“We know that the biggest factor in improving teaching standards and closing the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers is quality first teaching. That is why continuous professional development (CPD) for teachers is fundamental.”
Greg Snowdon of drb Ignite Trust is passionate about the transformative impact of CPD. In his role as School Improvement Lead, Greg supports senior leaders to improve the quality of education across the trust.
The drb Ignite Trust recently placed five staff – from executive leaders to classroom teachers, including Greg - on Ambition Institute’s Instructional Coaching programme. With the learnings from the experiences of this “change team”, the trust is now looking to roll out instructional coaching across their ten primary schools to create a cohesive CPD offer for teaching staff and leaders.
Developing impactful CPD at scale
Implementing effective CPD at scale isn’t easy. But when drb Ignite Trust first began considering a CPD offer for their teaching staff and leaders two years ago, there were extra considerations to be made.
The trust’s schools are in areas of high economic deprivation. This means that the 3,400 pupils they serve encounter more barriers to success than their peers from other parts of the country.
Greg, alongside the executive team at drb Ignite Trust, recognised that they needed a cohesive CPD offer across all their schools. They also needed a form of CPD which would develop the mental models of their teachers so that they could better support the complex needs of their pupils.
“Teachers are exceptionally busy, especially in primary schools where they have 30 pupils and are teaching multiple subjects,” Greg says, “We started to explore how we could support teachers to self-reflect and make appropriate teaching practices automatic for them.”
After considering various strategies, the trust decided to put coaching at the heart of its CPD offer – in particular, instructional coaching.
Instructional coaching is a sustainable approach to development. It involves a coach working with a colleague to identify challenges in the classroom and create bite-sized action steps to tackle those challenges. The coach supports the colleague to implement the action step in the classroom, observes its impact and gives feedback on their progress outside of the lesson.
“I'm a firm believer that when somebody can't do something, they need to be told or shown how to do it. That's human nature,” Greg says, “With instructional coaching, there’s the opportunity to look at a very small, precise part of teaching. It bridges the disconnect.”
“The schools we work with all have levels of deprivation which are way above the national average – one is even in the highest area for deprivation,” Greg says. “The pandemic also significantly affected the children at our trust, not only academically, but pastorally as well.”
“Because some of the children in our classrooms have a lot of pastoral needs, there’s a lot that teachers are managing throughout the day,” Greg adds “Instructional coaching offers us the opportunity to not only coach the teachers and teaching staff in their classroom practice, but also in things like pastoral development as well.”
Training a team of coaching leads with the instructional coaching programme
“Creating a CPD offer is about collaboration. We are not ten individual schools, we are a family of ten schools that work together to improve the offer for all of our children. So, we want to nurture our staff by making sure that the CPD they receive is valuable, that it enables them to become better teachers and want to stay within the trust."
Last year, the trust began to think strategically about how they could implement instructional coaching across all schools within the trust: this included a small group taking part in the Instructional Coaching programme.
“Unless instructional coaching has an appointed leader, it could easily become something that is lost,” Greg says. “At the trust, we want to make sure that we've got somebody who is the active and responsible leader for coaching within schools and that a wider base of our staff is trained in instructional coaching.”
The Instructional Coaching programme is designed to build theoretical knowledge of coaching and practical knowledge of its implementation. Greg joined the programme from the rust’s executive leadership team to provide strategic guidance in how the programme’s findings could be used trust wide. Alongside Greg, staff across the trust enrolled on the programme, from deputy head teachers to school improvement practitioners and class teachers.
“Having those staff trained on the programme meant we were able to start thinking straight away about how we could make a rollout of coaching manageable. It gave us greater capacity to be able to support coaching across the trust and has also given us that broader spectrum of opinions to draw from.”
The strategic decision to train multiple staff on instructional coaching has helped promote the approach across the trust’s schools. These staff have formed a larger “change team” who have been working to empower members of teaching staff and leaders across the trust to understand and implement principles of instructional coaching.
As well as having staff in different roles access the programme, the trust ensured that staff were from different sized schools. This meant they could get different perspectives on how instructional coaching could work across different settings.
“It's all very well me from the executive team saying, ‘I think this is going to work brilliantly, let's do it.’ But for a class teacher, they might see something that I don't consider. Or a senior leader might think of something within their school that might be a barrier that I hadn't considered,” Greg explains. “By bringing together a range of staff, we have been able to get a more holistic image of how instructional coaching might work across the trust.”
The impact of effective instructional coaching
Greg says that he has already seen the impact instructional coaching has had for teaching staff and leaders within the trust. One staff member, a second-year early career teacher on the Early Career Framework, has particularly thrived with the support that instructional coaching offers.
The trust had previously recognised that this teacher was at risk of not meeting the teaching standards by the end of the induction period. Having identified the need for extra support, Greg assigned members of staff who were trained on the programme to work alongside the teacher using instructional coaching.
“It worked,” Greg says, “Their mindset is now completely different towards the teaching profession. They’re more open to support, they're more focused on being self-reflective, they're more collaborative with senior leaders and ultimately, they enjoy coming into work more. This leads to better outcomes for the children within that teacher’s class.”
This is the kind of impact which is important for drb Ignite Trust.
By helping teachers to continuously improve their practice, Greg says that they can ensure that education is of the best quality for children in their trust. They can then further close the attainment gap for these children.
Greg has now identified the next step is to deliver instructional coaching at scale for all schools. “I firmly believe that no matter who you are or what school you're working at within drb Ignite Trust, you should be getting the same CPD offer."