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Coaching as professional growth

February 14, 2015

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
  • Risk-taking
  • 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.

 Selected references

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

Barber, M., Whelan, F. & Clark, M. (2010). Capturing the leadership premium: How the world’s top school systems are building leadership capacity for the future. Retrieved February 14, 2015

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

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

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.

Hargreaves, E. (2008). Using mentoring and coaching to support work based learning: An evaluation. Institute of Education, University of London. Retrieved January 26, 2015

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.

Leithwood, K., Louis, K. S., Anderson, S., Wahlstrom, K. (2004). How leadership influences student learning: Learning from leadership project. New York: The Wallace Foundation. Retrieved July 31, 2013 from

Lofthouse, R., Leat, D. & Towler, C. (2010). Coaching for teaching and learning: A practical guide for schools. Retrieved January 25, 2015

NCSL. (2003). Learning to lead: NCSL’s strategy for leadership learning. Retrieved February 14, 2015

Senge, P. M. (2000). The industrial age system of education. In P. Senge, N. McCabe, T. Lucas, B. Smith, J. Dutton, & A. Kleiner (Eds.). Schools that learn: A fifth discipline field-book for educators, parents, and everyone who cares about education (pp. 27-58). New York: Doubleday.

Senge, P. (2006). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning Organisation (revised edition). London: Random House.

Stover, K., Kissell, B., Haag, K, & Shoniker, R. (2011). Differentiated coaching: Fostering reflection with teachers. The Reading Teacher, 64(7), pp. 498-509.

Timperley, H. & Robertson, J. (2011). Establishing platforms for leadership and learning. In J. Robertson & H. Timperley (Eds.). Leadership and Learning (pp. 3-12). London: Sage.

Wise, D. & Hammack, M. (2011). Leadership coaching: Coaching competencies and best practices. Journal of School Leadership, 21(3), pp. 449 – 477.

Wise, D. & Jacobo, A. (2010). Towards a framework for leadership coaching. School Leadership and Management, 30(2), pp. 159-169.

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