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Beyond performance: Increasing teacher capabilities through a distributed leadership coaching model

Babatunde Taiwo Ojewunmi, Head of Department and Coach at Forest School

When academics talk about coaching in schools, often the focus is on teachers’ and pupils’ performance (Knight, 2007; Bresser & Wilson, 2010). While there are laudable achievements of peer coaching in learning communities, I modelled how distributed leadership coaching (DLC) can be employed in its broader sense in my National Professional Qualification for Senior Leadership (NPQSL) school improvement project at a London inner city school. This blog post highlights how distributed leadership coaching may have contributed to staff capabilities, pupils’ metacognition, and efficient school operation management in the UK.

DLC represents a culture shift from a top–down hierarchical authority model to a more lateral teacher autonomy model (DfES, 2003) where teachers (or coachees) are empowered by a colleague (a coach) to lead and contribute towards aspects of the whole-school priorities in a manner that is distinguishable from a mere delegation of tasks. This approach highlights questioning, discussion and inquiry as fundamental components of the learning process for the coachees. My NPQSL project addressed a new school’s priority to having a whole-school consistent approach to aligning students’ attainment targets with students’ learning outcomes in lessons, and I evaluated the intended and unintended benefits of coaching from the teachers’ and students’ perspectives. In the process, I trained teachers and developed staff capacity to align students’ attainment targets with learning outcomes consistently.

This new school’s priority has changed staff development needs, specifically towards inter-departmental collaborative relationships. This change is necessary to facilitate collaboration in teachers’ professional development. The intervention was designed to improve the metacognition development of students in a school setting. I conducted training sessions for teachers independent of the school leadership team (SLT) through three coaching levels.

At the first level (questioning), I had a general focus on pupils’ learning; this allowed me to prompt coachees through questioning to recall lesson elements and focus the response on the lesson activities. The second level (questioning and discussion) enabled me to ask coachees to consider the impact of their teaching on pupils’ learning; the coachees then justified the learning outcomes by clarifying learning intent. The third level (questioning, discussion and inquiry) allowed me to focus on pupils’ progress and how coachees assessed and guided pupils to develop metacognitive skills. The coachees focused on how pupils used learning objectives (learning intentions) and learning outcomes (success criteria) to evaluate their progress in the lesson. The coaching training programme ensured that teachers had a clear and consistent approach to aligning students’ attainment targets with their learning outcomes (Lofthouse et al., 2010). After the coaching sessions, pupils practised the metacognitive strategies taught by their teachers, and the effectiveness of the intervention was evaluated. The evaluation aimed to measure the impact of the coaching sessions on pupils’ metacognition development, which was supported by the teachers who received coaching.

‘The coaching training programme ensured that teachers had a clear and consistent approach to aligning students’ attainment targets with their learning outcomes.’

I felt a sense of achievement every time I helped my colleagues develop their questioning, discussion and inquiry approach to learning during our coaching sessions. This approach enabled us to engage in meaningful dialogue and jointly review the lesson outcomes. As a coach, the coachees were comfortable with me visiting lessons to help without the involvement of the SLT because the approach was non-hierarchical and supported the students. Students could take responsibility for their learning by evaluating progress against the success criteria as learning progresses. Through my observation, I noticed that coachees’ and students’ confidence significantly improved as students engaged in at least two lessons utilising metacognitive strategies as part of the intervention.

The findings did not indicate a need to support students’ motivation and engagement, as the coachees explicitly taught metacognitive strategies. Instead, I found increased confidence in the coachees and students’ understanding of learning objectives and outcomes.

Implementing a distributed leadership coaching approach for professional development requires patience, trust and investment in developing the staff’s professional capital. The intervention focused on collaborative metacognition development through coaching, teacher support and pupil practice. The approach improved metacognitive abilities and better student progress (Howlett et al., 2021), contributing to efficient school operation management.


Bresser, F., & Wilson, C. (2010). What is coaching? In J. Passmore (Ed.), Excellence in coaching: The industry guide (2nd ed.). Association for Coaching.

Department for Education and Skills [DfES]. (2003). Sustaining improvement: A suite of modules on coaching, running networks and building capacity.

Howlett, M. A., McWilliams, M. A., Rademacher, K., O’Neill, J. C., Maitland, T. L., Abels, K., Demetriou, C., & Panter, A. T. (2021). Investigating the effects of academic coaching on college students’ metacognition. Innovative Higher Education, 46, 189–204.

Knight, J. (2007). Instructional coaching: A partnership approach to improving instruction. Corwin Press.

Lofthouse, R., Leat, D., & Towler, C. (2010). Improving teacher coaching in schools: A practical guide. CfBT Education Trust.