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Bringing your project to life through Solution Focused Coaching


It’s really difficult to deliver a successful teaching and learning project that produces improvements in quality and performance. There are just so many ways to fail:

  • the plan looks exciting but not enough activity follows it;
  • the working group who run the project are not embedded at all levels of the organisation so can’t deliver the change;
  • the project plan is big on ambition and low on time and resource allocated.

At the outset, many project teams make the simple mistake of not working out the answer to these fundamental questions:

  1. How is our project going to be driven forward at team level?
  2. Who is going to do this, when and how?

So why do we need Solution Focused Coaches?

Solution Focused Coaches can help your teaching and learning project get off the ground, maintain momentum and achieve its outcomes. They can play a key role in engaging staff with the work and keeping them focused throughout the project lifecycle. They can become the main force at staff level for driving the project forward as they help the staff to translate the big vision of the project into a personal action plan in their own area. The coaches bring the project to life with the staff.

So what do Solution Focused Coaches do?

  • Develop the reflective skills of the staff through coaching conversations.
  • Keep people focused on finding solutions to issues as opposed to bewailing problems and barriers.
  • Encourage peer coaching and collaboration so that people identify useful next steps for themselves.
  • Build confidence by helping people identify their own skills, resources and achievements, enabling them to build on them.
  • Stay on the coaching end of the coaching/mentoring spectrum – avoiding the temptation to direct people or impart advice and instead helping the teacher think through to their own solutions.
  • Maintain the momentum of the project by keeping people on track with their action plans.
  • Develop communities of professional dialogue in which good practice is shared.
  • Act as a point of contact for the project leader for communications and administration such as evaluation.

Where can I get Solution Focused Coaches?

The great thing is that you can develop a team of Solution Focused Coaches inside your organisation quite rapidly for little cost. The core principles, activities and questioning skills can be passed on over a few days of training and the coaches can deploy these immediately in coaching conversations with individuals and groups.


At LSN, the training focuses on a mixture of practical exercises and reflective debrief slots so that people experience coaching both as coachee and as coach at different points. Attendees see the value and applications of this immediately:

I really benefited from the chance to practise and be coached on my coaching. Very useful techniques were explored.

Role playing specific issues being encountered in my own experiences was useful.

Focused my attention on what I need to do (and haven't been doing)

It was very useful to talk to someone out of my direct organisation and to be open and honest about the experimentation and facilitation process. Enabled me to take the time to be reflective which doesn’t always happen during the working day.

Training can be delivered in house for groups of up to twenty five people, making it more cost effective than sending individuals to courses off-site, and allowing you to tailor the training to your project and context.

For more information on this, please contact me on:

T: 020 7492 5391
M: 07920 291 383

How does SFC work in a teaching and learning project such as Supported Experiments?

Many colleges are using the Supported Experiments action research cycle as the basis of projects for teaching and learning improvement.  For information on this, please click here.

I will take this model as an example to show how SFC can play a significant role in any teaching and learning project.

In a Supported Experiments project, Solution Focused Coaches can:

  • Coach people in their own subject area, where they have prior knowledge of team members and an understanding of certain issues OR coach in a different team, where they have no assumptions and can develop their coaching skills alongside their knowledge of another subject area.
  • Lead group meetings in which peer coaching conversations take place about the experiments. In these, teachers share experiences and help each other identify useful next steps to move their experiments forward. The coach acts as facilitator, drawing out reflections and co-ordinating group work and plenary slots.
  • Work 1:1 with teachers to refine steps for action plans and review progress. Solution focused questioning is used to prompt deeper reflection and ownership of the plan. This can be particularly useful for engaging part time staff who may not be able to attend group meetings.
  • Identify common issues arising in experiments and in coaching in order to share these with the coaching team and project leader. This enables the project team to respond appropriately and keep the project on track.
  • Support the planning and preparation process for the dissemination of practice at the end of the experiments cycle, to ensure that relevant case studies, video clips and resources are captured for use in the future.  In some projects, these outcomes are not captured effectively so the benefits of the work are not realised. With SF coaches in place you have a mechanism to deliver this.

From this short list it should be evident that SFC can play a vital role in a project, be it Supported Experiments or one related to any other theme. To a large extent, the coaches make it happen. Without them, it is a challenge to engage staff and keep them focused. With the best will in the world, many experiments die a death due to the pressures of everyday work in the education sector and the coaches are the mechanism for keeping the work on the agenda and fresh in the minds of staff.  This is recognised by the staff who are being coached:

She was a very supportive coach and each time her guidance enabled me to have a clearer vision of how to move my supported experiment forward

They were really encouraging; reminding us of deadlines, feeding back on experiment ideas, focusing our experiments, helping us with time management and team building

The coaches have been motivating and patient and helped create the ideal environment for sharing ideas, giving and getting feedback

They also act as a vital point of contact for the project team. It is often difficult to take the temperature of the project at team level due to a lack of detailed information available but the coaches are well placed to raise issues and report on good news stories to the project team.

What are the additional benefits of developing a SFC group?

There is an added bonus here. The teachers who attend the training and try out the coaching skills, also mention the direct applications to other areas of their work. The skills are transferrable, as these quotes from coaches at different colleges show:

I can still recall most of the tools used in the SFC sessions because they had such an impact on me as a facilitator and as a teacher. They were very useful in motivating and supporting staff during the Supported Experiment sessions. I still often refer to the Solution Circle Team Coaching Model.

It’s been an empowering experience which has developed me as a person, a coach and a manager and it has been an opportunity to give staff renewed enthusiasm for teaching and learning.

I have learned some good new approaches to managing difficulty, negativity and opposition in a constructive way. I have found benefits in taking some of the 'solution focused' techniques and applying them into general management situations within my department.

When you train up a group of SF coaches, you are enhancing coaching capacity in your organisation as these people will be well placed later to coach people in different capacities, e.g. developmental coaching, performance coaching or as part of a support package for new staff. This training also enhances the knowledge and skill set of those who have participated in other coaching initiatives such as the Subject Learning Coach or Advanced Learning Coach programme. In some cases, their deployment into a role coaching on a project is the first time they will have been used in a structured, productive way, as many colleges have failed to utilise these staff effectively in the past. To sum up, with Solution Focused Coaching in place, you can deliver effective projects and develop a coaching framework that supports a wide range of quality improvement processes.

Written by Joanne Miles, Managing Consultant, Development Services Team, LSN

I’m currently working with over 20 UK colleges to increase their coaching capacity. If you want to discuss any of the points raised here or talk about support or training for your organisation, please leave a comment and/or contact me on:

T: 020 7492 5391
M: 07920 291 383

Follow me and LSN on twitter

If you’d like more information on delivering successful projects using project management skills, please click here.


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