Hennessy Catholic College

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Empowering our greatest resource

Dr Peter Webster, Principal, Hennessy Catholic College
Nicole Morton, Director of Growth and Performance, Hennessy Catholic College


Hennessy Catholic College is a rural secondary college in south-western New South Wales. In 2011 the College set out on the journey to become a high performing school with the specific aim to develop its greatest resource – its staff. To achieve this aim Hennessy utilised a coaching approach to empower staff to take ownership of their goals, the options, the strategies and ultimately the outcomes of student achievement. The intervention has been enormously successful with the benefits far exceeding just the performance of students. The development of key skills such as building trust, active listening and providing constructive feedback has changed the culture at Hennessy.


In 2012 the College Executive felt that the staff was ripe for coaching. They had been exposed to the extensive research of John Hattie (2012) and the key factors that affect student performance. Our College Executive recognised that coaching was the vehicle that would transport our staff from untapped teaching potential to dynamic and reflective practitioners willing to take risks in the classroom.

The three pillars of coaching that became the foundations for change in our school community: Trust, Listening and Feedback. The initial coaching training equipped our leaders with the skills to unlock ideas inherent in our staff and to grow these ideas into reality. Key Learning Areas and Welfare teams were each provided with the benefit of two and a half days of coach training to build their leadership and coaching skills.

The success of the coaching intervention resulted in an increased levels of ownership of the coaches and ‘coachees’ of the process of change. Coaching empowered our staff, to establish goals, reflect on current practices, take risks and develop new strategies in supportive environments, evaluate the success of new strategies and develop an action plan in the implementation of new strategies.


The College received a grant under the Empowering Local Schools initiative which enabled us to engage an external training company to provide our executive and middle management with intensive professional development. This proved to be the tipping point for the successful implementation of the program. 45% of the Hennessy staff have been trained in the GROWTH model and this has significantly improved the skills and confidence of our coaches. Initially the College developed a strategic plan to engage stakeholders and to ensure the likely success of the program.

The Triads

Following the training, staff were strategically placed into triad groupings and were asked to meet on a fortnightly basis to develop and practice their coaching skills. In these triads, each staff member was required to: develop a growth plan for a specific target; to be a coach; and to provide feedback to the coach on ways to improve their coaching skills.

The Position

Perhaps the greatest influence in the success of coaching at Hennessy was the creation of the ‘Dean of Growth and Performance’ position. The role was to coordinate and facilitate the implementation of coaching at the College. This ensured that the language of coaching was embedded into the culture of the College.

Individual Meetings

The Dean of Growth and Performance met with each coach twice a term to develop professional growth plans. This was extended to Early Career Teachers and offered to all staff who wished to utilise the opportunity.

Whole Staff Professional Learning Focus

The College Principal and Executive supported the program and designated Professional Learning Days and meetings to facilitate the development of coaching amongst all staff. The Dean of Growth and Performance was the driver and led whole school professional learning in the area. Coaching became a focal point of professional learning in the College to ensure that the common language and skills were utilised, developed and embedded.

Key Learning Area (KLA) / Department Focus

KLA and WELFARE teams used their common meeting times to develop school and team goals, to reflect on the achievements of the previous semester and to empower team members to develop a range of strategies within their areas. The GROWTH model and the use of triads reinforced the requirement that goals needed to be achieved, the follow-up sessions were instrumental in keeping the staff on task and focussed on their goals.

Instructional Coaching

The next phase of Coaching at the College was a move into instructional coaching and lesson observations. Based upon the work of Jim Knight (2007) a target design survey was implemented and staff consulted on proposed targets to focus for the year. Staff consultation provided three targets based on the standards.

Classroom and lesson observations began in earnest, with progression to the use of videos. During this phase we purchased an interactive software program, that enabled us to set goals and annotate video footage of lessons between coach and coachee. This was a win-win for our school. Time is always of the essence and whilst we wanted coaching and lesson observations to be the focus, we knew that we were asking a tremendous amount from our staff ’s time to engage in this process. The IRIS program enables staff to video and annotate at convenient times. This process also enables us to collect and collate evidence for the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) standards and fulfils some of the requirements for our New Scheme Teachers in collecting evidence for their accreditation.

Professional Learning Plans

All staff at Hennessy have a Professional Learning Plan (PLP). This plan is developed in conjunction with their coach. The College has designated meeting times for staff and a member of the Executive/Middle manager to develop their PLP. The PLP’s take into account the target goals the staff have voted on (the AITSL standards as our target goals) and allows them to select two additional goals: a personal and professional goal to focus on.

Student Coaching

Coaching has been consolidated and has moved into the next phase with the introduction of student coaching. We have two models of coaching in place. The first uses coaching techniques as the basis of our Parent/Teacher/Student Conferences. Students are asked to establish goals in relation to what they would like to achieve at the start of each semester. The goal setting is in relation to what they wish to achieve, how they believe they can best achieve their goals, predicting what obstacles may prevent this from occurring and what support they believe they will need to achieve these targets. Students are then asked to look at each individual subjects that they have and set goals for what they hope to achieve in each area. Students are then asked to develop a plan outlining how they believe they can best achieve this goal for this subject, for example, seek explicit feedback from a teacher, establish a regular study revision program etc. This style of student coaching is done three times throughout the year. Students have an opportunity to reflect on their previous goals and re-evaluate some of their targets and also some of their strategies to achieve success.

The second phase that we have established is one-to-one student coaching of our Year 12 students. This is a much more personalised coaching session. Trained staff are allocated to four or five students in the year and have individual meetings with these students to map out specific goals for each student to achieve success in Year 12. The teacher meets the student on a regular basis to touch base with these students and to assist them in working towards their goals using the GROWTH model.


The use of the GROWTH model and coaching skills has been embedded successfully to transform the culture at Hennessy Catholic College. Hennessy is now heading towards being a high performing college: In the last three years:

  • The College student population has increased by 18%.
  • 47% of staff are trained as coaches.
  • All staff have a Professional Learning Plan.
  • All staff contribute to the Professional Learning Community, by undertaking an Action Research Projects.
  • All staff now belong to a Professional Learning Team.
  • All Year 12 students have a personal coach.
  • 78% HSC subjects above state average from 45%.
  • 76% students receive first round University offers from 35% – including four students gaining places into medicine.
  • Hennessy was recognised as the best performing regional Catholic school in NSW in 2011.
  • The three pillars that have become the foundations for the transformation within the Hennessy professional learning community are: Trust, Active Listening and Feedback. This has allowed Hennessy to empower its staff to be its greatest resource.


  • Hattie, J. (2012) Visible Learning for Teachers, Maximising Impact on Learning. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Knight, J.(2007) Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.