Using Coaching to Support a Positive School Culture

Rhiannon McGee

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Along with our Principal, Rebecca Cody, I have been representing our school at the Positive Schools Conferences this month. Our focus has been on Inspiring a Positive School Culture and we have been contributing to a broader conversation about the impact school context has on the wellbeing of the individuals within it. This is a necessary conversation, because no matter how significant an investment schools make in staff and student wellbeing, if the school culture and context does not support this, there will be little meaningful impact. Cultivating a positive, supportive and strengths-focused culture is therefore a priority for schools if an authentic commitment is to be made to wellbeing. The quality of our conversations plays a vital role in contributing to realisation of this vision.

A powerful framework for positive and generative conversations within a school environment is coaching. Grant (2003) defines coaching as a collaborative, solutions-focused and systematic process aimed at enhancing performance, self-directed learning and wellbeing. The goal-oriented, strengths-based process of coaching has the potential to empower staff and students so that they achieve their best. Moreover, studies of coaching in Australian school contexts indicate that coaching can enhance wellbeing, goal striving, resilience and hope in both adults and young people (Green et al, 2006; Spence & Grant, 2007; Green, Grant & Rynsaardt, 2007).

The types of goals which can be pursued as part of the coaching process can focus on professional, academic or wellbeing outcomes. Therefore, a coaching approach can support a school’s priorities in relation to wellbeing, academic achievement and staff professional learning. In the context of positive education, coaching can provide a ‘differentiated’ approach to wellbeing, supporting students and staff in the pursuit of goals which respond to their specific needs; putting the wellbeing science into practice in a meaningful and relevant way.

There are a range of entry points for schools wishing to introduce coaching. At GGS, we have a team of staff who have elected to undertake coaching training with Growth Coaching International. This team provides coaching for staff who elect to engage with the process. They are also introducing coaching practices into our broader pastoral care, careers and positive education programs. Alternatively, schools may choose to take a more systemic approach to coaching; encompassing leadership coaching, coaching for staff and students, as well as training students as coaches. Coaching can also be integrated into processes which are already in place – such as annual review processes and graduate teacher programs.

Almost anyone can be a coach with the right training and the coaching relationship does not need to be one which reinforces typical hierarchies within the school. Because of this, coaching has the potential to contribute to the development of positive relationships between staff and students, which instil self-efficacy in both coaches and coachees. Most importantly, learning to be a coach emphasises the value of active listening and asking powerful questions; rather than advising or mentoring, which school leaders and teachers are so used to doing. Therefore, learning to be a coach can enhance one’s professional practice.

Finally, equipping students with coaching skills complements a 21st century education, emphasising skills over knowledge and preparing students for jobs which do not yet exist. By learning and practising coaching, students have the potential to enhance their communication skills and emotional intelligence, as well as to learn how to set meaningful goals (Van Niewerburgh & Tong, 2013). Coaching is a transferrable skill that students can take with them into their future workplaces. Therefore, it is worth considering how to provide students with this opportunity as part of a broader approach to coaching within the school context.

As with any initiative, it is so important to assess the needs of your school and start with a firm commitment to staff professional learning. This learning then provides the insight into what will work best in your specific school environment. For any school committed to ongoing improvement and cultural change, a coaching approach has the potential to support and enhance whole-school strategic aims as well as the performance and wellbeing of the individuals within that community.


Grant. A.M. (2003). The impact of life coaching on goal attainment, metacognition and mental health. Social Behaviour and Personality, 31: 253-264.

Green, L.S., Oades, L.G., & Grant, A.M., (2006). Cognitive-behavioural, solutions-focused life coaching: Enhancing goal striving, well-being and hope. The Journal of Positive Psychology 1, 142-149.

Green, L.S., Grant, A.M., & Rysenaardt, J. (2010). Developmental coaching for high school teachers: executive coaching goes to school. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice & Research, 62(3): 151-168.

Spence, G.B., & Grant, A.M (2007). Professional peer life coaching and the enhancement of goal striving and well-being: An exploratory study. Journal of Positive Psychology:2 185-194.

Van Nieuwerburgh, C. (2012). Coaching in education. London: Karnac Books.

Christian van Nieuwerburgh & Chloé Tong (2013) Exploring the benefits of being a student coach in educational settings: a mixed-method study, Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 6:1, 5-24.

Rhiannon McGee

Rhiannon McGee is the Head of Positive Education at GGS, leading the School’s wellbeing program across four campuses. She is passionate about the promotion of community wellbeing and this has motivated her to complete the Masters of Education (Student Wellbeing), and the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology.