Learning to coach

17 Jan 2018

by Annie Grant


Have the middle leaders in your school started ‘leaning in’ and maintaining eye-contact? Do they seem to listen more than they used to? Are they asking you questions, rather than telling you how it should be done? If so, it is possible that they attended Day 3 of Camden’s 2017/18 Middle Leaders Programme, held yesterday at Swiss Cottage School. The focus was on coaching.

Facilitator, Janet Wallace, started the session by reminding participants of their previous learning about leadership styles and, in particular, about the usefulness of a coaching style for effective leadership.


The group then split, with those participants with previous coaching experience discussing the principles of coaching and the difference between coaching and mentoring, and the rest of the thinking about what is meant by effective listening and effective questioning.

After taking feedback and helping the group to formulate a definition of coaching, Janet and middle leader Inga modelled a coaching approach, with Janet as coach and Inga as coachee. The group looked on and offered constructive feedback.


For the rest of the afternoon, participants worked in groups of three, practising their newly acquired coaching skills, taking turns to be coach, coachee and observer.

Feedback in the plenary indicated that while everyone found the coaching approach  helpful,  many also found it challenging to take on the role of coach. The exercise raised many questions, such as:

How as a coach do you stop yourself sympathising with your coachee? Should you? How can you listen intently while you are thinking of the next question to ask?

How do you keep your body language calm so that it is not distracting?
How can you talk less and listen more?
How do you keep the discussion focused?


After a lively final discussion, Janet advised the group to go away and practise on family friends and colleagues. And that is why, in some schools in Camden this morning, you might hear more questions than answers, and experience an encouraging ‘uh-huh’ or an understanding nod, to encourage you to say just a little bit more.

Find out more about the previous Middle Leadership session in our blog, ‘Leading change from the middle’.

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