Coaching Aligned to the Strategic Direction of the School

Elle Smith, Senior Learning Coach at St Andrew’s Cathedral School in Sydney, shares the story of how coaching has now become integrated into the school’s strategic initiatives.

The school has had GROWTH coaching on its agenda since 2015. In 2018 the school appointed Elle Smith to the newly established role of the Senior Learning Coach (K-12). Initially, the role of the Senior Learning Coach was to conduct environmental scans within the school to measure the areas GROWTH coaching would most likely have the greatest impact. While this is still very much a part of the role, as coaching has become more embedded, Elle’s role has expanded to ensure that coaching is considered a key component when planning to implement any strategic initiatives.

Where did coaching start?

An update to the school’s Teaching and Learning Model provided a platform where coaching became the vehicle to promote teacher professional growth for improved student outcomes. The impact of coaching was consistently measured to prove the benefits across the school. As part of this process, the development of goal attainment scales (GAS) ensured that learning coaches were supported with coaching tools, to ensure high levels of coaching skills aligned to the whole school goals for teaching and learning. Over time the GAS has become a useful tool for teachers K-12 to reflect on their teaching practice and develop a shared language for teaching.

Coaching in the Strategic Plan

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to building coaching culture within schools, claims Elle. However, there are some common approaches to getting coaching started. Tolhurst (2010) claims that the best way for successful implementation is to include coaching within the school improvement plan with clear goals and allocated resources. Clutterbuck and Megginson (2005) highlight three approaches schools take towards coaching as

  • tactical, where there is a recognised value of establishing a coaching culture but with little understanding of what it means
  • strategic - the school invests in resources into educating the staff about the value of coaching as well as training
  • embedded, where people at all levels are engaged in coaching

The Senior Executive at St Andrew’s Cathedral School place their staff well-being and professional growth at the forefront of improving student outcomes. As a 2020 winner of The Voice Project Best Workplace of the Year Award, it is no shock that staff report that coaching impacts their wellbeing and professional growth. The idea of including coaching to attract, retain and develop the best staff within the strategic plan has been paramount to the exponential growth of coaching within the school. Throughout the development of the school’s 2020-2024 strategic plan, Elle, as the Senior Learning Coach, has been involved at each stage to ensure that coaching is considered at the strategic objective and initiative levels. In its second year, the current 20202024 strategic plan considers most coaching initiatives as ‘part of the way we do things around here’ and ensures that coaching is a vehicle for new initiatives introduced.

When considering coaching within the strategic plan, Elle highlights the importance of building a sustainable budget to produce a high functioning team of coaches. ‘Our initial expenses for coaching were mainly around staff training and the appointment of learning coaches’.

Over time, Elle explains that these expenses have become ‘business as usual’ and the development of coaching has shifted towards amplifying coaching through developing a coaching way of being. Over time, SACS has shifted between each of Clutterbuck and Megginson’s (2005) approaches to build a coaching culture. She identifies that the success of the growth of the coaching culture within the school is largely due to the targeted efforts by senior leaders to provide coaching for staff, in particular the new staff coaching program, coaching triads and leadership coaching.

Measuring the Impact of Coaching

Modelling innovation though pilot programs has enabled staff and students to provide their voice so that the direction of coaching meets the needs of staff, their professional and personal goals, and students. One of the hardest parts of having coaching as part of the strategic plan is to be regularly measuring the impact of coaching: ‘So often we can capture the qualitative impact of coaching but getting quantitative data is a real challenge’. This highlights the importance of including Senior Executive in the development of coaching measures so that coaching measures align with the strategic objectives. Elle has identified that her coaching and leadership tool kit has had to expand exponentially to include innovative ways to support the learning coaches to measure, collect and analyse the data from the 50+ coaching conversations held across the school each fortnight. However she sees this required measurement of impact, introduced from the outset, as critical. It is not only critical to the status it now holds in the 2020-2024 strategic plan. Elle also attributes it to the ongoing growth and success of the coaching culture in the school. ‘It really allows us as a team of coaches to analyse what is working, what needs improvement and what are the recommendations for strategic initiatives in the future’.

What’s next?

Initially coaching at SACS was primarily focused on teachers to improve student outcomes. A natural progression has enabled the focus of coaching at SACS to spread to the Support and Operational staff and students. This year SACS provided support and operational staff with coaching to assist with their professional goal setting, and leaders with Support and Operations participated in a GCI Introduction to Leadership Coaching two day workshop. ‘This highlights the school’s strategic commitment to developing all of their staff with the bigger picture of improving student outcomes’, says Elle. Coaching has also become a more formal component of the student Growth Learning Plan process, with tutorial (pastoral) teachers being provided with professional development and resources to facilitate group coaching sessions with students to reflect on their strengths and set goals and tactics for their target subjects.

Moving forward, the school anticipates expanding coaching in the student space with pilots for student-to-student coaching. Coaching will become even more of a ‘way of being’ through leadership and by providing staff with clear and accessible pathways for both collaborative, 1:1 and informal and formal coaching opportunities. The coaching approach at SACS has been transformed by being embedded within the strategic plan. Moving into 2022, coaching is influencing more than one strategic objective and is becoming an integrated part of the whole school. Elle says that ‘while we still have a long way to go with our coaching culture, what we have built and the way we have carefully and timely introduced it into the strategic plan ensures that the impact of coaching will last beyond the current strategic plan’.

  • Clutterbuck, D., & Megginson, D. (2005). Making coaching work: Creating a coaching culture. London: CIPD. Tolhurst, J. (2010). Coaching and mentoring (2nd ed.). Harlow: Pearson Education.