Look further afield for the most effective coaching insights

When Dame Pat Collarbone searched for a new coach, she was keen to find someone outside of education.

Coaching has played a critical part of professional development in England, and its role in school transformation is one that we’ve touched upon numerous times before.

In previous articles we have recorded how Dame Pat’s work brought about the foundation of the London Education Leadership Centre at the institute of Education and the development of what became NPQH (National Professional Qualification in Headship).

Dame Pat said her interest in coaching was sparked by her “search for ideas and perspectives from those outside of education.” In the late 1990s, an initiative was launched in London in which companies seconded senior staff to work with school leaders. This offer was readily accepted by Dame Pat who found herself paired with Malcolm Leith, who at that time worked for PWC.

She soon discovered that with Malcolm acting as her coach, she gained new insights into how to be an effective leader and manager and used them to improve her performance in both. Their relationship proved very successful and long lasting, and continues to this day.

If we use the three factors we have identified in our approach to school improvement – time, place and disposition to determine whether an activity such as coaching will be successful, we are provided with the following reasons for their success:

Time: At this stage in her own development, she had been a head teacher for many years and was actively seeking new ideas, including embracing approaches from outside education. Some of this had been stimulated by her studies towards an MBA, in which business models were frequently referred to.

In addition, she had learnt first-hand to value the contribution that those with business experience could make to her work. On her governing body she had two senior executives who had contributed significantly to shaping the leadership and management approach her team was using to deal with its issues and improve the education it provided to students.

She recognised she wanted to use approaches beyond her usual experience to help her to resolve the problems she faced.

Place: From the outset, Dame Pat wanted to be coached by someone from a totally different environment to her own, which was a large, mixed, inner city comprehensive school. This we have found is a common trend amongst outstanding leaders.

Conversely, less successful leaders often insist that the only person who can coach them is someone within the same sphere. They argue that without this background their coach will lack the necessary empathy. On the other hand, the others value a different viewpoint and experience which might shed a new perspective on entrenched issues.

Disposition. Dame Pat quickly discovered that Malcolm Leith and herself Got on well together” and a long lasting professional relationship was established.

The success of Dame Pat’s experience of coaching convinced her that if it was good for her, it could be good for others.

Thus, programmes training school leaders as coaches were offered at the fledgling London Leadership Centre she had established and later were incorporated into all the professional development programmes they ran.

I was asked to participate in one of the centre’s coaching courses and later took part in the piloting of its use on one of the National College of School Leaders programmes.

Now, bringing the use of coaching up to date, we report on OLEVI’s success in running its suite of coaching programmes with senior administrators from the English Education sector in Quebec.

You can see from the diagram above that since 2019, a development journey has been provided for a large number of staff. The highest proportion of staff comes from the Western Quebec School Board, who we have worked with since 2000. The initiative has been led in Quebec by our colleague Ruth Ahern from WQSB.

Richard Lockyer, CEO of OLEVI International reported that he and the team at Olevi are currently heavily involved in completing the assessment of the coaching accreditation of these programmes.

We would like to congratulate all of our colleagues in Quebec who completed their coaching training course and we are grateful as ever for Dame Pat’s insights.

How Malcolm Leith came to make such a successful contribution to the work of Dame Pat is yet another example, as Matt Ridley identified, of how serendipity plays a role in innovation.

On a personal note, my apologies for not making it across to Quebec but unfortunately I was pinged by our NHS so failed to meet the entrance requirement to Canada. We thought it was all over …

Take care and stay safe


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