Navigating tensions: Insights from a contracted teacher coaching initiative

Executive coaching is a popular approach to developing talent in corporate settings. With school leaders and teachers under scrutiny to improve student learning outcomes, there is growing interest in what coaching, mentoring and peer-networking initiatives can do to enhance organisational and teacher performance (Rhodes & Beneicke, 2002). Coaching has been found to be impactful for those in educational leadership roles (Loughran & Brubaker, 2015) and the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) recently engaged corporate consultants to provide advice and develop coaching resources specifically for teachers (Hay Group, 2013).
The research team was contracted by a coeducational independent school in suburban Melbourne. The school's leaders stipulated they required access to a team of external experts in curriculum, pedagogy, and teacher education to provide one-on-one coaching to teachers. This coaching was to occur through a series of four x four hour hour prebrief - teach - reflect interactions over the course of the year. The school specified that the prebrief stage would involve the coach and teacher setting the agenda for a subsequent lesson observation. The teach stage would involve the coach visiting the school to observe a 60-90 minute lesson. Subsequently, there would be a critically supportive process of reflection.
This project presented a unique and significant opportunity to explore a coaching approach to teacher professional learning. Being educational design research (van den Akker, Gravemeijer, McKenney & Nieveen, 2006), our work involved the design and testing of an educational intervention targeting a diverse group of practising teachers. Drawing on Carr and Kemmis (1986) and Kemmis, McTaggart and Nixon (2013), we developed a personalised professional coaching program that was intended to promote a focus on learners, cultivate critically reflective teacher practice and foster action research.
Teacher data sources included an initial application to participate, pre- and post-intervention surveys, and professional learning journal entries (all of which were completed online). Coach data sources included audio-recordings of regular coaching team meetings and research journal entries. While we were initially interested to explore what pedagogies might draw meaningful insights that served to enhance teaching practice, we quickly realised we were outsiders navigating a complex landscape that presented challenges and tensions. In this session, we will share insights from this experience.