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Coaching in education: supporting the mental health and well-being of pupils and staff

Mark Adams and Jak Lee

Where is coaching needed most? Where does coaching have the potential to make a truly meaningful difference? In which domain does the application of coaching have the potential to make a significant contribution to both current and future generations? Where does the application of coaching and coaching psychology stand to benefit the children and young people of our society? The answer to all these questions, in our view, is the domain of education, which is our specialism, our passion, and the focus of this chapter.

The use of coaching in educational contexts has become increasingly prevalent since the turn of the twenty-first century, with applications including the enhancement of teachers’ professional practice, leadership coaching, and coaching for student success and well-being (Campbell, 2016; van Nieuw-erburgh, 2012). Reflecting the spirit, research and practice of positive psychology (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000), coaching shifts away from the medical model of helping (‘fix the disease’) to instead enabling the person to achieve goals, attain enhanced well-being, and move towards optimal functioning. As such, this extends the reach of coaching to a wide population of client groups and enables support to be provided both proactively and pre-ventatively (e.g. before issues with well-being escalate to the point of maladaptive stress, or before day-to-day mental health issues develop into more serious difficulties).

We are both Educational Psychologists by profession and have each developed a specialism in coaching since the early-to-mid 2000s; to reflect this, we also use the term ‘Coaching Psychologist’ in our role titles. As Coaching Psychologists, the coaching work we undertake is explicitly informed by psychological principles and approaches, including methods drawn from person-centred counselling (Rogers, 1951, 1961, 2003), cognitive-behavioural coaching (Neenan & Palmer, 2012), solution-focused coaching (Iveson, George & Ratner, 2012), Self-Determination Theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000), Motivational Interviewing (Miller & Rollnick, 2002, 2013), positive psychology (Snyder & Lopez, 2005), and Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (Harris, 2009).

In this chapter we show how coaching is relevant to two current conversations in the domain of education:

  • 1 How can we support the mental health and well-being of young people?
  • 2 How can we support the mental health and well-being of education practitioners?

We have limited our discussion to two priority areas to enable a more in-depth exploration. To achieve our aims, we first locate each discussion in its cunent context, before presenting an illustrative case study and then exploring its associated implications. We then draw together our conclusions about the relevance of coaching to these debates.

I Coaching to support the mental health and well-being of young people

There is increasing awareness of the mental health challenges facing children and young people in today’s society. An estimated 12-15 percent of 11-15 year olds have a diagnosable mental health disorder, with particular groups (e.g. LGBT+ young people, looked-after young people, and those who are NEET - Not in Education, Employment or Training) being more vulnerable or susceptible to mental health issues (DoH & DfE, 2017). While such statistics are concerning in themselves, it should be noted that they do not include the multitude of young people who may be ‘at risk’ but whose issues have not yet developed to the point of meeting diagnostic criteria. The prevalence of mental health issues in young people may therefore be far greater than the initially reported estimates suggest.

The cost of unaddressed mental health issues is significant and includes: more absence from school; a greater likelihood of being on welfare as adults; and a greater likelihood of engaging in a criminal act (DoH & DfE, ibid). Recent years have also seen significant increases in the numbers of university students who have either disclosed a mental health condition (Higher Education Statistics Agency, 2019) or who have left university early for mental health reasons (Marsh, 2017). Clearly, these are costs that are incurred by both young people themselves and society more broadly, both now and in the future. This places an imperative upon us all to consider how we can collectively meet this challenge. While recent proposals from the Department of Health and Department for Education1 (ibid) are a welcome step forward in this respect, it has been argued that the UK government’s proposed strategy needs to be more far-reaching and should include a greater emphasis on proactive and preventative approaches to supporting young people’s mental health and well-being (Education and Health & Social Care Committees, 2018). The fact that 50 percent of all mental health issues are established before the age of 14 (DoH & DfE, ibid) further emphasizes the need for early intervention. It is in this context that we argue that the availability of personalised individual coaching could represent a valuable element of the support provided for children and young people in schools.

In recent years several publications have emerged which illustrate and inform the specific application of coaching with children and young people (e.g. Giant, 2014; Ratner & Yusuf, 2015; Abdulla, 2018), accompanied in parallel by a gradually developing evidence base regarding the impact of applications of coaching on young people’s mental health and well-being. For example, Green, Grant and Rynsaardt (2007) found that female senior high school students’ (mean age 16 years) participation in a 20-week programme of solution-focused/cognitive behavioural life coaching led to significant increases in levels of hardiness and hope, and significant decreases in levels of depression. More recently, two smaller-scale qualitative studies have offered an indication of the potential benefits of coaching with ‘at-risk’ young people, with some adolescent coachees who had participated in either individual or group coaching programmes reporting increased experience of positive emotions, enhanced self-beliefconfidence, and a greater sense of choice and control over their thoughts, feelings and behaviour (Pritchard & van Nieuwerburgh, 2016; Robson-Kelly & van Nieuwerburgh, 2016).

In terms of how such gains are achieved, our contention is that coaching can positively impact on young people’s mental health and well-being through two key mechanisms. In the first instance, coaching enables young people to constructively deal with day-to-day challenges, providing them with a confidential space in which (with support) they can plan strategies for tackling current situations and achieving greater well-being in their lives. However, as well as supporting young people to plan how to deal with their situations ‘in the moment’, coaching potentially has longer-term benefits in terms of its ability to enhance young people’s broader problem-solving capabilities. By helping young people to become aware of the thinking processes they have used to problem-solve an issue (a process known as metacognition - Flavell, 1976), they can also learn transferable skills that they can draw upon to help themselves in times of difficulty in the future. We will now use a short case study to illustrate these two mechanisms in action.

Case study

Andre was a Year 11 pupil (in his final year of schooling) who was struggling to attend school due to anxiety. Andre’s family and school staff wanted to explore how they could help him to manage his anxiety - including, importantly, attendance at examinations - while also helping him to learn skills that would enhance his ability to self-manage in the future as he faced the challenge of increased independence.

Several interventions were put in place around Andre, one of which was a series of five monthly coaching sessions. It is important to note that Andre was on the waiting list for CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) involvement given the severity of his situation and the nature of his mental healtli/well-being needs. However, given that he was in his final year of schooling, there was a need for timely support to (ideally) help Andre to make the best use of his remaining months in Year 11. Coaching was an appropriate form of support in this instance, providing Andre with sessions that were future-oriented (focused on goals that Andre wanted to achieve), time-limited, and which explored everyday aspects of his life rather than past history or the origins of his difficulties (which could be more the domain of a therapist, subject to their particular orientation and approach). Indeed, Giant (2014) has noted that coaching “can be utilized to address specific goals for a client with deep-seated issues or [who may be] receiving more intensive therapy elsewhere” (p. 12). The sessions were heavily informed by the principles and practices of Solution-Focused Coaching (Iveson, George & Ratner, 2012; O’Connell, Palmer & Williams, 2012; Ratner & Yusuf, 2015), in that there was a clear focus on the future Andre wanted to achieve and the resources he had that would help him to move towards it.

At the beginning of the intervention, Andre was encouraged to describe his ‘preferred future’, an image of life as he wanted it to be (Iveson. George & Ratner, 2012). He described a future scenario in which he was studying a Computer Science course at a college, a goal for which Andre knew he needed to achieve “good grades in Maths, English and Computer Science”. To help him achieve this, Andre said that he would like to learn how to manage his anxious feelings more effectively. This goal then became the focus of the sessions.

Over the course of the five coaching sessions, Andre and the coach used a 0-10 rating scale to:

  • • Evaluate the extent to which Andre perceived he was able to manage his anxious feelings (“On a scale from 0-10, where 10 is that you can always manage your anxious feelings, and zero is that you can never manage them, where are you now?”).
  • • Identify examples of ways in which Andre was already experiencing success, even if only in part (e.g. “What is happening that means that you are at 5 out of 10 on the scale and not any lower?”).
  • • Explore the resources and strategies Andre was using which seemed to help him (these were: walking half-way to a place and then pausing to re-group before continuing; distracting himself by talking with another person about something else; using a computer; and thinking about his dog).
  • • Develop Andre’s conscious awareness of his effective strategies and prompt him to think about when and where the use of each strategy might be most helpfill.
  • • Identify what a sign of a step forward on the scale would look like (e.g. attending more Maths and English lessons, attending a mock exam, completing some work in a 1:1 session).
  • • Review Andre’s progress on the scale and clarify the actions, skills and thought processes that were helping him (“Where are you now on the scale? What has helped/been less helpfill? What next?”).

Across the coaching engagement some demonstrable gains were observed. Although Andie’s attendance at lessons did not noticeably improve, he attended many (though not all) of his mock exams, stayed in those exams for longer than the minimum time, and became more conscious of strategies that he could use to help him to manage his anxiety. Towards the end of the coaching engagement, Andre went for an interview at a college and was offered a place on a college course.

Discussion

This case study has illustrated the applicability of coaching as an intervention to support a young person to achieve improved mental health and well-being. In this case, a solution-focused coaching approach was used to support a young person (Andre) who was struggling to attend school due to anxiety. The coaching relationship provided Andre with a safe-but-challenging non-judgemental space in which he could reflect on his goals and his progress towards them. Across the series of five sessions, this enabled Andre to begin making progress in terms of his ability to manage his anxious feelings and move towards his goal of accessing a college course. At the same time, Andre was also learning to use transferable thinking strategies that could be applied to other future situations. For example:

  • • Imagining a preferred future and using that as both motivation and as a reference point.
  • • Planning how to move towards his overall goal by: (i) considering his current position in relation to the goal; (ii) identifying existing successes and resources; (iii) setting small-step goals; and (iv) reviewing and evaluating progress, including the value of incremental change. In this particular example each of these was achieved through the use of a ‘scaling’ approach.
  • • Selecting the most appropriate strategy from the range of those available for a given task.

In this way, coaching can support young people not just to manage their immediate realities, but to also learn skills that can enhance their capacity to face future challenges. The benefit of this taking place in a coaching engagement is that it enables the young person to learn and apply specific strategies as they are relevant to the real-life situations they are facing. This approach is consistent with recent guidance on the use of metacognitive approaches with children and young people which states: “While concepts like ‘plan, monitor, evaluate’ can be introduced generically, the strategies are mostly applied in relation to specific content and tasks, and are therefore best taught this way” (Education Endowment Foundation, 2018, p. 14).

While a solution-focused coaching approach was used in this case-study, other engagements could be informed by a range of other psychology-informed approaches, for example:

  • • Using cognitive-behavioural approaches to enhance the young person’s ability to recognise and transform self-limiting thoughts and behaviours.
  • (e.g. Stallard. 2019)
  • • Using Acceptance & Commitment Therapy-informed approaches to help the young person to clarify their values, set values-congruent goals, and learn new ways of relating to troublesome thoughts and feelings.
  • (Hayes, 2015)

Whichever method is used, young people could be supported to apply the approach to then present realities, while adding specific strategies to then repertoires for use in future situations. Such strategies could represent valuable protective factors to help safeguard against current and future issues with mental health and well-being.

It is important to note that Andre was actively involved as an equal collaborator in the process of change. He was not done to bitt was rather -worked with to determine goals, develop strategies, and review progress. Indeed, research into the effectiveness of helping relationships consistently demonstrates that the client’s experience of a positive collaborative alliance has a far greater influence on the outcome than the specific techniques that might be applied (Murphy & Duncan, 2007). In other words, people tend to do better in a helping relationship if they: (i) feel listened to, trusted and respected; (ii) are working towards goals that matter to them, and; (iii) feel they have a say in the tasks that are carried out both in and between sessions. Coaching enables young people to experience such a relationship, and to be active participants in determining both the outcomes that they want to work towards and the strategies for achieving this. In the process, our hope is that young people who experience such a relationship may also learn that talking to others about concerns at an early stage can be a positive and helpfill step to take.

In this case, coaching was applied with a Year 11 (aged 16 years) young person; however, in our view it would be preferable to provide coaching for young people from an earlier age so that they have more opportunity to learn skills that will support them in dealing with the range of life’s challenges. Although the prevalence of mental health issues in young people arguably points to the need for broader systemic changes in our society and education systems (Education and Health & Social Care Committees, 2018), in our view the provision and evaluation of effective suppoit mechanisms for young people - including coaching - should be a component of any school’s planning. As we have seen, coaching can be a helpfill intervention for supporting young people (including those possibly experiencing mental health issues) to problem-solve daily aspects of living and move towards enhanced mental health and well-being.

It is important to acknowledge that coaching (in this context) focuses primarily on the individual, and the evidence suggests that schools need to also adopt a more systemic approach to improving well-being and mental health for young people. Weare (2015) outlines a framework to guide schools’ planning in this respect, which locates individual interventions in a broader context. As well as individual-focused interventions, the framework also encompasses whole-school work to improve well-being (see Gillard, Flaxman & Hooper, 2018), supportive policies, staff development and ways to engage the broader community to this end. Children/young people do not exist in isolation of their contexts and, in our view, coaching should ideally complement a broader range of approaches at different levels of the organization.

Coaching can be effective even through a limited series of relatively short sessions and may well enhance young people’s ability to cope both now and in the future. While we would argue that this is money well-spent, schools will have to consider questions of affordability and the availability of resources. One possible solution to achieve cost-effectiveness would be to train more adults in schools with these skills - for example. Learning Mentors, Learning Support Assistants, pastoral staff, and those with key responsibilities for mental health and well-being. In this way, the capacity of schools to proactively and preventatively enable young people to become better ‘self-managers’ would increase, potentially reducing the number of young people who may go on to develop mental health issues in the future.

2. Coaching for staff mental health and well-being

Working in education in the United Kingdom in the twenty-first century can be a fast-paced, high-pressure endeavour, with multiple demands (e.g. workload, pupil behaviour, school inspections, changes to national initiatives) exacting a toll on staff (Ofsted, 2018). Our education workforce therefore needs to be effectively supported if they are to be in the best place to give to the children under their care. Unfortunately, current evidence regarding the well-being of education staff suggests that we may be falling short in this challenge. For example, a recent survey of education professionals in the United Kingdom (Education Support Partnership, 2017) found that nearly a third of education staff overall (29 percent) and more than a third of senior leaders in education (37 percent) said that their job had made them feel stressed “most or all of the time in the past few weeks”, a figure that is in contrast with 18 percent of UK employees overall (CIPD, 2017). In the same survey, 75 percent of respondents indicated that they had experienced either behavioural (e.g. irritability, mood swings), psychological (e.g. depression, anxiety, panic attacks) or physical symptoms (e.g. raised blood pressure, dizziness, headaches) due to work or where work was a contributing factor (ESP, ibid). These stark findings are perhaps reflected in: (i) the rising proportion of working-age teachers leaving the profession each year (from 9-11 percent for primary school teachers and from 11-13 percent for secondary school teachers - Worth & De Lazzari, 2017); and (ii) the numbers of teachers leaving the classroom within five years of qualifying (30 percent of the 21,400 teachers who began teaching in state schools in 2010 had left the classroom within five years - see Weale (2016)). Similarly, over half of the respondents in the 2017 ESP survey (53 percent) indicated that they had considered leaving the profession over the last two years as a result of health pressures.

If we do not look after the well-being of staff, how can we expect them to adequately attend to the well-being of others along with their many other priorities? As Weare (2015) notes:

Wellbeing in schools starts with the staff: They are in the front line of this work, and it is hard for them to be genuinely motivated to promote emotional and social wellbeing in others if they feel uncared for and burnt out themselves.

(P- 6)

Similarly, a recent survey of education practitioners indicated a consensus view that a focus on teacher well-being also promotes student well-being (Roffey, 2012). As one respondent noted:

When teaching staff feel appreciated and empowered, they are much more likely to show patience and empathy for their students; to go the “extra mile" for the students in their care. They are also more likely to share and work with others in order to support their students and promote wellbeing.

(Roffey, ibid. p. 15)

Certainly, we would argue that if people are to give effectively to others, we need to ensure they have the capacity to do so, with outlets for both communicating about and, where possible, problem-solving issues at an early stage. Unfortunately, the ESP report has indicated that there may be a tendency for education practitioners to suffer in silence, with almost two-thirds (64 percent) of those surveyed declaring that they would not feel confident in disclosing unmanageable stress or mental health problems to their employer (ESP, ibid.). This suggests the need for the provision of appropriate support structures for staff which normalise the process of checking-in and reviewing their capacity, health and well-being. To this end, Weare (ibid.) argues that schools should foster the development of a school climate and ethos which:

routinely acknowledges the reality of staff stress and finds ways to make it safe for staff and leaders (as well as pupils) to acknowledge their human distress, weakness and difficulty and seek support for their mental health needs in non-stigmatising ways.

(P- 7)

It is with this aim in mind that we propose that regular coaching for staff could be a valuable component of a school’s strategy in this respect. Indeed, there is already some evidence to suggest that the provision of coaching for staff can have a positive impact on a range of outcomes, including staff well-being. For example. Grant, Green and Rynsaardt (2010) found that high school teachers’ participation in a 20-week coaching programme was associated with increased goal attainment, reduced stress, enhanced workplace well-being and resilience, and improved leadership style. The authors concluded that coaching “has great potential to contribute to the development and wellbeing of society” (p. 151). The following case study shows how coaching has been used in a UK educational setting to support staff performance and well-being.

Case study

The authors were commissioned by a specialist primary school which provides for young people with social, emotional and mental health needs. Given the high level of need of the children, and the magnitude of the challenge this can present, staff at the school are arranged into classroom teams comprising one teacher and one or two additional Learning Support Assistants (LSAs). Following previous experience of the benefits of coaching in schools, the school’s leadership decided that they wanted to provide the classroom teams with coaching to support their performance, development and well-being. The sessions would provide the staff with a confidential space in which they could offload their emotions, reflect on practice, problem-solve difficulties (if applicable), and plan how to move towards goals. It was agreed that sessions could be used to explore matters relating to personal and team well-being as well as day-to-day practice.

Rather than being provided on an ad-hoc or as-needed basis, sessions were timetabled to take place termly (six sessions over the year, approximately six weeks apart), with each session lasting for 45 minutes. Sessions were informed by core coaching skills and frameworks (e.g. the I-GROW model - Whitmore, 1992, 2002), supplemented by methods drawn from other psychology-informed coaching approaches (e.g. person-centred coaching, solution-focused coaching, cognitive-behavioural coaching - see Palmer & Whybrow, 2007, 2019; Adams, 2015). In each session the coaches would endeavour to draw the participants’ attention to then strengths and successes while supporting them to reflect on then situations and plan how to move forward. Towards the end of each session the participants would review the possible actions considered and make their own decisions about what they would or would not pursue.

At the end of each academic year, the teams were interviewed and asked to: (i) rate the extent to which the coaching support had achieved the desired aims; and (ii) discuss what had been helpful about the sessions and how they might further be improved. This allowed the coaching relationship between coach and team to be reviewed and shaped over time. Table 12.1 shows the median rating provided by the teams over three academic years:

Table 12.1 Median rating provided by the teams over three academic years

Academic year

Number of teams

Median team rating (out of 10) for “the extent to which the coaching support achieved the stated aims (of enhancing performance, development & well-being)”.

2014-2015

7

9

2015-2016

8

8

2016-2017

8

9

In their qualitative feedback, participants reported a range of outcomes that they experienced because of the coaching sessions. This encompassed positive changes in relation to well-being (e.g. “[It] takes stress levels down, gets sniff off our chests”) and classroom practice (e.g. “The strategies help make life easier in the classroom”). Others reported further emotional benefits (e.g. “Increased confidence in what I am doing and my ability”, “Helped our ability to remain resilient during challenging work”) and noted that the very experience of “feeling listened to helps well-being.” One participant observed, as discussed in the introduction to this chapter, a link between their own well-being and their ability to provide for the pupils, saying: “It gets everything out of my head - this helps my well-being which means I am better able to support the pupils with their well-being and needs. .. . Staff well-being is key so that we can support them.”

In terms of what helped to achieve these gains, participants reported that it was important to experience the coaching sessions as a safe place to discuss issues -“[A] safe space to offload confidentially” where they could be “validated and not judged” and “talk through difficult situations with a fresh pair of eyes.” A key element for achieving this sense of safety, in the view of the participants, was that the coach was independent to the organization (“A coach that is objective and confidential”, “A supportive person who is not emotionally involved”). As one Learning Suppoit Assistant summarized: “It’s ciucial to have a safe, confidential space with someone external to the organization. . . . Someone listening and shining a light on things.” Another participant noted that the provision of time and space for coaching helped them to “feel valued” by their school. Similarly, humour was thought to be an important component of the sessions for helping the staff to “not feel like it is all doom and gloom”.

A number of comments referred to the benefit of having space to discuss issues and plan constructive ways forward (e.g. “Talking properly about issues and coming to a forward plan”, “Devising practical ideas”, and “Thrashing out ideas so that we [can] improve situations”). One respondent noted that the sessions “Helped [us] prioritise what needs addressing and find ways to improve it”.

Participants also commented on the role of the coaches in terms of being able to structure and guide conversations, observing that: “The coach helps us to move the conversation from negative discussions to positive ways forward. The coach judges [this] so we feel listened to but have more time to be positive.” Similarly, another comment referred to “reflection with a structure that the coach builds into the session”, while another noted that “the coach helps us stay on track”. Other comments referred to the regularly timetabled coaching sessions as providing valuable reflection time, representing “[an] allotted space to reflect with guided communication by the coach.” This was perceived as important in that “It gives us time to properly reflect, otherwise it’s all ad-hoc”, and provided staff with “a time with no other pressures to discuss a problem and decide on plans to implement to overcome it.”

Finally, one participant reported that they had grown to value coaching despite harbouring initial reservations about the process, saying: “We very much value it, it’s really important. I was sceptical at first but it’s valuable in the environment we work in.”

Discussion

In this case study, teams of education practitioners (teachers and LSAs) reported that they experienced termly coaching as supporting improvements in their performance, development and well-being, citing specific gains such as reduced stress, improved confidence, and enhanced capacity to provide for the pupils under then' care.

Practitioners reported that they valued the sessions as providing them with a non-judgemental, safe, confidential outlet in which they could feel listened to and understood, and in turn felt valued by their organization as a result. Furthermore, the removal of the threat of judgement from the conversation enabled the participants to speak and behave openly and honestly, with the aim of increasing the likelihood that they would feel comfortable disclosing possible issues with wellbeing or performance at an early stage. Within this climate the participants selfselected themes for discussion, thereby respecting their autonomy and enabling them to choose topics and strategies that were most relevant to their individual situations. This also serves to engender the sense of agency and control that Weare (2015) advocates as being so crucial for the well-being of staff in the education sector. Thereafter, participants were afforded time and space to explore their experiences, thoughts and ideas for solutions, a privilege that can be all-too-rare in the maelstrom of twenty-first century education.

As the discussions unfolded the participants valued the coach providing structure or steer to the sessions to draw their attention to strengths and successes, keep the conversations on-track and guide the participants towards constructive solutions. This illustrates the need for the coach to be able to supplement a non-directive person-centred approach with other models or frameworks (e.g. I-GROW, solution-focused, cognitive-behavioural) as befits the needs of the coachee(s) and the situation. Moving forward, the approach described in this chapter could be further developed by incorporating a greater psycho-educational component - for example, explicitly teaching staff skills of stress-management, mindfulness, and ways to respond to negative self-talk (Weare, ibid; Palmer & Cooper, 2000).

The practitioners valued the coach being external to the organization, someone who was not emotionally involved in the day-to-day affairs of the setting and who could bring “fresh eyes” to situations. This, for the participants, was a key ingredient for achieving the desired sense of safety and objectivity. However, other research regarding the use of in-school peer coaches has shown that peer coaching can also have a positive impact on a range of variables including staff well-being, teachers’ daily practice, and collaboration across the school (Lee, 2013, 2017). In some circumstances, therefore, peer coaching may represent a more cost-effective way of providing coaching support. Of course, this places an additional demand on schools in terms of providing training for those who will cany out the coaching and raises ethical questions regarding professional competence if matters of personal well-being are to be discussed (as opposed to purely practice-based discussions, say). Given this complexity, the respective pros and cons of the use of external or internal coaches will need to be carefully considered for any given context and purpose.

The sessions in this example were timetabled on a regular basis, providing practitioners with a recurring outlet in which they could access protected time where reflection on practice and well-being was accepted as part of the culture. Given the reported reluctance of education staff to discuss mental health or wellbeing issues with their line manager (ESP, 2017), this presents an alternative to deficit-driven support which first relies on the practitioner reporting an issue and seeking help. Regular termly sessions circumvent this problem and provide each practitioner with six opportunities over the year to disclose and problem-solve any possible issues in a safe environment. Repeated sessions also allow the coaching relationship to be shaped over time as coach and coachee(s) build trust and become more familiar with each other’s styles, preferences and approaches. This enhances the development of the collaborative alliance (Bordin, 1979; Murphy & Duncan, 2007) which has been shown to be so crucial for achieving positive outcomes. Furthermore, repeated sessions allow change goals to be revisited and reviewed, underlining the message that change is an iterative process in which small-step improvements and ‘relapses’ are a common feature of the journey (DiClemente & Prochaska, 1998).

As previously mentioned, the provision of coaching support from external coaches has a clear resource implication for schools, in terms of both the fee for the coaching support and the additional cost of enabling staff to have time away from other commitments. The temptation to regard such support for staff as a luxury must be balanced against the available evidence regarding the extent of educational practitioners’ well-being issues, and the possible costs of poor performance, sickness and recruitment resulting from a lack of suitable well-being support. Cost-effective ways of providing coaching for staff could include the use of peer coaching or staff being coached in small groups to reduce the number of sessions required.

It is important to clarify that we are not advocating the use of coaching as a sticking plaster while broader systemic issues are left unaddressed. In some contexts, a high number of significant well-being issues and frequent turnover of staff may indicate the need for broader systemic or contextual changes (e.g. measures to reduce workload, improve communication, and ensure that leadership are approachable - ESP, 2017), and we would not want the provision of coaching to detract attention away from these other actions. However, as we have seen in this section, the provision of regular psychology-informed coaching from external coaches may provide staff with a valuable outlet to proactively and preventatively explore and address issues with practice and well-being. As part of a broader strategy, this could help to achieve the aim advocated by Weare (2015) of schools developing a climate or ethos which finds ways to make it safe for staff to acknowledge their difficulties and seek timely support in nonstigmatising ways.

Conclusion

In this chapter we have illustrated how psychology-informed coaching could be a valuable approach for addressing current challenges regarding child and adult mental health and well-being in education. There is an emerging evidence base regarding the positive impact of coaching on mental health and well-being in both children and adults, although more research will be required to further explore this relationship. As we have illustrated, coaching provides coachees with a safe, confidential outlet in which they can explore their own specific aims and concerns while learning transferable skills (e.g. goal-setting, problem-solving, reviewing the application of helpful strategies) that they can then take forward into other situations. This enables strategies from evidence-informed psychological approaches (e.g. solution-focused coaching) to be incrementally applied to the coachees’ day-to-day realities and added to their repertoire of strategies that they can call upon in future. As such, coaching engages the participants as active collaborators in reviewing their situations and problem-solving emerging issues, enhancing their sense of agency and autonomy in the face of external pressures or life challenges. The availability of timetabled coaching sessions can provide children and adults with regular ‘check-in’ opportunities, enabling possible issues with performance and well-being to be identified and addressed proactively and preventatively. In our view this helps to normalise the process of using support structures and enables people to access support from others in non-threatening and non-stigmatising ways.

Whether coaching is provided by external coaches or in-school peer coaches will be a matter for each individual setting to decide, taking into consideration factors such as e.g. the competence of staff to provide coaching, any training and supervision required, the extent to which staff/pupils experience the sessions as safe and confidential, the culture of the school, and available resources; however, whichever option is pursued, the key aim is for young people and adults to have regularly occurring outlets for exploring their situations, discussing challenges, and finding ways forward.

With this in mind, we would suggest that the following questions and conversations will be important for our society to consider:

  • • How can we continue to support the creation of cultures in which people can seek support and acknowledge their difficulties in non-stigmatising ways?
  • • What proactive support mechanisms (for young people and/or adults) do out schools have to act as a “buffer” to externally driven stresses? How can such support mechanisms, including coaching, be realistically provided? Is it acceptable for this to only take place where individual school budgets allow?
  • • What would be the ‘return on investment’ hour investing in such support mechanisms?
  • • When might external coaches or in-school coaches be more appropriate?
  • • What training and supervision would education practitioners require in order to equip them to provide coaching support (either for children/young people or each other)?

Of course, coaching is not a panacea, and other interventions or changes in the individual’s context may also need to be considered. However, we would argue that coaching could well be an important component of a broader strategy for supporting pupil and adult mental health and well-being in our education settings. In this way, coaching has the potential to make a significant contribution to both cunent and future generations, and towards the further development of supportive cultures in schools.

Note

1 As set out in Transforming Children & Young People’s Mental Health Provision: A Green Paper, the government proposes: (i) To introduce Designated Senior Leads for Mental Health in schools; (ii) to establish new Mental Health Support Teams, and; (iii) to reduce waiting times for young people’s access to child and adolescent mental health services.

References

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Chapter I 3

Coaching is growing up

 
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