‘Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters …’ Margaret Wheatley
Conversations are taking place all over Geelong Grammar School! In itself, this statement seems unremarkable, but in 2021 the new role of learning coach was introduced and with it a powerful new conversation tool that supports learners to identify and pursue the individual targets that matter to them. Learning coaches are teachers who meet regularly with a group of 15 students from the same year level. Extending across the secondary program at Corio Campus (years 7 and 8, and 10 to 12), there are 53 coaches across the school, all of whom are in the process of completing training to develop key coaching skills with the specific aim of increasing student wellbeing and performance.
What is coaching?
In a coaching relationship, the coach and the learner (or coachee) engage in one-to-one conversation that is goal-oriented and solutions-focused. Coaching is different to mentoring because it does not involve the transferring of skills and knowledge from one more experienced person to another, or role modelling a desired behaviour. Mentoring is vital, and at GGS our house mentors fill the important role of first responders to pastoral and learning needs. By contrast, the learning coach supports their coachee to be actively responsible for their own personal development in a holistic sense.
Director of Student Engagement and Experience, Rhiannon McGee, explains that coaching fits naturally within our school’s pillar of Positive Education: “Positive psychology and coaching complement each other, but where Positive Education explores broad concepts such as the benefits of gratitude for wellbeing, coaching is a more individual approach with specific goals and targets identified and worked towards.”
Essentially, coaching means asking the right questions to enable an individual to self-regulate their learning and development.
How does coaching work at GGS?
The approximately 15 students in each coaching group come from different school Houses, promoting peer-to-peer connections within a co-educational context outside of the house setting. Each group is therefore a diverse mix of genders and personalities, providing an authentic environment in which to promote respectful relationships and engage in meaningful conversations.
A curriculum framework supports the delivery of a learning program which takes place over six timetabled periods per fortnight, one of which is allocated to the community-building activity of school assembly. The curriculum is delivered by the learning coaches, as well as external learning facilitators who have been engaged to share their expertise in areas such as drug and alcohol awareness or developing good study habits.
What is the coaching approach at GGS?
Two specific programs have been developed to support the coaching approach across the secondary years. In Middle School, years 7 and 8 students undertake the Navigate program.
The focus during these younger years is on skills for learning and personal wellbeing, as well as understanding what it means to belong to a community. The learning coach facilitates self-directed learning experiences which might be lifting a grade in maths, or auditioning for the school musical.
In Senior School, the Pathways program supports students to make purposeful choices by focusing on skills for learning and personal wellbeing, as well as career and tertiary pathways, and service. In these crucial final years of schooling, the learning coach plays a vital role in enabling students to care for their mental health, become socially and culturally aware, think strategically and, importantly, understand the value of community service. This includes a specific focus on leadership skills, which is especially targeted at Year 11 students as they prepare to become school and house leaders in Year 12.
Continuing the conversation
The coaching program at GGS supports student learners to develop self-efficacy and autonomy as they progress on their school journey. With growing self-confidence comes improved academic performance, increased emotional intelligence and enhanced resilience, all of which provides the sense of hopefulness that is so essential to shaping a complex and changing world. The conversation starts at school … but where it goes next is what really matters.