The three Rs for coaching learning relationships

by Jan Robertson


In this short and article Dr Jan Robertson stresses the need for the “3 Rs” – reciprocity, relationships and reflection-on-reality – as the basis for professional relationships and coaching about leading.

She emphasises the need for the coach and the learning leader to interact, and for the learner to take responsibility and ownership of the process. She provides practical advice on how to achieve this.

For the coach it can be quite a change around – from a transmission model (telling all you know) to ako (the interaction of teaching and learning). Robertson compares the ako approach with the positive development of student-teacher relationships which she advocates as well.

She then looks at the skills coaches can use to assist with building genuinely reciprocal relationships that take the learning leader forward: listening, reflective questioning, self assessment, goal setting, and feedback. Using these skills, Robertson argues, develops a peer coaching climate in schools and leads to a professional learning culture in which particular norms develop that are useful for everyone in the school. She suggests that such a professional culture among teachers has benefits for the development of positive student-teacher relationships.

Coaching relationships as she describes them here are ongoing and she concludes the article with listing ten principles that underpin their development and sustainability. These principles form the basis of an approach that influences the learning culture of the whole school (leaders, staff, students, parents and the outside culture of the school).

Schools can do this for and by themselves, over time, and build a strong reciprocal, reflective practice, based on trusting relationships.

Reflective questions

These reflective questions might guide you in your reading of this article:

  • Jan Robertson’s article reinforces the message from the BES Leadership research on the importance of relational trust among leaders and teachers in a school. How do you and your teachers develop and maintain the level of relational trust which underpins all the professional learning opportunities that occur in the school?
  • Share this reading with those who are involved in coaching other teachers in becoming school leaders. Go through the five skills that Robertson suggests coaches use. What changes would these five skills make to their approach and how would they make a difference to the leaders’ culture in the school?
  • With your leadership team look at the ten principles she suggests underpin the coaching approach. In what ways would they make a difference to your school? Over time implement the ones you decide would make most difference in your school, through the various parts of its community.


Robertson, J. (2008). The 3 Rs for coaching learning relationships. Policy and Practice. PDT. Added with permission of the author.

Tags: Coaching

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