Nhulunbuy High School, NT

article image

School context

Nhulunbuy High School is a comprehensive high school based in a remote town on the Gove Peninsula of East Arnhem Land, NT. It caters for a wide range of students in Years 7-12, with a variety of cultural and language backgrounds. Thirty percent of students are Indigenous, and many of these students, as well as others, have English as a Second Language. The current enrolment of 230 students, includes 45 in Year 10, 34 in Year 11 and 16 students in Year 12. Pathways are offered to students through provision of the Australian Curriculum, to enable students to achieve the Northern Territory Certificate of Education and Training. As a Registered Training Organisation, the School delivers a range of Vocational Education and Training Certificates, which are nationally recognised, and which contribute toward the NTCET.

Coaching at Nhulunbuy High School

In the last four years, many staff have undertaken coaching training, including all members of the Leadership team who have undertaken training with Growth Coaching International. Coaching is an identified strategy to support the school’s continuous improvement agenda, and we see it as an essential part of our work with students and staff members at Nhulunbuy High School. All staff have an identified performance and development manager from the Leadership team. Using the growth model, staff work towards setting and achieving goals as part of a yearly development cycle. This is an embedded process within our school.

In 2015, we used our knowledge and skills in coaching to develop a ‘snapshot’ system, to formalise our coaching opportunities with students in Year 12. This has since expanded to include coaching for all Year 11 students as well.

There are multiple goals for the snapshot system:

  • To better track students throughout the school term, between the usual reporting cycle times, and therefore early identification of issues
  • To develop student ownership of their academic achievement and growth
  • To formalise the process of goal setting by students in Senior School
  • To provide opportunities for the Senior Teacher and Careers Advisor to build relationships with students

Snapshots are a summary of student achievement and progress that are collated in Week 5 of each term. The Senior Teacher collates feedback from teachers about individual students, which includes whether work is up to date, grades based on submitted work, and relevant comments on effort. Snapshots are colour coded by the Senior Teacher, where green is acceptable progress, orange suggests that there are some concerning signs, and red indicates that intervention is required. Below is an example snapshot.

Students are then interviewed individually by either the Senior Teacher or Careers Advisor. This interview takes the form of a coaching-style conversation, where students identify areas for improvement and set goals. The GROWTH model is used to ensure that students set appropriate goals, consider options for achieving them, and commit to tactics in order to achieve success. While the conversation is based around the GROWTH model, aspects of mentoring are continually interwoven within conversations. In many cases, we are able to talk from experience about strategies that have worked for other students in the past, and provide information about support networks that are available to them at school. In addition, as we have built relationships with each individual student over time, we know them well, and as such are able to guide them to identify strategies appropriate to their needs.

Goals are recorded, along with suggestions on how progress will be measured and a timeframe for achievement. Progress towards goals are discussed at the next snapshot meeting in the following term.

Initial implementation

The snapshots were initially designed and collated by the Senior Teacher, who then worked with Senior Leadership and the Careers Advisor to implement the process. A modified version of the snapshot had previously been used in Middle Years to track student achievement using A-E grades and merit awards, however this did not involve a coaching aspect. We also found that this data did not provide enough detailed feedback for students to identify and formulate goals for improvement.

Sustainability of snapshot system

At this stage, the snapshot program is sustained through actions of a small number of staff members. Senior Leadership as well as the Senior Teacher and Careers Advisor have prioritised time available for the snapshot meetings, which has enabled them to continue. Work over the next year will ensure that the program is sustainable by streamlining the collation process using a database such as GradeXpert, and consideration of more efficient implementation of the coaching conversations. Coaching conversations take time and as such must be resourced within school structures. Data obtained from teachers and students provides evidence for the importance of this system to effectively track students, and as such, it will continue to have priority in the Senior School.

Recommendation for implementation in other schools

We feel strongly that the snapshot system works because of the underlying strong relationship between the coach and the student, facilitated largely though coaching and mentoring. This ensures a level of trust and respect from the students, consequently resulting in their engagement in the process, and enhances their commitment to achieving their learning goals. We have found that students are much more honest when the staff members coaching them have this relationship; they are much more honest and realistic about their goal setting and identification of options and tactics. To some degree this relationship is possible because we are a small school, in which relationships with students are sustained over years of teaching and learning. In larger schools, leaders would need to consider the time input on behalf of the coaches, and develop a plan that could be effectively implemented in their context.

Note of caution

Implementation of the snapshots successfully requires a significant time commitment to ensure that coaching conversations with students based on the snapshot data are effective. Additionally, the quality of coaching conversations requires appropriate training and ongoing reflective practice. While this is challenging, the conversations are the key component of the process that ensure actions and success.


Dr Heather Waugh teaches Science to many of the students at NHS, in their senior years. As Senior Teacher of the Senior School, Heather works with all students in Years 10-12 to plan pathways and ensure their success in the Northern Territory Certificate of Education and Training.

As Principal Sabina Smith is responsible for development, growth and achievement of all students at Nhulunbuy High School.