01 SES 13 C, Professional Learning and School Development
The paper exposes the main conclusions of a funded research project about the role of the coach in a small-group device for school principals’ preparation based on feedback and group coaching.
School principals’ training has been receiving wider attention in Spain in the framework of the current legislation that promotes wider autonomy for schools and principals (Barrios, Iranzo y Tierno, 2013). Such autonomy is said to be needed for transforming principals in key agents for school improvement, which will imply the adoption of new competencies oriented towards a more instructional and more distributed leadership profile (Pont, Nusche y Moorman, 2008).
The training program of our study adopted a group-coaching model (Flückiger, Aas, Nicolaidou, Johnson y Lovett, 2017) in which is the group the main agent for building knowledge in a highly structured environment designed to facilitate reflection on both members’ leadership profiles and practice. The coach does not act in this model as an expert but as a facilitator who promotes and manage communication, helping the group to progress throughout a successful learning sequence (Hargrove, 2008; O´Mahony y Barnett, 2008; Wise y Jacobo, 2010; Ass y Flückiger, 2016).
Training program main features included: (a) a small group –seven principals, one of them acting as a coach; (b) a highly structured working sequence that leads group and individual learning; (c) a coach specifically trained to lead the learning process; (d) two diagnosis tools: the Competence Profile School Management (CPSM) and the School Profile (SP); (e) the in-focus procedure, in which the whole group analyses a problematic case described by one of the participants; and (f) the individual improvement plans designed by the trainees. The learning sequence expected for the sessions in focus included the following steps: (a) information by means of both the diagnosis tools and questions from participants; (b) analysis of the case posed by leader under the spotlight; (c) leader´s behaviour assessment; (d) advices from the rest of the group; and (e) synthesis.
These features try to meet the new expectations about more practical approaches in the preparation of school principals in order to actively get involve them in the analysis of the sort of problems they face in their daily work (Hallinguer y Snidvongs, 2005). As new training strategies –as coaching– focus on facilitating contextualized learning (Neufeld y Roper, 2003; Bean, 2004), trainers’ role becomes more oriented to providing opportunities to reflect about the practice and develop improvement plans (Bean, 2004; Coburn y Woulfin, 2012).
Coaching has been described, in that context, as a strategy that helps school principals to feel more recognized as professionals, increasing their commitment in the development of their responsibilities (Creasy y Paterson, 2015). It also helps them to change from a “reactive” approach to their practice to a “proactive” one, creating the appropriate framework for reflection and planning of future improvements in their schools in collaboration with other members of the community (Wise and Jacobo, 2010).
Good coaches can help principals to improve their schools by means of promoting analysis and reflection on contextualized strategies of leadership and management. Their critical view may impulse school principal to new ways of thinking and acting, promoting sustainable changes (Hargrove 2008; Reeves, 2009; Huber, 2013). Considering the relevance of the coach in the dynamic of the training process, a deeper knowledge of their role, competencies and patterns of interaction with the coaches in needed, which constituted one of the main targets of our study.
The research design aimed to (a) assess the training program; and (b) collect dense information about the training process including participants’ perceptions, interactions, and individual and group achievements. It included various quantitative as well as qualitative research strategies and tools. Questionnaires, interviews and structured observation of the participants’ interaction –which were recorded in video– were carried out during and off the program sessions. Given that this contribution focuses on the role developed by coaches, the information presented here comes from the analysis of qualitative data obtained by the observation of the sessions. A total amount of 14 groups completed the program throughout the eight provinces of Andalusia, the southern Spanish region, involving 94 participants, 14 of them acting as coaches. A system of categories was designed ad hoc for the analysis of the sessions, using the software for the analysis of qualitative data MAXQDA. It allowed the research team to collect data about the dynamics of each group, the relationships established among the members and their evolution along the development of the program. Evidences of achievement of the program aims were taken into account. Especially relevant in this regard were the changes reported by the participants in their role and competencies as school leaders during the training program. As a secondary analysis, some of the dimensions of the category system were combined in order to identify common patterns of the groups’ characteristics, dynamics and performance. Coach’s behavior and style of working were key issues taken into account in such analysis.
Even if the program was highly valued according to the results obtained by the questionnaire designed for its assessment, the groups functioned differently and reached different levels of learning. Our findings show that the coach had a decisive role in the work dynamics of the groups. The main tasks performed by the coaches of successful groups included: (a) Guaranteeing a friendly and trustworthy climate inside the groups; (b) Ensuring the group progression in the learning sequence; (c) Ensuring the respect to the program structure in every session; and (d) promoting participant’s reflection. Firstly, their disposition to establish an adequate climate for the analysis, characterized by trust is essential. Most of the principals valued this positively, and assured to have felt emotionally supported during the development of the program. Even though, the excessive feeling of identification among the members could transform the dynamics of some groups from a space of reflection to a frame of pure complaint about problems and difficulties associated to the principalship job. Data analysis evidences that the groups reached different levels of reflection, which was in close relationship with coaches’ capacities to promote those processes. The use of questioning strategies or the set out of defiant comments allowed that simple narration of experiences grew to analysis and reflection on them. Another important conditioning of the reflection process is the accomplishment of the learning sequence foresee by the training program. Those groups whose coaches managed the time rigorously, promoted the putting into relation of professional profiles and principals’ schools features, and granted the respect to the learning sequence, reached higher levels of productivity. Related to this, findings show that premature or precipitated assessments and advices as well as references to the own experience frequently obstructed reflection about the cases and impeded the group reaching deep learning stages.
Ass, M. y Flückiger, B. (2016). The role of a group coach in the professional learning of school leaders. Coaching: an international journal of theory, research and practice, 9 (1), 38-52. Barrios, C., Iranzo, T y Tierno, J.M. (2013). Avances teórico-prácticos y legislativos en la profesionalización de la dirección escolar en España. El caso de Cataluña. Profesorado: Revista de Currículum y Formación del Profesorado, 17 (3), 371-387. Bean, R. M. (2004). The reading specialist. New York: Guilford Press. Coburn, C.E. y Woulfin, S. (2012). Reading coaches and the relationship between policy and practice. Reading Research Quarterly, 47 (1), 5-30. Creasy, J. y Paterson, F. (2015). Leading Coaching in Schools. Nottingham: National College for School Leadership. Flückiger, B., Aas, M., Nicolaidou, M., Johnson, G. y Lovett, S. (2017). The potential of group coaching for leadership learning. Professional Development In Education, 43 (4), 612-629. Hallinger, P. y Snidvongs, K. (2005). Adding value to school leadership and management.Nottingham: NCSL. Hargrove, R. (2008). Masterful coaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Huber, S.G. (2013). Multiple Learning Approaches in the Proffesional Development of School Leaders – Theoretical Perspectives and Empirical Findings on Self-assessment and Feedback. Educational Management Administration and Leadership, 41(4), 527-540. Neufeld, B., y Roper, D. (2003). Year II of collaborative coaching and learning in the effective practice schools: Expanding the work. Cambridge, MA: Education Matters, Inc. O´Mahony, G. y Barnett, B. (2008). Coaching relationships that influence how experienced principals think and act. Leading and Managing 14 (1), 16-37. Pont, B., Nusche, D. y Moorman, H. (2008). Improving School Leadership. Volume 1: Policy and Practice. Paris: OCDE. Reeves, D.B. (2009). Leading change in your school. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Wise, D. y Jacobo, A. (2010). Towards a framework for leadership coaching. School Leadership & Management: Formerly School Organisation, 30 (2), 159-169.
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