This #coachbetter episode is another in our series of coaching case studies, with one of our amazing The Coach graduates, Nicola Milward. 

These case study episodes are designed to share the story of a coach, and the development of their coaching program and practice in their unique setting. At the time of recording, Nicola was Instructional Coach at IPS Hilversum, the Netherlands and she had just graduated from The Coach Certificate & Mentorship Program. In this episode, Kim and Nicola talk about how Nicola built the coaching program at her school from scratch – starting with pitching the position of instructional coach, all the way through multiple years of implementation. They talk about what coaching looked like when it first started, how it changed over time, what challenges she faced, and her “aha’ moments in her coaching practice and in The Coach Certificate and Mentorship Program.

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Tell us about your coaching journey – where did you start, and where are you now?

From New Zealand, trained 21 years ago. First 3 years in New Zeasland. 15-ish years overseas. Last 5 as an Instructional Coach. I never know how to answer the question, “How did you become a coach?” because there’s a little bit of imposter syndrome – which I hate and don’t want to reference.

Last school in Dubai, coaching was introduced to me, people came to me and recommended that I apply for the role. First time thinking about moving out of the classroom. Nobody knew what the job was and we all had to speak about it in our interviews.

I didn’t realize until I did this course, that I’d been coaching since I started teaching. My school in NZ took on the goal of Peer Coaching. So I realized about halfway through the course that I’ve never known any other way.

I know from your work in The Coach that you actually pitched this position to your school when you first started. What was that like? What did you need to be prepared for that experience?

The role in Dubai peaked my interest. Came to the Netherlands as a traveling spouse. After 6 months, started getting itchy feet. Popped into my local IB school and committed to one day a week of sub work. It wasn’t common at the time for people to come to our school with PYP experience. The Principal gave me a copy of the Action Plan, and I noticed some consistent things popped up, I realized that coaching could address many of these issues. Wrote an email, asked if he would be interested in having a coach in the next school year. Submitted a proposal.

There are already people well-positioned in schools, which makes it very easy to say that “coaching is covered” by Principals or Curriculum Coordinators. But we know those positions have slightly different focus areas. New teacher mentors driven by personal connection. Curriculum Coordinators are driven by strategic goals. Principals are supervisors, their relationship is different. Coaches are committed to the professional growth of teachers as individuals, and it’s teacher-driven. This means that teachers are choosing their professional development path, rather than done to them.

Given free reign: good and bad: could take risks, but also was left on my own to advocate for coaching with everyone.

What did coaching look like when you first started?

The principal at the time asked me to train the mentors, this gave me an “in” with more experienced staff members. I was unknown. To get myself known with that core group, was helpful. I was brought in to work with them so I was already modeling to that group, who may be the hardest to “sell” on coaching. I trained them with similar ideas that I wanted to be pushing with the coaching, to keep all the ideas connected. Defining when the mentors pass off the new teachers to me, as a coach.

It’s really important to establish yourself as an educator, that you are a teacher. This is a peer relationship, there is no power differential.

Now I could sit in the staff room and conversations stemmed off that. Started very casual and informal. It was completely word of mouth (plus a coaching menu), getting into PYP team meetings.

I’m your mental time. I’m the one who can think about the reflective moments you need to take, so you don’t have to take on the burden.

The very fact that I started responsively helped me grow organically, rather than being so formal and so

What does it look like now?

50 – 60 teachers across 2 buildings

People do think to come to me now, you need to be on the top of people’s minds when they want to grow in a different direction

I’m also on the APs minds, they often refer people to me

Still very responsive

Not pushing people as hard as I could be, I’m letting them dictate a lot more

Always ask for feedback

I look for opportunities at different times of the school year: reports (offer comment bank help, report previews), planning time (available for meetings), workshops (mini PD workshops)

What makes coaching work the way things are now? What’s challenging in that environment?

I can always think of a million ways I could take coaching further. I think there are ways I can push people to think bigger. I can be too respectful of people’s time. Maybe when we’re finished with a coaching cycle, maybe I should encourage them to continue.

Finding ways to see the lasting impact, year after year. I track my coaching on a spreadsheet, everyone on the same sheet. Where’s my next moment for checking in, but I never planned for the next academic year.

I’m so busy with someone new all the time that I don’t go back to previous work. Some teams got lost along the way. This usually happens when initiatives are passed down from someone else, they were all on board, they were not the ones driving it from the outset.

When you’re supporting the bigger picture, you have built-in support and focus for your work. Having people like the PYP Coordinator on-side (for example) helps.


Are you working on building a coaching culture in your school setting?

To make coaching both sustainable and successful, you need clarity, consistency, and community. 

Unfortunately, most schools are missing at least one! Is yours?

Use the Thrive Model to find out!

Developed after working with hundreds of coaches and leaders in international schools around the world, the Thrive Model incorporates both the macro view of a coaching program, and the micro view of a coaches practice, to bring together the three essential elements to make coaching both sustainable and successful.

Explore all of our resources about the Thrive Model at

SHOW NOTES continued…

What have been some aha moments in your role over the course of the year?

The Coaching Stances. Moving in between collaborator, coach and consultant. I was very cautious not to be in consultant mode. I knew I didn’t want to be seen as an expert. Because collaborator was the role that I was so comfortable with, but I noticed from the course, is that being a collaborator led to me taking on a lot more of the load. Once I realized that, I tried to sit more in the coaching stance more often. Otherwise, I would take on too much of the load.

I would do a lot of pre-work before I went into a team meeting. I had my own brainstorm on my own about where the collaboration might go and what ideas might be required and needed, so I wouldn’t get carried away in the excitement of ideas in the moment. If I pre-plan, I’m much more prepared to ask the questions.

With individuals, if you remain really responsive to the conversation, you can more easily stay detached. Genuine listening lets you respond with questions, instead of answers.

I know you’re moving on to a new school & role next academic year, how will your coaching experience support and enhance your role as PYP Coordinator

PYP Coordinator at IGB International School in Malaysia. Job description said something like, PYP Coordinator should be focused on the PD of the teachers. For me the most student-centered thing I can do is focus on the teachers and the health of those people.

The Coordinator is very focused on school strategic goals. The byproduct of coaching is that, but my number one is individualized growth and goals.

I can bring the Art of Coaching to the Coordinator role. Working with teams. I see my role as being able to enhance what goes on in teams. I have been in this role before. I’ve tried to draw the line between coaching and coordinator. The balance with being in a leadership position can be challenging.

The value of having a coach and a coordinator is that you can support each other.

Thinking back over your first years as a coach, what do you wish you knew before you started? 

How emotionally draining coaching can be. There’s a level to which you can manage it and that’s on you to manage. It really is emotionally draining. You’re switching between different people who all have different emotions. It doesn’t have to be negative for it to be draining.

Ready to Learn More about Developing a Coaching Program?

If you’re ready to dig deeper into developing or refining a coaching program – or if you’re new to instructional coaching and you’re curious about getting started, join us for one of our courses for coaches!

To learn more about these options, we have three FREE workshops to share with you today.

For New or Aspiring Coaches

If you’re just getting started as a coach, and you want to be successful in your early years, watch our New to Coaching Workshop, which highlights the key mindset and skill set shifts you’ll need when moving from the classroom to a coaching role. The workshop will also tell you all about our online course, Getting Started as a Coach. This course is specifically designed for classroom teachers who are moving into a coaching role so you’re prepared for the transition. It’s focused on exactly the skillset & mindset shifts you need to so you can be successful in your first years as an instructional coach. 

For Experienced Coaches

If you’re already a coach & you want to think about being more intentional & strategic in your practice, watch our workshop on the Thrive Model for Coaching Success which will help you evaluate your program and your practice to see where you may have room to grow. You’ll walk away with a clear picture of exactly what you need to focus on to build a thriving coaching culture – and help you decide if our year-long mentorship and certification program, The Coach, is right for you, right now. This program is designed for current coaches who are focused on building a coaching culture through intentional and strategic coaching work at all levels – with teachers and school leaders.

For Coaches Ready to Lead

For experienced coaches ready to look at the bigger picture of the school to see what might be supporting or hindering the sustainability of the coaching program, and you want to make sure your school has all of the systems and structures in place, watch our workshop: Scaling Your Impact as an Instructional Coach. You’ll get a bird’s eye view of what’s needed to make coaching sustainable for you as an individual coach and for your school. When you’re ready to put that learning into action, join us in our online course for coaches ready to lead: Coaches as Leaders and put it all into practice – with support from Kim and our global cohort! This course is designed for experienced coaches, ready to lead.

You can find all the workshops on our coachbetter website at

Wherever you are in your coaching journey, we can support you!

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