A Letter to Parents from a Headteacher about Coaching

Dear Parents,

Last Friday I was at Hethrop College just behind what was Barkers on High Street Kensington attending a workshop on coaching (and feeling a little nostalgic as I used to live and work around there).

I have written before about coaching after attending Wellington College’s seminar last term. Following this, Mr Iain Henderson (one of their Assistant Heads and i/c Coaching) came out to Barrow Hills to discuss further with me what they have done and are doing to bring this skill to Wellington, the whole process and benefits. Wellington is helped by a professional team, Graydin, and it was a training day by Graydin that took me to London.

I know that in some areas of business, coaching is an accepted tool and common practice. In teaching it is not. Teachers often wear many hats – teacher, consultant, counsellor, mentor – and coaching offers another skill that I believe will be increasingly relevant to the profession.

As we know, education is changing and in the dynamic of Teaching and Learning, increasingly the emphasis will shift more towards learning. Already in my physics classes, children’s research and study will often bring in very interesting content they have discovered reading round and researching topics. This brings the need as a teacher to at times become the model learner - to be prepared to think, question and explore. I will happily admit I love these times (this week one boy had found some amazing video on You Tube about experiments with tuning forks (!?! – perhaps only ‘amazing’ if you enjoy physics…) and it very much added to our discussions and understanding of sound waves and energy which led to us watching the footage of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge failing under resonance. Not just because perhaps a prerequisite of any science teacher is the ability at any time on any point to digress but also because the learning is sparking off enough for them to, in their own time, find out more and from that bring it back and share. 

Socrates, ‘I cannot teach anyone anything, I can only make them think.’

Sir John Whitmore, ‘Coaches hold back their knowledge for the sake of others’

This is our challenge both as teachers and as parents to be both inspired by the realistic challenge of Socrates and become more like the coach described by Sir John. How often we just do/fix or solve something, or just give the answer rather than help the child discover they had the answer within themselves?

What did I learn last Friday? Quite a lot actually. Much was ‘common sense’ and practice I already followed…but not all. For those not familiar with coaching, here’s a starter – when someone wants your help, try to only ask ‘what’ questions. You are not allowed to ask ‘why’ and never allowed to tell them what you would do.

As ever, I appreciate any thoughts, comments or feedback to the Friday letter, and any on coaching would be interesting and helpful. 

Here’s to a good weekend,
Matthew Unsworth