Coronavirus Scotland: Coaches drafted in to help exhausted teachers

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They are perhaps most often associated with the world of business and corporate deal-making.

Professional coaches – who help individuals make the most of their skills, overcome challenges and hone performance – are well established among jet-setting CEOs and currently enjoy soaring popularity as employees navigate the unpredictable, ever-shifting demands of today’s workplace.

Now they are being drafted in to assist exhausted teachers amid an ongoing battle to keep Scotland’s education system moving in the face of Covid-19.

Sessions are already being offered to headteachers as part of a support package developed jointly by standards watchdogs Education Scotland (ES) and the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS).

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From the end of this month, the programme – which comprises four 45-minute, one-to-one sessions – will be expanded and offered to teachers who are new in post, or working in pastoral or child protection roles.

The coaches, who will not necessarily have an educational background, are being provided by social enterprise organisation KnowYouMore.

And while sessions are online for the moment, it is hoped physical, in-person coaching might one day be possible.

Louise Sanders, lead specialist for professional learning and leadership at ES, said: “The point of coaching is to give headteachers, or teachers, that protected time with the coach to talk through their challenges and identify opportunities.

“It just gives them that time and space in which to think – beyond the incredibly challenging situation we’re currently living in. The coaching sessions might address a professional matter – the direction of a headteacher’s school, for example. Or the headteacher might have a personal issue they want to talk about.”

Expansion of the scheme comes as fears mount over the pandemic’s impact on health and wellbeing.

The latest report from Nicola Sturgeon’s international council of education advisers states: “The emotional, mental, and physical toll upon school, and other, leaders is very real, almost unimaginable, and utterly unsustainable… Presently, school leaders are barely holding the front line of the system together, as each day brings new challenges, stresses, and heartbreak.”

Ms Sanders said: “The pandemic has accelerated what we have known for a long time – that teachers need the time and space to think strategically. And the KnowYouMore coaching sessions will be pure coaching – coaching by someone you don’t know personally and who may not necessarily have an educational background.

“Ideally, it would be fantastic if every teacher had the opportunity to be coached or to coach. We need to build that capacity within the system.

“And while coaching tends to happen in blocks – so that a goal can be worked towards – for teachers to know they can access coaching as and when they need it is certainly an ideal we’d like to achieve.”

Most children are learning remotely at the moment, creating huge challenges for teachers.

Robin Chapman, headteacher at Eyemouth High School, said: “We need more coaching within the school system – more opportunities for individual coaching, more opportunities for group coaching. The more we have, the more we have a selfimproving system of education.”

As well as coaching, the £1.5 million support package for teachers includes mental health assistance provided through Barnardo’s Scotland and Place2Be, the Stepping Stones professional learning programme for staff in their first four years postprobation and the Columba 1400 leadership programme for heads and deputes. It has been funded and jointly planned with the Scottish Government.

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Education Secretary John Swinney said: “Education Scotland and the GTCS have now put in place new professional learning opportunities for post-probation teachers and have developed a new coaching and mentoring offer for educators, including headteachers.

“It is crucial that teachers continue to have the space to reflect and build on their practice and I would encourage the profession to consider these learning opportunities in the new year.”

Case Study: Ross Maunder, headteacher at Newtown and St Boswells primary schools in the Scottish Borders

Headteacher Ross Maunder.

“Coaching and mentoring are distinct – with mentoring you are providing solutions and it’s a bit more directive. Coaching is about getting the person to come up with solutions themselves,” he said.

“It can address issues at work or perhaps an issue they have in their personal life which they want to talk through.

“It’s very open-ended. It’s about what the individual wants to talk about.

“The session could be about anything. Coaching gives you that time to stop and think about a particular issue and come up with a solution.”

He described 2020 as an “unprecedented” year for teachers.

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“We’ve had to implement lots of changes very quickly,” he added.

“A lot of my staff have found it very challenging and are feeling the strain.

“They’re feeling very tired. As a school leader, I have a key role in supporting staff and using coaching or mentoring to provide that support. In my experience there has been added stress, added pressure, but it’s all about keeping on top of that, maintaining good mental health and supporting others in that.

“My staff know there’s someone there with a listening ear.

“But it can also be helpful if the person who is coaching a teacher is not someone who’s immersed in education because they may well have a different take on some issue and might be able to see it from an angle which a teacher wouldn’t have thought of.

“I know that quite a few of the coaches on the Education Scotland scheme don’t have an educational background.” 

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