Christopher Stock, Principal, Emmanuel College, North Altona/Pt Cook, VIC
Every school needs to improve and Emanuel College is no exception.
During my time at the College, we have been on an improvement based approach to teaching and learning. We know the issues however gaining improvement is much trickier.
We understand that to improve student learning outcomes we need to support colleagues in the improvement of their learning-teaching practice. Coaching is one strategy for providing this support.
We’d heard about the “Performance Development and Coaching” program that John Corrigan and Group 8 Education had developed from two different sources.
One was that the Catholic Education Office in Melbourne was working with John and the second was that Rosalie Jones had passed on the recommendation of Dr. Mark Merry, the Principal of Yarra Valley Grammar, where PDC was being implemented.
I worked with Mark while he was a Principal in the Catholic system and I respect his recommendations.
Because John was working with CEOM, as well as the positive experience that Mark Merry had in applying PDC, we decided to invite Mark to discuss with the leadership team (senior and middle leaders) his experience of PDC, to explain the program and its benefits.
Mark’s presentation convinced many in the team of the merits of pursuing PDC further. I then contacted John Corrigan and set up a meeting for him to present to the leadership team.
We were attracted to the potential power of the approach and were satisfied that John was on the right track. His approach to improving student learning outcomes, through teacher cognitive coaching, aligned strongly with our focus on building teacher capacity with a focus on results.
John’s philosophy of unconditional respect, emergent listening, developing independent learners as well as the coaching process just makes sense.
Knowing that any new program can create initial resistance, I introduced and implemented the program through initial meetings with middle leaders to build core support and then champions who engaged with staff meetings to explain the program and allay concerns.
Change is always difficult and challenging, and to expect 100% agreement is just not realistic. A good result in my view is if you can get 80% to buy into the change ahead.
Some staff were initially reluctant. Some of the suspicions were industrially based – IEU had published articles critical of ‘appraisal’ programs around the same time.
Research suggests that many teachers will not form a view regarding a change until they have experienced it. We knew we would need to trial the program to gain an informed view of teachers about it.
I’m happy to report that suspicion and resistance to the program is pretty much non-existent now given experience of a positive year with the program.
With respect to the program, our immediate goal was to get coaches to a reasonably good start up level of skill in how to be a coach under John’s framework; to be able to sit down with coachees to identify genuine improvement goals for the year.
Teachers are really switched on people and they recognise if a program is good and is working, and the PDC program is excellent value. Generally, changes have been well received. This came through quite clearly at the debrief session with staff at the end of the year.
Our school culture has been pretty collaborative for some years now. I can’t really credit Group 8 Education’s PDC program with having increased collaboration – it is an area difficult to measure and assign causal relationship. We are also only one year into the program. However what the program has given us is another formal process of collaboration that is contributing to a collaborative culture.
A number of our middle leaders have moved from questions like: “How do we do this?” or “What are our priorities?” to
- “How can I generate more feedback?”
- “We want more classroom observations.”
- “We want to get more reliable evidence.”
It seems to me that the program has given our teachers a set of structures and processes to get their teeth into. And for this reason, I think it’s taken the school to the next level of conversation and process.
What I like about John Corrigan is that he articulates a coherent and well-based philosophy. He’s intelligent, wise and authentic. John is an excellent coach, and he uses the cognitive coaching model when engaging with new questions. As someone from another professional area, he brings new eyes/perspectives to the “schoolie” setting, and he is generous in his support of our mission.
Additionally, John is very approachable; he’s a great guy to work with. He’s a man of high integrity and enormous passion about his mission which is helping teachers to improve, thereby improving outcomes for kids. This is in strong alignment with our strategic focus.
John continues to renew his thinking in line with leading thinking in the field of education – for example incorporating John Hattie’s insights – and has pulled this information together beautifully into the coaching model he espouses.
The cognitive coaching model revolves around emergent listening which is a sophisticated process and takes time to learn. I am very happy with the support we’ve received last year, which was our first year on the program.
We’ve learned a lot and I feel comfortable and confident enough to present the program to new staff without John’s involvement. However it is important that we retain a formal connection with John in the first years of implementing the program. I also know he’ll be there to help and support if we need him.
This year senior leaders will have a formal coaching role with middle leaders. Because we’ve got one year’s worth of experience under our belt I would hope that the quality of the middle leader coaching with teachers for 2013 continues to improve. However PDC is a sophisticated process and we have built in refreshers with John over the year.
To conclude, three main reasons that I find the program to be so valuable are:
- It is both a good coaching model and a good appraisal system.
- The capacity to have a model whereby teachers can be coached by middle leaders is a huge plus for a school to consider.
- John Corrigan has a coherent articulated framework around one key strategy for building teacher capacity with a focus on results.
I have and will continue to recommend the PDC program to my peers.