Olivia O'Connor (Deputy Headteacher), Hillside Junior School

Transformative Coaching System Impacts Every Aspect of School Improvement

The "new, improved way of coaching" for schools!

Deputy Head Olivia shares how this “new, improved” version of coaching helped her SLT grow stronger, save time and achieve their school improvement goals. What’s more, they empowered staff and improved pupil outcomes – whilst also improving staff wellbeing.

She describes the differences between the Coachinginschools system and NPQH ‘coaching’ – which she says is actually ‘mentoring’ – and the old/basic GROW coaching model. She feels the Coaching in schools model is more direct, time efficient, and manageable. 

What’s more, it produces a positive outcome with clear, tangible impact.

Amongst other things, Olivia and her colleagues used our unique coaching method to improve reading, boost staff confidence.

They also used it to help with ‘Developing middle leaders’. This is a real challenge many primary schools at the moment, because they’re expected to lead subjects as if they’re specialists, but without always having the specialist expertise!

Olivia and her SLT are extremely grateful for the support they received from Coachinginschools throughout the programme.

She sums up the unique Coaching in Schools training as: Powerful, interesting, and manageable – and says it’s been “Transformative”.

>> See exactly what Olivia and her SLT learnt here… (Opens in new tab or window)

Interview Transcript


My name’s Olivia O’Connor.


I am the Deputy Headteacher at Hillside Junior School, which is a two form entry junior school in Hillingdon, which is on the outside of London.


It is a diverse community. We’ve got about above average for ‘pupil premium’ for English as an additional language. We’ve got a really tight-knit community, with both staff and children, with low staff turnover.


And it’s a lovely school.



Aw, that’s brilliant!


And what experience did you and your school have of coaching before you trained with us, Olivia?



So, when I first came to the school – it was about six years ago – and the local authority ran a coaching programme, and we spent a day learning the GROW model. And there was more training available to us, but it meant everybody had to leave class to go to the training. This is pre-COVID days where all the training was in person. But it didn’t really take hold because we didn’t get to practise.


And there wasn’t the resources to go back and review.


Everything was on paper, and written, and you had to go and read things! And, it wasn’t seen as like a ‘whole school’ initiative.






So for those reasons, I don’t think it really took hold. Although the training was good,

and it was interesting, and worthy, it didn’t have the impact that we hoped that it was going to have.




So what reservations did you have before buying into our training then?



Well, we knew that we wanted to, we wanted a coaching model.

We knew that we wanted to do it, but we were very worried that the same mistakes were going to be repeated again.






So we looked at quite a few companies. And again, we were looking at lots of companies selling the GROW model, and weeks and months of training, without actually beginning to start to practise. So we were worried about that.


But then we came across – well, my Headteacher came across your book, first of all.

And once – I bought a copy as well.


And once we started reading this, we thought, actually this might be coaching, but a different, new improved version.


So we thought this is – this would be better – have a better impact, and actually be more attainable for everyone to get involved.



Mm. Brilliant!


So what made you finally make that decision then to get involved and do our programme?



So there were, there were a couple of things.


So we read, we finished reading the book, and we had a chat about it in SLT.


And then we watched one of your videos on your website.


And then we had – I don’t know if you remember – it was a long time ago, but we had that initial meeting.



We did!



And then, that meeting meant that we could ask you all the questions that we wanted to, before we made that final commitment.


So we’ve got, yes, we knew that we needed to develop our staff.


We needed to make them more accountable, and improve pupil outcomes.


And we saw coaching as the way to achieve that.


And then we narrowed it down to you, and you were able to answer our questions.


And we knew that it was… we looked at the training and we thought, actually, all of the members of SLT thought, “We can do this. This is achievable!”


But not only SLT.


Actually every member of staff could have a really good go at this and be successful.


And wouldn’t that be great to eventually have the whole of the staff trained.


And we’re not there yet, but that’s where we heading.



You’re getting there bit by bit, aren’t you?






So, you know, and that’s brilliant, because it’s so important just to build that ‘coaching culture’ over time – as you know.


And I know that you’ve got that strategic plan in place – that you’re doing it – and gradually getting there!


So, so far, Olivia, how has using the ‘Coachinginschools system’ made your job and your life easier?



It’s made my, my life easier because I’m using it at home.






It’s working really well on my teenagers.


But really importantly, it’s making my job easier.


It’s making challenging conversations easier, having more impact, being more direct.


But also it’s making all members of staff really accountable for their actions – and empowering them.


And, now that they are – not that they weren’t to begin with – but now that they are more empowered, we’re seeing them take risks, try new things, investigate different means of research.


They come with new ideas – and that is really helping me.


So, I currently, I lead on inclusion and I lead on curriculum, which is a really full plate.


And,curriculum is new, and that – the coaching has really helped me get a grip on that.


‘Developing middle leaders’ is probably a theme that’s really current in all primary

schools at the moment, because we’ve got to lead subjects as if we were specialists.


And in a primary forum, you don’t always have a DT specialist and an art specialist.


They are becoming specialists.


And I am enabling that through the coaching.



That is brilliant. That is really, really good.


And it leads us nicely onto the next thing I wanted to ask you about, because I want you to think about the impact of your coaching that you’ve done – using the Coachinginschools system.


So think about the impact of that on another member of staff, and just talk me through, what was the person and the situation like before you began using it?
– And then, what they’re like now?
So it’s like the ‘before’ and ‘after’ – give us the contrast.


So before we had someone who was really dedicated to their job.

They, you could really see their ‘why’ – why they were in the school.


New to leading reading, and been teaching for five years.


So someone who was confident in the classroom, but not so confident leading

a subject.


Unfortunately, it was someone who I made very nervous.


I only found that out through discussions with other members of SLT, but, I know that I made her nervous.


And I thought, “wouldn’t it be good if this coaching could help us overcome all of these things?”


…So get rid of the nerves, which will enable her to grow.

And I can support her, and develop her, in her leading the subject, and that will help our pupils.


You know – it’s a magic recipe, let’s go!


So that was before.


The ‘after’ now is: we have someone who’s confident in leading their subject. Confident they may not know everything,but they will go and find out if they don’t know, they will go and look at research.


We have excellent conversations now about books that we’ve read about leading reading.


They have achieved their action plan from September, which wasn’t supposed to be

achieved until the end of this term.


So they’ve still got six weeks to go, and it’s all done!


And they’re now thinking about, “Oh, what should I do next?”


And that is through two rounds of coaching.






And almost, I think that that person will come back eventually for another round of coaching to get them started.


But what she said was that, “having done two rounds of coaching, I can almost coach myself, because I know what it’s likely that you would’ve said.


As soon as I come up with this idea, what would be some of the questions that you would ask?


And so now I’m almost coaching myself in my head!”


And she’s going through that process herself. And that is, you know, is really empowering for her, but it’s really like heart-warming for me.


And I’m almost a little bit jealous.


I wish somebody had done that for me when I’d been in my early career.


But it’s really good for her, and it’s really good for class, that she’s just so organised, and happy and content within her role.



That’s brilliant. Yeah, because it’s that wellbeing alongside it, isn’t it?


Alongside, you know, the impact on, on her role and the school.


And it – the wellbeing – is just so important, because if she’s not happy and if she’s stressed, obviously she’s not going to be performing well.


So, just knowing that person – obviously, I don’t know them – you do!

Knowing that person, what do you think the outcome would’ve been if you hadn’t coached her?



Oh, I think that would’ve been really challenging for her.

I think she would’ve been a bit lost.


Yeah. Because we know that reading is central to your curriculum. You,

you know – if children can’t read, how can they, how can they progress?


And how can they become self-driving learners?


And that’s quite a huge responsibility on somebody who’s never led reading before.


So I think she would’ve been lost, and perhaps it would’ve affected her wellbeing negatively.






Because when you are lost, you become unhappy.


Then you don’t know where to start to get yourself… And then you just end up spiralling. And I really wouldn’t want that for anyone.


And also it’s, her nerves around me are less – and that’s good – because I don’t want to make anybody nervous.


But our relationship is, is much more productive, and professional and collegiate.


So that’s fantastic. So that’s really good for her.



Absolutely! Well, well done you!


So it’s a tribute to the coaching that you’ve done – and the fact that you’ve implemented the learning that you’ve had from the training along the way.


So yeah, I’m really proud of you, Olivia.



Thank you.



Oh, it’s my pleasure!


You’ve done the hard work!


And obviously we’ve trained several of your staff as coaches now.


So how would you say the Coachinginschools system is helping you and SLT to drive the school forward?



So, every year we have, er, we review our school development plan, and we have loads of ideas and we refine them down, and we talk about our vision.


We get everybody on board.


Everyone knows what the vision is, but now I think it’s much clearer about exactly “What is your part in that? Which part are you playing to make sure that the whole of our vision comes  together?”


So things like, identifying curriculum areas that need developing, and how are they going to develop it?


It’s removed like, the woolly areas – the grey areas.


People can’t say that they’re not sure what they’re supposed to be doing, because we’ve got quality time together.


We’ve got the time for me to ask you questions, so that you can narrow down

what you think the answers are.


And I think as well, because of that, our staff feel like we believe in them.


And maybe we weren’t showing them that before.


Whereas this – this coaching model – makes them feel like we believe in them.


We know you’ve got the answers – you just need a bit of time to clarify them and get them out.


And that is really driving improvement.


So we have seen a real improvement in reading this year.


We’ve seen really good improvements in assessment – people leading assessment.


It’s made our SLT a stronger team because we’ve coached each other.






SLT as a team – as a new SLT team – have worked together to drive our school development plan.


So we are achieving our goals.


I don’t think there’s a lot on there that we haven’t achieved.


We’re ready to start looking at that and moving on now.



That’s fantastic. That’s really good.


So how does the impact compare with what you’d originally hoped for?



If I’m honest, it’s better than what I’d hoped for!






…I thought you were going to be upset with me!

Because I am a little bit of a pessimist!

And I think, you know, I reach for the moon, and hopefully I get the stars – but I’ve

always got like a backup plan just in case!




And, going into this, I was worried that everybody wasn’t going to take to it, but that didn’t happen at all.


Everybody loves it.


It’s just so flexible, and really clear, and easy to understand.


I didn’t think we’d get so many people through the programme.


And I didn’t think we’d have so many people coaching each other.


And it’s just really good.



Fantastic! That’s music to my ears!


So obviously you’re about to start your third programme when we get into September, aren’t you?






So what would you say to a Head about value for money?



Ah! I think it’s really good value for money, because you can’t value time enough.


The amount of money that we’ve probably saved.


I can’t give you the spreadsheet, but the amount of time – the amount

of time that we’ve saved!


And you can’t put a price on ‘wellbeing’.


You can’t put a price on ’empowering’.


And you can’t put a price on ‘pupil outcomes.’


And that is what this coaching programme is doing for us as a staff – but also as a community – because our pupils are benefiting from it.


Sometimes even, you know, those tricky meetings with parents, that are a bit more challenging – sometimes even the coaching questions get used in those, in those meetings.


And colleagues recognise that you’re doing it, and go, “Oh, yes!


I’m going to use that the next time I have a challenging conversation!”.




So yeah, yeah. You can’t put a price on it.


It’s really worth it!



Oh, that’s brilliant. Thanks. Because sometimes people worry about investing, don’t they?


And what they’re going to get back, and that kind of thing.


So it’s brilliant that you’ve had such a great return on investment.


Something else that people are never sure about is the online aspect.


I know you’ve already talked about how it works and things.


What was it like for you learning to coach via our online programme, Olivia?



Well, it was perfect because we started in a lockdown.


But, whether we were in a lockdown or not, it was perfect for – definitely

for us as a SLT.


For me personally, it meant that I was really flexible.


So we all agreed that we would get to certain points by dates, but that meant that I could focus on my work at school.


I’ve got a 10 year old.


I could take him home after school, and when I’ve put him to bed, I could spend half an hour doing my coaching – if that’s what I wanted to do.


Or I could do it in the morning.


Or if I had a meeting, and a parent didn’t turn up, I could do my coaching.


That flexibility is just so much better.


And I think that’s what’s been wrong with some of the models beforehand.


And the other thing is, you know, you have that big summer holiday, and our coaching bridged that summer holiday.


I could go back and look at videos and, you know, just fast forward to the bits that I thought, “Oh, I’m not really quite sure about that.” – I can go back and refer to that really quickly.


So online works!



Yeah. It’s not the boring, ‘watching paint dry’ kind of training is it?






It’s not ‘read it all and do a multi-guess thing.’


It’s interactive.


And like you said, that option to go back and just fast forward to those little bits is brilliant, isn’t it?


Because nothing goes in the first time, you know, we’re not going to retain everything.


So it’s fantastic that you used your time to do that.


So what would you say to someone who’s thinking of doing the Coachinginschools training?



I would say, “Do it!” Because you’re not going to regret it.


You’re going to get benefits at home, in your workplace.


Your pupils – which is why we’re there – are going to benefit from it indirectly.


And even some directly when children are reflecting on their behaviour – lots of those questions will help.


But I think you should just – anyone who’s thinking about it – Just do it!


Because within six months you’d be like, what did I say beforehand?


You won’t remember what you used to say.


It will just change the way you think!



Ah, that’s fantastic.


And how would you say it’s different to the coaching that people learn on other courses?



So I’m doing my NPQH at the moment.


And although they talk about ‘coaching’, they’re actually talking about ‘mentoring’

– which is different.


And, again, I’ve talked about the GROW model as well. And although it has, of course it has merit.


This is just – it’s direct.


And it’s time efficient.


And it’s manageable.


And I think those three things mean that you’re going to have a positive outcome afterwards.



Brilliant! And it’s great to be able to know that you’ve led that, and you’ve got that tangible impact in your school, you know, in so many areas.


So the big challenge, Olivia, if you were to sum up the Coachinginschools
programme in three words, what would they be?







And manageable.



Great stuff. Well, look, thank you so much.


Is there anything else that you wanted to add that we haven’t talked about today?



No, I just want to say that I’m really grateful.


And I wanted to add the thanks from the SLT team, because they knew I was coming to speak to you today.


That we’re really grateful for supporting us through the programme, and for helping us.


And, yeah – It’s been really transformative.


So thank you.


I should have used that as one of my words –




You’ve done it now. It’s there!



Yeah, but yeah, thank you very much.



Oh, thank you Olivia. It’s our absolute pleasure.


We’ve really enjoyed working with you, and, you know, continuing to do so.


So, yeah, thank you.


Thank you.