Bringing a Research Lens to our Work

Coaching as a practice in education draws on a range of theoretical perspectives, principles and frameworks. At GCI we in particular draw on concepts from Solution Focus, Appreciative Inquiry and Positive Psychology (Adams, 2016).

But what of research literature that might provide a helpful lens on the impact of coaching and the ‘how’ of coaching? As coaching practitioners and advocates, many of us have a wealth of qualitative ‘evidence’ of our impact on those with whom we have the privilege to work. We also know that when we facilitate our coaching training programs for educators around the world, the thinking frameworks and skills being espoused resonate strongly with them in their professional contexts. However, much of this ‘evidence’ is based on practice and, although often deeply felt and tangibly experienced, doesn’t constitute empirical research evidence.

The good news is that this is changing and that there is an ever-growing interest in developing our theoretical understanding of coaching across the wide range of contexts in which it is applied. A recent systematic review of research on executive, leadership and business coaching sought to assess the current empirical evidence for the effectiveness of coaching and the mechanisms underlying it (Grover & Furnham, 2016). The authors found that coaching is an effective tool that benefits organisations and they point to several key factors that contribute to its effectiveness. However, they also highlight the need for further research in our rapidly growing field. This paper was a typically dense academic report (be warned) but nonetheless it provides a range of perspectives and insights into both the nature of coaching itself and some of the research undertaken to date. Much of this may apply equally to applications in an educational context and I was particularly taken with the notion of “moderators and mediators” of effectiveness of coaching and what the “active ingredients” of successful coaching might be. 

Another piece of academic literature to challenge my own thinking recently was covered in a short article here. The article reports the key points of a study of the Effect of Teacher Coaching on Instruction and Achievement (Kraft, Blazar & Hogan, 2016). This study claims that coaching is a “promising alternative to traditional models of professional development”. This time the authors have reviewed empirical literature on teacher coaching and conducted a meta-analyses to estimate effect of coaching on teachers’ instructional practice and students’ academic achievement. There may be points to contest in this piece, as is the case with most educational research, but again, it provides a helpful lens to sit alongside our own autobiographical (Brookfield, 1995) perspectives and those of our colleagues, coachees and students.

GCI last year launched the first iteration of the Coaching in Education Industry Survey which we hope can become a long-term initiative to provide an annual snapshot of what’s going on in coaching in the education sector. This first attempt has gathered some useful data around key themes:

  • Experience of being coached
  • Experience coaching others
  • Coaching training
  • Coaching culture
  • Coaching implementation
  • Evaluation of coaching effectiveness

It should be noted that this exercise has limitations and is not research in the academic sense. However, the results do provide an important lens on our work and raise questions that may help frame further research questions around important issues for our emerging field. We are very grateful to the 643 respondents who took the time to complete the survey. All our survey results can be found here.


  • Adams, M. (2016). Coaching psychology in schools: enhancing performance, development and wellbeing. London: Routledge.
  • Brookfield, S. D. (1995). Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Grover, S., Furnham, A. (2016). Coaching as a Developmental Intervention in Organisations: A Systematic Review of Its Effectiveness and the Mechanisms Underlying It. PLoS ONE 11(7): e0159137.
  • Kraft, M.A., Blazar, D., Hogan, D. (2016). The effect of teaching coaching on instruction and achievement: A meta-analysis of the causal evidence. Brown University Working Paper.