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Let's talk about... challenges and opportunities in coaching

Often on social media practices such as coaching are presented as silver-bullets. In education there are many versions of coaching adopted and some are contested, some highly marketed, some are short-lived school-based innovations and others become woven into the professional fabric of schools.

Lets talk about challenges and opportunities in coaching

There is the risk of conflating coaching with other forms of professional support, and there is a risk that practices developed over a long time and nuanced to a specific context become cherry-picked and lose their impact in translation into new settings. If we are persuaded that coaching has a role in supporting educators to fulfil their potential we need to be sure we scrutinise coaching and recognise what challenges it incurs as well as what opportunities it creates.

As we look beyond the current Covid-19 pandemic we hope to host a CollectivED / GCI Knowledge Exchange Conference ‘Better Conversations, enhancing education one discussion at a time’ in the next academic year. This blogpost was originally written based on a theme for the conference planned for June. In addition to our main stage speakers we have a number of subthemes which will be explored through roundtable discussions. Prior to our rescheduled conference we anticipate hosting ‘Let’s talk about…’ webinars. Please follow @CollectivED1 on twitter for more information.

If something is to be successful in the real world we have to acknowledge that it may meet resistance and obstacles and we need to work at understanding those as well as the practice itself. This is the basic premise of the first roundtable discussion in this theme hosted by Catherine Hulme, who will ask the questions “What are the barriers to successful coaching in schools? How can these be overcome?”. Catherine is an Executive and Wellbeing Coach, and she tweets at @_NorthStarCoach. Coaching is about improving the quality of professional conversations: listening, respecting, empowering, showing empathy, providing headspace and clarity and harnessing the individual’s resourcefulness. Catherine is concerned that despite these potential benefits coaching is not typically “the way we talk to each other” in every school? During the discussion Catherine will facilitate a knowledge exchange discussion which will draw on participants’ experiences as well as her own (including as a former assistant headteacher and practicing coach). This will help to clarify why isn’t coaching part of every school’s culture and every member of staff’s working life? Attention will also be paid to how barriers can be overcome. Participants should take away both ideas and strategies that can make a difference in their own settings.

Also grappling with the opportunities and challenges embedded in coaching in education will be Charmaine Roche, who is an ex-headteacher, Accredited Executive & Leadership Development Coach and Company Director and current PhD student at Leeds Beckett University. Charmaine is also a member of the CollectivED Advisory Board and tweets at @lifeflowbalance. She has also written for CollectivED working papers. Charmaine’s roundtable discussion will be based on her doctoral research and will engage participants in the thorny question of “What is the place of ethics and values in the coaching conversation?”Coach neutrality (not giving advice, telling, or directing the coachee or stating their own position based on their system of values) is a prized characteristic in the coaching relationship as it is seen as the basis for coachee autonomy in the process. However, it may not be desirable where neutrality comes into conflict with the coaches personal/professional code of ethics in contexts where coachee development is being hindered by toxic power dynamics in the workplace, discriminatory practices or unconscious bias recognised by the coach but unrecognised by the coachee. These tensions underpin Charmaine’s concern of how coaches navigate the ethical dilemmas or ethical stresses posed without compromising coachee autonomy? The discussion will begin with a definition of ‘ethical stress’ which is experienced by any professional when they are not able to base their practise on their values, and participants will explore a number of ethical stress examples in coaching situations.

Kerry Jordan-Daus will also lead a roundtable discussion in this theme. Kerry tweets at @kerryjordandaus and has a number of roles in coaching and programme leadership at Canterbury Christ Church University as well as with a Multi-Academy Trust. She is exploring coaching as an element of her doctorate which is a narrative inquiry into women’s leadership in education. Kerry has contributed to CollectivEd working papers on this theme in issues 6 and 9. During her roundtable discussion Kerry will explore the question, “How do we take the F word out of coaching (FEAR)?”. She will draw parallels with bell hooks 1994 statement that ‘In my classrooms, I do not expect students to take any risks that I would not take, to share in any way that I would not share’ and encourage participants to exchange ideas about fear, vulnerability, honesty and risk in the context of coaching using autobiographical professional confessional narratives. A key consideration will be the extent to which performativity cultures that professionals in schools are exposed to make talking about difficulties even more difficult? (Ball, 2003). Finally, in this theme Chris Eastabrook, who tweets at @chriseastabrook will engage participants in a discussion on “How can environment enhance professional conversations?”. As a teacher of outdoor learning at Myddelton College and PhD candidate in Adventure Education Chris is aware of the role of the environment and structured and unstructured time in changing the opportunities for conversations. For example, on the way to a summit, the talk is task orientated. On the way down, the atmosphere relaxes, and conversations can wander to deep meaning themes. He reflects that the outdoor environment gives a shared challenge and language, it also acts as a leveller between social hierarchies, balancing the power in conversations and, the informal nature gives honest and insightful conversations. The goal of Chris’ roundtable discussion is to share some personal experiences that help shape conducive environments for effective professional conversations without necessarily heading to the mountains. As such participants can expect active facilitation of some inside-outside discussion.

Coaching can create opportunities for better conversations, which can go on to inform educational values and practices, but we do have to be aware of the challenges in coaching well.

By Rachel Lofthouse, Charmaine Roche, Kerry Jordan-Daus, Catherine Hulme and Chris Eastabrook

You can also read about the roundtable discussions

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Professor Rachel Lofthouse

Rachel Lofthouse is Professor of Teacher Education in the Carnegie School of Education. She has a specific research interest in professional learning, exploring how teachers learn and how they can be supported to put that learning into practice.

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