Carnegie Education

Can coaching help school leaders during the pandemic?

A lot can happen in a short time. At the start of March, prior to lockdown and the relocation of millions of children to home learning supported by staff in thousands of schools now also operating as care providers,  the TES published an article called 'Turbulent, lonely and isolated' - why heads need help.

At the end of March as the implications of Covid-19 began to become very real and frightening Schools Week published an article I had authored which asked How can we build and sustain headteachers’ capacity in difficult times?. Both articles drew on the CollectivED research into coaching for headteachers.

My Growth Coaching International partner, Professor Christian van Nieuwerbugh, often asks ‘If coaching is the answer, what is the question?’ In the next few months we want to see if one such question is ‘Can coaching help school leaders during the pandemic?’ We have therefore gained ethical approval for a new CollectivED research project. The research is an exploratory study into the role of, and approaches to, coaching of school leaders during the Covid-19 pandemic.  It aims to explore how coaching practices for school leaders have been adopted, modified and experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic.  The purpose of the study is to understand the extent to which specialist coaching was able to provide flexible support in an emergency situation, when the challenges faced by school leaders are both unprecedented and fluid.  Some comparisons with the earlier research findings will be possible, in terms of the outcomes of coaching for school leaders, as well as learning about how coaching conversations might be creating a space for discussing future educational planning, dilemmas and thinking in the post-Covid space.   

The research will investigate the impacts of coaching as perceived by participants (both senior leaders and coaches).  It is framed around five questions which will allow us to find out about the patterns of and role of coaching for senior leaders in education during the pandemic.

  1. Has the Covid-19 2020 pandemic altered education sector senior leaders’ engagement in coaching, and if so, are there any discernible patterns or trends?
  2. How have coaches responded to the emergent needs of senior leaders during the pandemic?
  3. What value do senior leaders place on the coaching they have engaged in during the pandemic?
  4. Have coaches and senior leaders experienced any significant challenges with regards to coaching during the pandemic?
  5. What do the coaching conversations and reflections on them reveal about how education is being re-considered and re-imagined for the post-pandemic period?

This research is necessarily opportunistic and will provide a snapshot of coaching practices and experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic as an extreme example of a global challenge facing education. Participation in this research is voluntary.  If you have engaged in coaching as a leader or coach during this time you are welcome to take part. Evidence will be sought from the UK, and internationally. Two online surveys are now open and will be kept open until the end of July. One survey will be completed by senior leaders in education who have engaged in coaching during the pandemic.  This can be found here for completion   The other survey will be completed by coaches who have provided coaching to senior leaders during the pandemic.  This can be found here for completion Follow-up telephone interviews will be conducted for a sample of volunteers.  The research is led by Professor Rachel Lofthouse, who can be contacted at  Please do get in touch if you would like to participate, or just click on the appropriate survey link to take part.

While we very much hope that Covid-19 is a once in a lifetime event we do appreciate that schools cannot be divorced from the world around them.  Trying to function through emergencies and manage trauma are not unique to the pandemic.  We hope that our research can provide additional insight into how school leaders can be best supported when the world around them creates disruptions and challenges.

We are hosting a Webex webinar on headteacher coaching. Find out more about this event and the full range of online sessions we are hosting over the coming months.

Related media links:

Professor Rachel Lofthouse

Professor / Carnegie School Of Education

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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