Coaching: the effective way to lead teaching and learning

An annual conversation will not instil a sense of continuous improvement, but coaching helps staff take ownership of change and proceed to action, says Jackie Beere. Here's how to do it

Author details

Jackie Beere spent three years as an Advanced Skills Teacher, leading and implementing innovative teaching and learning strategies nationwide before becoming a headteacher in 2003. She was awarded the OBE...

Whatever the context of your school, one thing is for sure: the quality of pupils’ learning and achievement will depend on the quality and commitment of your teachers. Your school can only be as good as the teaching delivered in lessons five hours a day, five days a week. And remember – your leadership and management skills will be judged on other people’s performance.

We must challenge and support all our teachers, whatever their characters and capabilities, to be the very best they can be

Those of us who have led training within schools can immediately tell which staff will embrace the newest strategies with flair, enthusiasm and confidence. They are our trailblazers and often go on to be leaders. Not all teachers can do this. However, we must challenge and support all our teachers, whatever their characters and capabilities, to be the very best they can be.

As John Hattie outlines in his book Visible Learning, successful teaching depends on every teacher’s ‘mindset’. Great progress depends on your teachers believing they are ‘change agents’. Effective teachers are eager to know their impact, have high expectations and develop an implicit language for learning. They are flexible and responsive to the needs of their classes and they have the seven habits outlined in my own book The Perfect Ofsted Inspection.

The seven habits of effective teachers

How can we help teachers develop these habits and respond to often highly demanding professionals who won’t put up with second best? Present performance management/appraisal processes are often too separate from the daily grind of teaching effectively to affect performance. 

Sadly, all too many appraisal systems over the past decade have been a paper exercise, neither accountable nor effective, sometimes arbitrarily imposing school priorities on teachers through personal targets. Personal targets were often negotiated in a hurried chat once a year, then put in a file to be dusted off as part of an annual review that had no teeth. So nothing changed. Targets weren’t met because they weren’t monitored, so, worst of all, no child benefited. 

Present performance management/appraisal processes are often too separate from the daily grind of teaching effectively to affect performance

This had to change. With raised expectations of school policies and practice for performance management, now is the time to consider how you can build highly effective professional development schemes and professional practices that will help your staff become the best teachers they can be. 

Coaching as personalised teacher improvement

‘Coaching is a structured conversation which leads to clear targets, in-depth exploration of issues, highly creative problem-solving and definite commitments to action.

‘Coaching is characterised by a series of principles and an approach that, when demonstrated by the coach, brings about high levels of commitment, responsibility and learning in the coachee.’
(The Perfect Teacher Coach, Terri Broughton and Will Thomas, published September 2012.)

The way forward for many successful schools has been to embrace coaching as a support process and as a way of securing changes and development in behaviour. But like all good practice it must be understood and implemented effectively to make a consistent, effective difference in teaching. Coaching needs to underpin all aspects of support and leadership of teaching and learning. In the very best schools it can also begin to underpin pedagogy. As teachers become experts at supporting each other to make progress in their careers, they discover that coaching questions work brilliantly for pupils, helping them also make great progress in their skills and understanding.

Coaching questions work brilliantly for pupils, helping them also make great progress in their skills and understanding

A conversation once a year setting vague targets will not instil a sense of continuous improvement. However, coaching helps staff own the changes needed in their practice and take the required steps to action. Coaching helps all staff take on board suggested changes in practice and helpful tips delivered in Inset and gives them the tools to make them happen in the classroom, through experimentation and implementation.

Coaching process

The three elements of a successful coaching session are:

  1. a clear structure
  2. open questioning that helps coachees make their own decisions
  3. commitment to action with a date for review/evaluation.

Having a clear structure is the most important aspect to achieving a lot in a short time. There are a variety of models but all have an essentially similar structure. For example:

  • The STRIDE model:  Strengths / Target / Reality Check / Ideas / Decision / Evaluation
  • The GROW model:  Goals / Reality / Options / What next?
  • The CIGAR model:  Current situation / Ideal situation / Gap between the two / Action required / Review 

All clarify the vital process of moving thinking forward into action for improvement. During the coaching process it should only need about 10-15 minutes to take someone through to a specific course of action they have chosen. You also include a coaching contract in the process so that when this action is decided the coachee signs up to a specific plan. For example, a teacher who needs to develop his or her practice may have been given targeted Inset activity. No matter how inspiring it was, the teacher will need a follow-up coaching session to devise ways to embed best practice from the Inset, working through specific elements of their teaching that will make the sustained improvements required. 

Train colleagues on using the GROW model with the Coaching for Change training course.


Teachers who are stuck need to know instantly what works and what doesn’t – and have the confidence to try different techniques

Follow-up could include a coaching observation which is non-judgmental but gives direct feedback during the lesson. Observation feedback is too often delivered so long after the event that it is ineffective. A live observation encourages teachers to be flexible and responsive by explaining how children are reacting to their delivery immediately and giving permission for them to adapt their lesson in real time to meet children’s needs. For example, if, as the coach, you spot a child who hasn’t really engaged with the objective, feeding that back immediately to the teacher during the lesson is highly effective. 

Teachers who are stuck need to know instantly what works and what doesn’t – and have the confidence to try different techniques. (See Jim Smith and Zoe Elder at Clevedon Community School for their work in this area.) 


Later, part of the coaching contract should seek feedback from students about the specific improvements looked for. This can happen through interviews or questionnaires and can be a powerful evaluator of impact. Here is a simple example.

Date: 11 January 
Name:  Jackie Beere            Coach: Terri Broughton

Focus for improvement
Using lesson objectives more effectively to achieve progress with Year 10 GCSE English

Action planned

  • Focus on specific objectives in all lesson-planning using a variety of techniques from recent Inset
  • Coaching observation on 30 January 
  • Obtain feedback from Year 10 students 12 February on engagement with objectives and progress made

Date for review observation: 12 March 

Signed __________________________________________

Coaching is just about asking the right questions

The most important skill in coaching is the ability to ask the questions that will lead people from where they are to where they need to be. When you coach frequently you get in the habit of asking ‘coaching’-type questions that are open, tentative and empathetic. This can work well in the classroom too. The very best teachers are highly skilled at asking coaching questions to help students move their thinking forward, so creating a school culture where coaching is the norm will help all teachers improve their questioning skills. And in time those teachers will encourage pupils to use coaching questions in peer-to-peer assessment to support each other’s progress. So developing the use of coaching questions is an important part of staff development. See box below.

Coaching questions based on STRIDE model


What have you tried recently that worked?

  • What has made you feel successful this week?
  • What has been your best achievement of the year?
  • What went well this week?
  • Tell me about your most sparkling moment as a teacher?
  • How does your favourite pupil respond to you?
  • What are you most proud of as a teacher?
  • When do you perform at your best?

Target / goal

What would you like to achieve?

  • What would need to happen for you to walk away feeling this is time well spent?
  • What exactly will make you feel successful in this?
  • What are you building towards? / What do you really, really want?
  • What don’t you want?
  • What has to happen for you to feel successful?
  • How do you know this goal is worth achieving?
  • How will you know when you have achieved it?
  • What will you see, hear and feel after having achieved it?
  • What will achieving this goal do for you / give you?
  • How would other people benefit if you reached your goal?
  • What is important to you about achieving this goal?
  • How much personal control do you have over your goal?
  • What can you do yourself to achieve this goal?
  • By when do you want to achieve it?
  • How will you measure it?
  • What’s your heart telling you about this dream / goal?
  • What’s your dream outcome?


Where are you starting from / What have you learned so far?

  • What have you done so far about this dream / goal?
  • How effective have your efforts been?
  • What’s stopped you doing more?
  • What have you learned from what you’ve done?
  • What might you have done differently?
  • What insights do you have about yourself / life in general that are relevant to this?
  • What will happen if you do nothing?
  • What other choices do you have?
  • What do you have that you are not using?
  • What is holding you back?
  • What could stop you achieving your goal?
  • What are you afraid of?
  • What is not achieving your goal costing you?

Ideas and options:

What could you do?

  • What could you do differently from now?
  • What must change for you to achieve your goal?
  • What approaches have you seen used in similar circumstances?
  • Who might be able to help you?
  • Who could you learn from?
  • What would a wise old friend suggest?
  • What would you do if you had more time / less time / power / money / magic wand)?
  • What is the simplest solution?
  • What is the right thing to do?
  • What is the most courageous step to take?
  • If the constraints were removed, what would you do?
  • What else could you do...and what else could you do... and what else could you do?
  • What options would you like to act on?
  • What could you do that would make the biggest difference?

Decide / commit

What’s the first logical step? What are the next steps?Precisely when will you do this?

  • What will it cost you if you don’t take action?
  • What will you gain if you do take action?
  • What might get in the way?
  • Who needs to know about this?
  • What support do you need and from whom?
  • How will you get that support?
  • Rate on a 1-10 scale your motivation to take the agreed actions?
  • What prevents you from being at a 10?
  • What do you need to do to get your commitment up to at least 8?


What did you do that was different?

  • On a scale of 1-10, how hard did you try?
  • What was the hardest thing?
  • What was the impact – qualitative and quantitative?
  • How did it make you feel?
  • What has happened since?
  • How have you changed?
  • What will you do next?

Leadership of learning

Coaching should be just one aspect of your leadership of teaching and learning.  Also recommended are:

  • a programme of regular training twilight sessions built around the school’s self-evaluation and lesson observations by SLT
  • a team of regularly trained and supported teacher coaches who engage in confidential professional dialogue
  • a programme of observations, formal and informal, that evaluate the quality of teaching at the school
  • a regular opportunity for teachers to find out from students about their performance – e.g. focus group interviews or questionnaires or student observations of lessons
  • a professional portfolio for all teachers to keep records of their own development, coaching contracts etc
  • an action research group of teachers and students who constantly conduct research into various aspects of school improvement and share this with the staff and leadership.

Continuously improving teacher performance – at a glance

  • Train all your staff about what coaching is and why it is effective.
  • Appoint an effective leader of teaching and learning who is a skilled coach and inspiring communicator (ensure they also have their own coach).
  • Create a group of highly skilled coaches who work with the staff in need of one-to-one coaching to improve their teaching.
  • Establish a protocol for teacher actions that outline exactly what the programme for support to improve will be.
  • Establish various levels of coaching for specific staff needs.
  • Run an Inset programme bespoke to the school’s needs and differentiated for staff requirements with a compulsory element that links to performance management.
  • Keep a clear record of the varying levels of performance of every member of staff and their progress, especially the impact of any action taken to support them. This includes lesson observations and paperwork to show decisions about performance pay such as progression up the pay scales.
  • Encourage all staff to keep a record of their professional development.
  • Ensure you have a ‘coach evaluation’ process to ensure your coaches are judged on how they make an impact on others’ performance.
  • Include staff development as part of your self-evaluation processes.

Guiding beliefs for effective coaching

  • People already have the potential.
  • People are always doing their best based on what they know.
  • Every person is unique.
  • People are seen in terms of their potential, not past performance.
Last Updated: 
11 Nov 2019