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The purpose of this qualitative study is to use grounded theory methods to generate theory on coaching where none currently exists in education. Within the interpretivist framework adopted, narrative inquiry will be a means by which the organisational culture of the case study school is explored through individual staff members’ perspectives (Marshall & Rossman, 2006).
is seen as the primary instrument for data collection and analysis (Punch, 2000, p. 57),
thus participant and non-participant observations, along with semi-structured interviewing, and ongoing coaching conversations based on daily teaching practices – also recorded as photographic artefacts – contribute to data collection.
Given that the stated intention of the inquiry is to generate theory about the perspectives of staff on what they consider to be coaching in secondary public schools in Perth, Western Australia, conflicting storylines in the form of collected narrative vignettes were anticipated, and subsequently confirmed during pilot interviews which necessitate a flexible approach to the study.
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While creative review of the literature was underway, contradictions emerged in the case study school, however reassurance was drawn from acknowledgement that
cognitive dissonance has long been considered to be a valuable learning experience (O’Donoghue, 2007, p. xi).
In particular, time was perceived as a pressing constraint. Theoretical sampling also necessitates flexibility since emerging contrasts in data collection serve both to enable points of comparison and blur boundaries of the analytical process (Dey, 2004). Inevitably, complexities arise, especially as the case study school confronted an IPS review and the previous year’s survey findings provoked concern.
According to critics of grounded theory, grappling with complex procedures of generating and analysing data
should not blind us to its ambiguities and problems (Dey, 2004, p. 81).
Reflective practices undertaken during this inquiry were seen generating feedback loops which, of themselves, assisted in shaping understanding of, and insights to, development of theory (Schon, 1983).
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Attendant procedures relevant to this study are derived from:
- Action in practice
- School change
- Leadership practices
- Attending to trust
As both a participant in a formal leadership role, and observer analysing the case study school’s processes, ethical considerations were paramount: Staff were invited to participate in the study; questions were shared and discussed prior to interviews being undertaken; identities are concealed in order to ensure anonymity; and draft transcripts were returned to interviewees to prompt further insights, confirm perspectives, and maintain integrity of theories expressed. While informed consent was obtained as subjects were invited to participate in the study, ensuring security of data and primary materials was a negotiated process, especially where storage of photographic records was involved (Australian Government, 2007).
Limitations of the study
There are a number of limitations to this work. By design, the participants were selected due to availability in the local context. The small scale of the study renders conclusions highly specific in nature. While findings may be transferable, any generalisations are offered with caution. Raising these considerations here serves as a reminder that
the study is bounded and situated in a specific context. The reader, then, can make decisions about its usefulness for other settings (Marshall & Rossman, 2006, p. 42).
Australian Government. (2007). Australian code for the responsible conduct of research. National Health and Medical Research Council publication. Retrieved February 1, 2015 http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/publications/attachments/r39.pdf
Dey, I. (2004). Grounded theory. In Seale, C., Gobo, G., Gubrium, J.F. & Silverman, D. (Eds.). Qualitative research practice. London: Sage, pp. 80—93.
Marshall, C. & Rossman, G.B. (2006). Designing qualitative research (4th Ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
O’Donoghue, T. (2007). Planning your qualitative research project: An introduction to interpretivist research in education. Oxon: Routledge.
Punch, K. F. (2000). Developing effective research proposals. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Schon, D.A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books.
The aim of this study is to generate theory about the perspectives of staff on coaching in secondary public schools in Perth, Western Australia; an interpretive study of one school.
Methodology – background
The approach adopted in this qualitative study can be seen as choosing itself. Coaching at the micro-level of the case study school is
- Close at hand
- Established as a component of daily practice, and
- Related to national changes in performance and development processes already underway (AITSL, 2012).
There was a realisation as pilot interviews and sampling of observational data progressed that there is much to be gained by beginning with a familiar topic with which you are already involved (Silverman, 2000). Pressures of time, for one, were minimised: Walkthroughs are already conducted as a reflective practice in our Humanities team each week, and have been ongoing for two years; photographs are regularly collected and shared as artefacts for reflective coaching conversations.
Trust is established, and teacher professionalism has been harnessed (Sachs, 2003). In our team, for instance, we have agreed to include coaching as a strategy in our Operational Plan, established team practices have evolved to accommodate new staff, and feedback during Performance and Development along with reflective processes indicates the value of coaching practices to our professional learning community.
Thus, the conceptual framework devised for this unfolding study involved theoretical sampling of qualitative data where the researcher is the instrument for data collection, and the methodology is grounded theory (Punch, 2000).
Last year, school leaders undertook Growth Coaching training as a team approach to leading school improvement, while a select few have participated in Cognitive Coaching workshops funded through the Women in Leadership program, and, more recently, peer coaching has been introduced to the whole staff as a means of promoting a community of practice (Wenger, 2000).
Norms have been introduced and – with varying degrees of effectiveness – applied (Little, 1982). In order to capture the new perspective afforded by pilot interviews, it was decided to use narrative inquiry as the methodology where autobiographical stories
should be viewed as a set of procedures for ‘life-making’ (Bruner, 2004, p. 692).
Advocates of this methodological approach avoid potential reductionism of traditional approaches by focusing
not on capturing facts, but rather on the articulation of the meaning of experience. Any narrative is, therefore, a partial, temporal, situated account reflecting the social, political and historical moment (Thomas, 2012, p. 211).
AITSL. (2012). Australian charter for the professional learning of teachers and school leaders. Retrieved September 10, 2014 http://www.aitsl.edu.au/docs/default-source/default-document-library/australian_charter_for_the_professional_learning_of_teachers_and_school_leaders
Bruner, J. (2004). Life as narrative. Social Research, 71(3), pp. 691-710. Retrieved February 12, 2015 http://ewasteschools.pbworks.com/f/Bruner_J_LifeAsNarrative.pdf
Little, J. (1982). Norms of collegiality and experimentation: Workplace conditions of school success. American Education Research Journal, 19(3) pp. 325-340.
Punch, K. F. (2000). Developing effective research proposals. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Sachs, J. (2003). The activist teaching profession. Buckingham: Open University Press.
Silverman, D. (2000). Doing qualitative research: A practical handbook. Sage: London.
Thomas, S. (2012). Narrative inquiry: Embracing the possibilities. Qualitative Research Journal, 12(2), pp. 206-221.
Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of practice and social learning systems. Organization, 7(2), pp. 225-246.
Research indicates that school leadership is powerful as a learned, shared, and adaptive contributor to a culture for achieving improvements in student learning (Darling-Hammond, 2007; Duignan, 2008; Leithwood, Louis, Anderson & Wahlstrom, 2004), yet the methodology of this practice is open to interpretation (Boyatzis, 2006).
Adaptive, or life cycle theories of leadership suggest that leaders will maintain flexibility to employ coaching where situations warrant its use, thus, as appropriate depending on the group or individual’s maturity (Hersey & Blanchard, 1969). Similarly, “new leaders” are defined as employing six distinct styles of leadership with skilful switching between one or more generating an effective repertoire; coaching is described as creating
the kind of resonance that boosts performance (Goleman, Boyatzis & McKee, 2002, p. 67).
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Other theorists claim that overwhelming pressures of the principal’s role necessitate coaching to ensure the creation and maintenance of schools as learning organisations (Wise & Hammack, 2011; Wise & Jacobo, 2010). Leadership from this perspective can be seen as a leverage tool to bring about effective change, thus executive coaching is conceived as a catalyst which generates restructuring (Devine, Meyers & Houssemand, 2013).
On the other hand, management models of school leadership may emphasise control as a focus of coaching practices (Evered & Selman, 1989), especially where overwhelming pressures of change – audit, performativity, accountability – are considered as paramount (Ball, 2003). Here, the charismatic instructional leader as role model may persist as a mental model according to some critics (Senge, 2000; Timperley & Robertson, 2011).
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Alternatively, the principal is defined as an enabling agent continually learning to lead through the practice of
mentoring, coaching and providing feedback (NCSL, 2003, p. 5).
Advocates of inquiry processes as a means for promoting change propose supportive models of professional learning in communities which build participative practices in non-hierarchical communities (Joyce & Showers, 2002); coaching in this paradigm is conceived as a means by which teachers as practitioners can be encouraged to develop
social or mutual knowledge construction (Hargreaves, 2008, p. 6).
In defining coaching as a situational skill to be practiced, the literature emphasises:
- Relationship building
- Adaptive approaches
- Maintaining trust culture
- Promoting “reflection and learning when coaches establish non-evaluative support systems” (Toll cited in Stover, Kissel, Hagg & Shoniker, 2011, p. 500).
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From this perspective, the main goal of coaching is to serve as a means of enhancing teacher learning (Lofthouse, Leat & Towler, 2010). Given time constraints, and the pressing imperative of the global education reform movement, a collaborative approach could appear to be in conflict with current neoliberal agendas driving the implementation of teacher appraisal mechanisms – performance management, evaluation, observations or supervision – thus leading to contrived collegiality or resistance to coaching (Hargreaves & Dawe, 1990).
While diverse coaching models are outlined in the literature, they are not mutually exclusive, nor should polarity be assumed. A blended approach to enactment of coaching at the micro-level is likely, which may also generate confusion about purpose and associated practices.
In some ways, it could be seen that harmony exists where
The international trend is toward the devolution of school management, which makes decisions at school level progressively more important to the success of the system (Barber, Whelan & Clark, 2010, p. 5).
Complex change necessitates sophisticated next practices – where mastery is understood as “a special level of proficiency” – and school leaders develop understanding of systems thinking as a “conceptual framework” (Senge, 2006, p. 7). If this is the prevailing view, coaching can be understood as a means of sustaining authentic professional growth.
Ball, S.J. (2003). The teacher’s soul and the terrors of performativity. Journal of Education Policy, 18(2), pp. 215-228. Retrieved September 26, 2014 http://www.onesearch.uwa.edu.au
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Boyatzis, R.E. (2006). An overview of intentional change from a complexity perspective. The Journal of Management Development, 25(7), pp. 607-623.
Darling-Hammond, L. (2007). A bridge to school reform. New York City: The Wallace Foundation’s National Conference October 22-24. Retrieved July 30, 2013 from http://www.wallacefoundation.org/knowledge-center/school-leadership/key-research/Documents/Bridge-to-School-Reform.pdf
Devine, M., Meyers, R. & Houssemand, C. (2013). How can coaching make a positive impact within educational settings? Procedia – Social and Behavioural Sciences, 93, pp. 1382-1389.
Duignan, P. (2008). Leadership: Authentic presence, influencing relationships and influence fields. Centre for Strategic Education Occasional Papers Series Number 107. Retrieved October 5, 2013 from http://www.cie.org.za/images/uploads/Lead_Influence_Presence_Rels_CAT_2008_(2)-1.pdf
Evered, R.D. & Selman, J.C. (1989). Coaching and the art of management. Organizational Dynamics, 18(2), pp. 16-32.
Goleman, D., Boyatis, R. & McKee, A. (2002). The new leaders: Transforming the art of leadership into the science of results. London: Time Warner.
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Hargreaves, A. & Dawe, R. (1990). Paths of professional development: Contrived collegiality, collaborative culture and the case of peer coaching. Teaching & Teacher Education, 6(3), pp. pp. 227-241.
Hersey, P. & Blanchard, K. H. (1969). Life cycle theory of leadership. Training and Development Journal, 23(5), 26-34.
Joyce, B. & Showers, B. (2002). Student achievement through staff development (3rd Ed.). Alexandria, VA, USA: ASCD.
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Lofthouse, R., Leat, D. & Towler, C. (2010). Coaching for teaching and learning: A practical guide for schools. Retrieved January 25, 2015 http://www.ncl.ac.uk/cflat/news/documents/5414_CfT_FINALWeb.pdf
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