • Can be flexibly scheduled. Allocating chunks of time for professional development can be difficult but coaching sessions can be short, targeted and slotted into busy schedules.
  • Provides for continuity of learning. Ongoing conversations rather than one off events help to embed new learning
  • Provides an accountability mechanism. Commitment to action with another is a powerful accountability process.
  • Adopts a partnership approach enabling challenge and robust, respectful inquiry into practice.

All good reasons for exploring why well a planned and implemented coaching culture can make a real difference to teacher growth and development and ultimately, student learning.


  • Hattie, J. (2009) Visible Learning: A synthesis of meta-analyses related to achievement. Oxford: Routledge.