Who helps you get better at what you do?

In recent years the concept of coaching in schools has gathered pace – and full disclosure: I run a coaching company – as schools realise that in order to nurture the professional learning of their staff, they need an approach over and above the weekly staff meetings, guest speakers, conferences and ad-hoc conversations between staff over coffee.

Nowadays it is not uncommon to see teachers taking part in Instructional Rounds, or Peer Critique Groups, and as I’ve already mentioned, Coaching Conversations.

What separates a coaching conversation from just a ‘helpful’ chat over coffee with a colleague is that the conversation is facilitated by someone with the skillset and mindset to help the coachee (the person being coached) to develop new perspectives and make progress towards a desired outcome.

But as well as the skills and mindset of the coach, a critical factor that determines the success of such conversations is the quality of the relationship between the coach and the coachee.

In my experience, it’s often assumed that a coach needs to be a more experienced member of staff, which of course gradually whittles away the pool of potential coaches as teachers progress in their career.

But what if I suggested to you that – with the right training, skills, and mindset – the third-year-out teacher could coach the principal?

Or the office administrator could coach the physics teacher? I’m often met with raised eyebrows when I suggest this, but bear with me.

To fully understand the power of coaching, one must recognise it assumes that the coachee is the expert in their life and adults are self-motivated when conditions and the work environment support that, and coaches don’t have the answers.

Rather, they have the skills to question, probe and support as the coachee takes ownership of the challenges they face and begin to ideate potential solutions.

Should, at the end of the conversation, it become apparent the coachee requires help that the coach cannot provide, then the immediate actionable goal could be to find the appropriate resources, support or guidance.

Which brings us back to the importance of the relationship between the coach and coachee.

Once we’ve agreed that it needn’t be based around a hierarchy, colleagues are able to choose a coach irrespective of seniority.

This is important for a number of reasons but not least, because, let’s be honest, we don’t all get along, or trust our bosses.

Without trust it is hard to talk honestly about the issues a coachee is likely most concerned about, and this is compounded if the coachee believes that a coaching conversation might inform decisions about their career progression.

So, if you’re thinking about coaching, over and above the processes you might need to think about who would make the best coaches in your organisation.

You might find they turn out not to be the obvious choices.