Research School Network: Feeling heard: exploring the role of coaching in the context of CPD and wellbeing Rachael Wilson, Deputy Director, Norwich Research School

Feeling heard: exploring the role of coaching in the context of CPD and wellbeing

Rachael Wilson, Deputy Director, Norwich Research School

I think in analogies a lot. It’s a strategy I have used (with discernment!) throughout 15 years in the classroom, and now increasingly when delivering training to other adults. As a regular recipient and deliverer of professional development and especially within my role as Deputy Director of a Research school, a lot of my time and energy is taken up with trying to understand and communicate ideas, to support the processes of reflection and effective implementation of change, and to do so in a way that is of real, tangible service and benefit to others.

Recently, I have had the pleasure of delivering training across a number of different projects. Despite differing geographical locations and general aims, there is one vehicle for training that has been consistently described, modelled and used throughout. This is the role of professional coaching. In this short blog, I reflect upon how this irritatingly difficult-to-define concept has, despite being often the least pre-directed part of CPD, nevertheless continually wound itself around and supported people, almost like an iron spider web keeping everything in place. There it is- the analogy! (For the benefit of clarity, although there are many sub-categories and definitions within the idea of coaching, the type I am discussing here is professional peer coaching that aims to facilitate the coachee making the decisions and to garner clarity and forward momentum through listening, careful questioning and prompting, followed by an agreed course of action).

Why am I writing about this now?

There is a growing wealth of research linking CPD with wellbeing, and wellbeing with retention.[1] There is also an increasing interest and evidence base growing around the principles of adult learning, especially in terms of creating space for autonomy and self direction[2]. The headlines are unsurprising – that high quality CPD leads to a sense of progress and growing competency, which in turn contributes to a sense of wellbeing. That wellbeing (also a problematically amorphous term) is a massive contributive factor to retention, and that retention, especially among senior leaders, is in a worrisome state.[3]

But where does coaching fit with the research on PD?

In its recently published Guidance report on effective Professional Development, the EEF has identified 14 different mechanisms for effective PD across four broader areas[4]. The more coherent the coverage of these areas, the more the likelihood to convey sustained impact.[5]

EEF Effective PD Recommendations Poster 1

This sits alongside the Schools Guide to Implementation[6], which clearly defines four stages of development, emphasising the need to explore and prepare the context of a school before taking any actions.[7] Coaching is not explicitly mentioned in any one stage or broad area, and this is where it is so useful, as wraparound coaching can be deployed effectively at any point in the process of planning staff development or implementing change.

EEF Implementation Process Diagram 1

How do we use coaching as a Research School? What sort of coaching do we use?

As a research school, we deploy peer coaches to provide wraparound support with not only defining an area for change early on, but acting as a critical friend to help identify potential challenges and actions so that they can be catered for. Coaches come in again mid-process, to support any changes, redefinitions or directions that may come about mid-implementation, and again at the first end-point of an implementation cycle, to assist teachers and leaders in reflecting on the impact they have planned for. This is but one example of the practical benefits of working with a peer coach. Other modalities of coaching are also used in different contexts, but in terms of implementation planning the wraparound peer coaching model has been instrumental in course design and delivery.

Coaching and wellbeing

Coaching as a vehicle to support and challenge is nestled comfortably within bigger, more clearly defined concepts such as implementation and planning, as indicated earlier. But there is another side to it, which comes up in course feedback time and again. For coaching to take place, space and time has to be made, and the benefit of speaking and being listened to, often outside of your professional circle, by a neutral but supportive peer, especially one with a complementary experience or skill set can be of huge benefit, not only in terms of obtaining mental and strategic clarity but also in the larger sense of feeling heard.” Being given time to air your thoughts, ideas and plans taps into our psychological needs, too, and especially in the wake of school closures and in the uniquely challenging circumstances in which we find ourselves, this can provide us with the reassurance and empowerment to keep moving forward. This type of professional coaching places the teacher as agent- a concept which research suggests is a powerful factor in teacher wellbeing as a whole[8].

We must be very careful to draw a clear line here between the role of a professional coach and that of a counsellor or therapist- these are specific and different disciplines from the ideas being discussed here- but nevertheless a sense of purpose, progress and feeling understood, alongside a reduction in feelings of overwhelm which can come from a productive coaching conversation are all known to be powerful mood-boosters which contribute to an improvement in wellbeing. Successive lockdowns have anecdotally taught us the implicit power of communication and, conversely, the dangers associated with feelings of isolation. This is also played out in data- at its most severe, social isolation has been shown to have a direct impact on our life expectancy and likelihood of long term health problems.[9]

So what?

We know now that when we are considering CPD that, just as teaching children involves so much more than just imparting knowledge, so developing teachers involves the iterative application of knowledge to existing knowledge, experiences, and to different and changing contexts.[10]

We know that as human beings, our learning, sense of progress, identity, sense of achievement and social needs are all powerful contributive factors to our emotional and psychological health. We also understand the need for CPD to be designed and implemented in such a way as to support adult learning, to be iterative and sustained over time, and to be meaningful and collegiate in approach. The role of professional coaching as a vehicle to achieve this is significant and it is well worth schools investing time and resources in developing skilled professional coaches within their organisations, alongside opportunities to deploy them in a way that provides regular, sustained support to staff and their ongoing development.

Professional Development and Professional Learning


1. Enser, Z and Enser, M., 2021, The CPD Curriculum: Creating Conditions for Growth Crown House
4. https://educationendowmentfoun…
5. https://d2tic4wvo1iusb.cloudfr…
6. https://educationendowmentfoun…
7. https://d2tic4wvo1iusb.cloudfr…
8. Andresen, B.B. Development of analytical competencies and professional identities through school-based learning in Denmark.’ Int Rev Educ 61, p.761 – 778 (2015).

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