I was fortunate to be able to attend the annual conference of my subject association recently. It was inspirational. Not that I always agreed with everything everybody said – I didn’t – but the opportunity to gain teaching ideas, meet fellow subject enthusiasts, hear about what other schools are doing in my subject area and browse the exhibition where publishers and software developers promote their wares is one that I relish, every year. Luckily for me, my school recognises that, as a head of department, I need to keep up to date with what is going on in my subject area. I then feed back to the others in my department, but I cannot attend all the workshops and talks and ideally I would like every member of my department to attend. It is then that budgetary considerations make themselves felt.
This leads me on to the next point. The “in” thing nowadays seems to be “coaching”. See the following link:
Firstly, I do acknowledge that coaching is preferable to lesson grades and learning walks. Secondly, I am aware that some people find it useful (although I wonder whether people simply say that out of sheer relief that it is not like what happened before). Thirdly, I know that people who train as coaches take their role seriously and that questioning the whole system could be interpreted as a personal attack, which it isn’t.
I have had experience of coaching training and its greatest drawback is that the coach cannot offer advice. Instead, by a series of “coaching questions”, the coach is supposed to lead the teacher to thinking out their own solutions to problems. A typical conversation, in my experience, goes something like this:
Teacher: I have a problem with X.
Teacher Coach: What could you do about that?
Teacher: I suppose I could try Y.
Teacher Coach: What might happen if you did that?
Teacher: There is a risk of Z, I suppose.
Teacher Coach: Could you do anything to stop Z developing?
And so on!
Now I am aware that I am oversimplifying and I daresay a lot of people would tell me that I have misunderstood what coaching is all about, my training must have been faulty, that I need further training, that it doesn’t have to be like this, etc etc. Indeed, I am prepared to accept that coaching might be useful for some people in some circumstances. But my question to them is, is coaching really more beneficial than attending a conference of teachers in your own subject area, listening and talking to colleagues who know what teaching your subject is all about and attending workshops offering subject based pedagogy? All the money spent on “coaching” could be devolved to individual teachers or departments who could then choose the CPD most relevant to them. In secondary, I would suggest that allowing all subject teachers to attend the annual conference of their subject association would be far more effective use of the budget.
Knowledge of one’s subject area has, I believe, been shown to be crucial to effective teaching of that subject. So let’s put money into this!