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Can coaching help children in the classroom?


The power of coaching comes from people being supported to bridge the gap between where they are now, to where they would like to be far more effectively than if they worked alone. A coach achieves this by:

  • Helping to raise awareness with questioning to clarify what someone truly desires

  • Assisting them to create practical, step-by-step action plans to reach their goals

  • Providing on-going support through obstacles that the person being coached encounters.

Coaching is traditionally used to help adults, but is less frequently used with children. However, coaching has started to grow in schools as its impact becomes more apparent, particularly for adults within senior leadership teams. Coaching is used much less by children, especially our youngest children, and there is limited academic research in this area, although there is strong evidence that meta-cognition is one of the most effective ways to improve children’s progress, where learners take charge of their own learning, by evaluating their needs, generate strategies to meet these needs and then implement the strategies. The essence of coaching lies in helping others and unlocking their potential, which children have in abundance. Whilst it is true that many children show resilience and perseverance when confident, interested and engaged, we also know that too many children when faced with challenge will resort too quickly to seeking an immediate answer to a question or a problem and take the ‘easy way out’ by asking the expert; the teacher.

For teachers developing a coaching culture in a classroom has many advantages that ensures they can spend less time answering and free them from:

  • Creating overdependence in children

  • Getting overwhelmed by the quantity of work because children are constantly a asking for help rather than doing the work themselves

  • Becoming disconnected from the work that matters

The Pilot Study

During 2021 a research project undertaken with colleagues at Windmill Primary School explored the opportunities and impact of children coaching each other to address improvements in their work or own performance. It was a small pilot project with big ambitions, undertaken over two terms focussing initially on using very basic improvements in children’s use of a series of graded questions which they ask each other ‘when stuck’. This took out the complexity in coaching of ‘identifying the ‘goal’. Children received some very basic coaching training from their teacher helping them to understand to ‘ask not tell’ and were given small laminated ‘conversation starter’ coaching questions. Children in 3 primary year groups were selected in the following ranges; Years 1 to 2, Years 3 to 4, Years 5 to 6 i.e. as young as 5 and our oldest primary children aged 11.

A series of ‘support cards’, as well as training for the coaches, helped children frame questions and included questions such as ‘What have you tried so far? What else can you try? What has worked? ‘What is stopping you solve this problem? What will you do next? ‘and When will you do this by?

The results

The results of our pilot were extremely positive and all of our teachers reported a strong impact using pupils as coaches. In particular we were surprised to see 5 and 6 year olds act as effective coaches and some of the greatest impacts being with less able and SEN children who grew significantly in confidence.

  • In response to the question ‘In what ways does the pupil coach respond when asked for help by the ‘stuck child’? Colleagues suggested that the coach children were listening well, responding with questions rather than answers, and avoiding simply giving answers.

  • In response to the question ‘What impact does the pupil coach have on the stuck child’? Colleagues said that there was ‘less reliance on adults’, ‘children were becoming more independent (especially SEN) and seeking help from classroom resources, their own previous learning and working walls before asking adults’, ’less anxiety and more independence and resilience’, ‘children were far more reflective on their own performance and how they could improve’, ‘children progressed more quickly’, ‘increased confidence’, ‘greater team work and collaboration’.

Further details, our full pilot study report and resources available on request.

Our thanks to Mark Gibbons (Headteacher) and colleagues Emma Morris, Catherine Riekstins, Carole Cunnington, Liz Hoofe, Katie Rice, Hayley Richards and Kerriann McCran for their incredible support for our pilot study.

Edward May (Executive Director)

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