Coaching is a term that many will be familiar with, and it is gradually making inroads into education. However, things that work in other industries don’t easily transfer into schools so what exactly can coaching do to help, and how should it be used? Is it just another fad, or does it have real impact? Written by Assistant Rector, Robin Macpherson.

In September our guidance staff started a programme of training with Iain Henderson (@iainhendo), Deputy head at Wellington College in Berkshire. Iain has been pioneering coaching in schools for several years now and knows as well as anyone else what it can – and can’t – do. There are two key elements to coaching: questioning, and listening. That sounds very simply, and surely teachers do this anyway? Well not necessarily, and here’s why.

Firstly, questioning is arguably the hardest art form to perfect. In their excellent book, Making Every Lesson Count, Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby list thirteen different types of questions. How good are your hinge questions, for example? And further to this, how well do teachers, and pupils, listen to the answers?

This is where coaching comes in. It lies on a continuum of support that teachers can offer. On the far end of this is direct instruction: telling pupils what to do. On the other end is exploratory learning, where pupils are given a task with no instruction or hints and just have to get on with it. Coaching lies in between, where teachers ask pupils questions, listen to the answers, and then ask follow ups.

Crucially, pupils are not told what to do. Coaching is based on the premise that the person being coached can solve their own problems, but need a little help to reach this. The socratic method unlocks the thinking that they need. This makes it subtly different to mentoring and helps them cope with stressful situations and build resilience. It can be applied in the classroom, on a sports pitch, in the boarding house – anywhere that involves a pupil trying to achieve something that isn’t immediately obvious but is achievable with the right thought process.

We’ll continue to develop coaching at Dollar as helping pupils to handle pressure and solve problems is essential if they are going to cope with the challenges that life throws at them.