Neil Short looks at methods for supporting colleagues more effectively in the performance management process.
What is coaching?
In their Performance Management Manual (Pearson Education 2003) West-Burnham and Bradbury define coaching as ‘a long term, one-to-one professional relationship in which the coach actively supports the learner to build capacity to improve performance’ (page 129). The authors emphasise the strength of the coaching process through a series of examples which stress the importance of the one-to-one relationship in other areas of learning.
Coaching does not appear in the formal ‘plan-monitor-review’ framework for performance management (PM) but it has become an integral part of the process.
Following the introduction of PM into schools in 2000, the DfES produced a training pack designed to ensure that the processes were embedded into setting practice. Within this wealth of information and support for trainers is a section which provides guidance on the coaching skills required for the team leader. Some basic elements are described which would enable any team leader to support their colleagues more effectively within the PM process.
Coaching is described as giving the opportunity for learning and development; questioning and listening; problem solving; and testing of data. Within the PM framework it is describe d as giving the opportunity for feedback on performance issues anddiscussion on those issues and the knowledge and skills required.
Outside the PM framework, coaching is no less important. The development of situations where there can be a high level of one-to-one professional discussion and debate on issues related to learning and classroom practice is a vital element in the ‘growth’ of a setting. The DfES training pack gives reasons why coaching should be encouraged, including improvement of individual performance, providing support, improving communication, promoting effective teams, developing people for more senior jobs and making the best use of resources.
The document also indicates the benefits to the setting from a system which sees coaching as an important element within the PM process. These include;
- support for the learning needs of the individual
- professional on-the-job development for both the coach and the individual (an opportunity for both to reflect upon their skills, knowledge and behaviour)
- involvement and ownership of the learning process
- improved capability at work
- potential to improve career development.
Skills and qualities for coaching
For many team leaders the PM framework may be the first opportunity to utilise their coaching skills and the training module gives some guidance. The link to effective personal relationships which would sustain the PM process is emphasised. The following areas which would enable the coach to work effectively are also highlighted:
- clear communication – with appropriate language and vocabulary
- appropriate body language – with eye contact and nonthreatening demeanour
- active listening – with engagement in the dialogue and regular summarising
- clear expectations – with agreed agenda and focus
- openness – with a willingness to explore other possibilities and experiences
- valuing – with respect for opinions and ideas of others
- personal qualities – including a sense of humour, enthusiasm, optimism and honesty
These qualities should operate throughout the whole of the PM cycle but would be particularly relevant during the review stages. Here, when giving feedback following a lesson observation, the coach would be able to support the practitioner onto the next stages of the cycle. This is the time when real learning is seen.
Code of conduct
Allied to the personal qualities which are required of the individual team leader within a coaching role, there needs to be established within the setting the appropriate culture to support the process. Clear guidelines should have been agreed to allow coaching to be effective for the setting and individual participants. This may take the form of a code of conduct which establishes guidelines for the coaching relationship (see below for the DfES’s suggestions on this).
For many settings the role of team leader is a demanding one. The additional skills required as the coach in this process may cause many to question their own skills in meeting the needs of their colleagues. However, it is important to bear in mind that this may simply be as a result of the terminology used. Many experienced practitioners already have considerable coaching experience without being aware of it. If they have supported other less experienced colleagues in the past, discussed specific problems with them and worked alongside them to come to a solution, then they have already participated in a coaching role. Similarly, they too will have participated in a coaching relationship to develop their own professional skills, and to reach this level in their career.
The coaching process has developed into a vital element within PM and team leaders should seek to develop their skills in these areas for the benefit of their setting and their colleagues.
Possible elements for a coaching code of conduct
- allocated time to agree agenda and other preparation required
- a private venue which allows for uninterrupted discussion
- well-prepared agenda with data and evidence available
- a focus for the discussion
- a structured discussion which covers all areas.
During and after:
- solutions/strategies identified
- support made available
- identified training and development needs noted
- time for reflection made available.