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Coaching for Improved Student Learning

Q: What do schools and coaching have in common?

John Campbell proposes that education and coaching ‘share a common purpose: helping people to learn, grow and develop’ (Campbell and van Nieuwerburgh, 2018, p.3).

Student learning and development is the core business of school education. Learning however, is rarely talked about in isolation from teaching, which makes the role of the teacher critical in student learning. Coaching that focuses primarily on improving teacher practice or leadership practice may also improve student learning.

Coaching is:
‘a one-to-one conversation that focuses on the enhancement of learning and development (of the coachee) through increasing self-awareness and a sense of personal responsibility, where the coach facilitates the self-directed learning of the coachee through questioning, active listening and appropriate challenge in a supportive and encouraging climate’ (Campbell and van Nieuwerburgh, 2018, pp. 3–4).

Campbell states that coaching provides non-threatening, tailored support that can lead to tangible improvements in classroom practice as it aims to respect the professionalism of teachers while encouraging experimentation to improve teaching and learning.

The coaching approach is based on deep listening and questioning that promotes reflection, thinking and insight; it then helps to clarify what is wanted so achievable improvement goals can be set. This is followed by the exploration of options and identification of next steps.


  • encourages self-direction and personal responsibility
  • provides both support and challenge
  • focuses on the present and future rather than the past
  • generates insight and clarity through effective listening and questioning
  • focuses on helping to clarify a self-identified outcome
  • identifies and explores resources and strengths that can assist in progress toward the outcome
  • explores options and strategies to help move toward what is wanted
  • helps identify and commit to small next action steps
  • incorporates an element of accountability
  • results in learning, growing self-awareness and awareness of others (Campbell and van Nieuwerburgh 2018, pp18–19).

One approach to coaching is Instructional Coaching

Instructional coaches also:

  • employ effective listening
  • dialogical questioning and
  • other communication and relationship-building strategies.

What distinguishes this model from other approaches is that instructional coaches teach others how to learn very specific, evidence-based teaching practices such as formative assessment (Stiggins, Arter, Chappuis, & Chappuis, 2009) or cooperative learning (Slavin,1983, in Knight and van Nieuwerburgh 2012, p103). Instructional coaching is not a blueprint to be followed step by step; it is a framework that is adapted by the coach to fit the coaching situation (Knight and van Nieuwerburgh 2012, p104). The coach suggests evidence-based practices that might be used to meet the established goal. Unlike other coaching methods, instructional coaches MUST have a deep and complete understanding of teaching practices and be able to not only adapt these to the unique strengths or needs of the teacher and the students, but also to model these practices (Knight and van Nieuwerburgh 2012, 105–107).

Coaching approaches can also be used more widely in the school setting to challenge teams to enhance their effectiveness in achieving their purpose; to interact with the wider educational community of parents and board members; and to help students set personal goals whether academic or well-being related. Staff, teachers/principals, can intentionally utilise some of the transferrable elements of formal coaching in a range of conversational situations that would not typically be considered coaching conversations (Campbell and van Nieuwerburgh 2018, p18) in order to help others to have a voice for the common good of the education community. Examples suggested by Campbell are using a coaching approach for staff appraisal, in parent interviews, and even in leading a cultural change across a school.


Campbell, J & van Nieuwerburgh, C (2018). The Leader's Guide to coaching in schools. Creating conditions for effective learning, Corwin; Learning Forward, Thousand Oaks California

Knight, Jim; van Nieuwerburgh, Christian (2012). Instructional coaching. A focus on practice. In Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice vol. 5, no. 3, pp. 100–112. DOI: 10.1080/17521882.2012.707668. accessed 21stAugust 2018, 8.00am.

Disclaimer: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of EdComm or the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. The intent is to promote thinking and discussion.

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