Learning Talk

Creating a professional development culture based on coaching

The British School Muscat has made a radical break from conventional PD and evaluation systems, which have beeen replaced by a framework based on coaching. Principal Kai Vacher reports on the dividend.

New coaching programme

We devised ‘Learning Talk’ as a coaching programme to support the professional growth of all our colleagues. Previously, our performance development (PD) process relied on graded lesson observations to evaluate teachers. In creating Learning Talk, we’ve abandoned these and redesigned the PD process around coaching conversations. Evidence soon emerged that Learning Talk is better fulfilling the development needs of our staff and is the step-change we needed to create a meaningful coaching culture across our school community.

 The need for change

At British School Muscat we undertake annual staff surveys. From 2018 to 2021 there was one consistent message: our PD system was not supporting the professional growth of our colleagues. Staff demanded much more in order to teach better, to carry out their support roles more effectively, and to lead with greater confidence and impact. Some additional research into the factors that promote professional growth also identified two crucial two aspects:

Firstly, judging teachers through lesson observations and grading wasn’t growing talent and needed to be abandoned. Evaluating teachers like this was neither reliable nor valid, with no convincing evidence proving otherwise.

Secondly, when it came to redesigning a PD system with the explicit aim of supporting professional growth, a substantial body of evidence identified coaching at its heart.

 Coaching is the heart of Learning Talk

I was unconvinced that coaching could be a catalyst for professional growth until the pressures of the COVID pandemic had rendered one of my most successful teams dysfunctional. Searching for solutions to get this team back on track, I arranged some team coaching. Six weeks and three sessions later, this team re-discovered its direction and became high performing. I witnessed, first hand, the power of coaching to realise human potential.

How Learning Talk works

Through Learning Talk, we aim to create a culture where:

‘Every teacher believes they can improve, not because they are not good enough but because they can be even better.’

(Professor Dylan Wiliam)

All members of staff, supported by their line manager, set three goals for development for the year. For teachers, the focus of one goal is on improving classroom pedagogy. The second goal relates to the work of their team; with the third being a contribution to a whole school development objective. The staff member remains accountable to their line manager for achieving their three goals.

Previously, teachers were formally observed and graded at least twice a year by their line manager and/or a senior staff member. This has been replaced by Learning Talk conversations with a coaching partner throughout the year. Every member of staff is allocated a coaching partner to support their coachee to achieve their three goals, and more if they can.

Growing our coaching team

BSM is the first school in the world to receive the Fundamental Coaching Culture Award from Persyou.

All our coaching partners have had coaching skills training, based on the ICF core competencies. Since 2021 Nicholas Mckie has introduced 65 members of staff to coaching skills. A further 15 are currently in training.

To ensure that all colleagues have time for their Learning Talk coaching sessions, specific allocations  are made in the annual meeting cycle for at least 3 yearly Learning Talk conversations. Additionally,  one team meeting and one whole school meeting are scheduled in the second half of the school year  for colleagues to share emerging practice from Learning Talk.

The Learning Talk coaching conversations are based on a situational model of coaching; mostly non-directive, where the coach only offers advice if invited to by the coachee. This a reciprocal relationship, where conversations are confidential, supportive and non judgemental, and framed in a way to support colleagues achieve their goals.

Balancing accountability and autonomy 

Choice and autonomy are encouraged in Learning Talk. For example, staff should feel comfortable but not overly familiar with their coach; they can have some say about who their coach is. To ensure that colleagues feel responsible for their goals they are given autonomy to set these goals. A teacher may also request that their coach and/or other colleagues team teach, or observe or support a particular lesson.The key difference in Learning Talk is that the teacher is in control of this observation process, should they choose to use it.


British School Muscat’s coaching culture encourages staff and students to work hard to be the best they can be, embracing the school’s motto #EveryoneCan.

Impact and the next Steps

We compared the response to the question “Does the performance development process help me to improve my work?” in our 2021/22 staff survey. The percentage of colleagues who responded positively rose from 57% to 69% in Primary School and from 30% to 65% in Senior School. One colleague offers some useful reflections here:

“Learning Talk helped me to think about how to grow the metacognitive talk of my students. It was so helpful to discuss my plan with another colleague in a supportive, non-judgemental way.”

Furthermore, during our BSO inspection in February 2023, the inspection team reported that:

A culture of coaching is evident in many aspects of the school body”


“There is an all-pervading sense of confidence amongst students, staff and parents, built on the belief that #EveryoneCan” (February 2023).

British School Muscat’s coaching culture encourages staff and students to work hard to be the best they can be, embracing the school’s motto #EveryoneCan.


Infinite possibilities?

Coaching is firmly embedded at the heart of Learning Talk as a significant mindset shift. We can balance challenge and support, accountability and autonomy, and how to stay curious longer in our interactions with each other. So how much positive energy can Learning Talk generate?

When it is working well and Learning Talk is offering the opportunity for all colleagues to have personalised and formative conversations about their own work; the answer is infinite.

Have you thought about creating a coaching culture in your school?


Kai Vacher is the Principal, British School Muscat and British School Salalah, Oman







FEATURE IMAGE: “A coaching culture is an environment that actively encourages engagement, development and learning, empowering people to grow and succeed” (Persyou.com)

All images kindly provided by British School Muscat

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