The school leader as a coach
It is an exciting time for those of us who work in coaching in the education sector. We are seeing an increasing number of school leaders being interested in becoming coaches. Many more people know about coaching and understand how it works. And centrally within education bodies there is an interest in either supporting the funding of coaching, or of coach training.
In this article we reflect on what it may be like for a school leader to adopt a coaching approach.
Coaching can be part of leadership identity
In the past when I used to run leadership training courses for school leaders, we would explore how they developed their own leadership style. In the vast majority of cases it was a question of “I have just picked it up as I have gone along.” This is probably true for many leaders in many sectors.
When Daniel Goldman of Emotional Intelligence fame put together his emotionally intelligent leader competencies, coaching made the cut as one of the six key competencies. They make good reading as they are a mix of the directive (pacesetter, decisive) and the non directive (collaborative, coaching).
When school leaders choose their identity, they probably need a little bit of both approaches. Schools are a great decision-making environments, and being able to make good and clear decisions is definitely a valued trait. Equally valued is the skill of listening, hearing and encouraging others to come to their own conclusions. So a directive and a coaching approach are both necessary.
Coaching is very appealing to school leaders
Teaching is obviously a people profession. Generally people who are attracted to teaching are very interested in interpersonal activities and working with other people. This goes along with other traits such as nurture, care, kindness and empathy.
There is plenty of research to show that one of the most satisfying parts of a school leader’s job comes in their development of their colleagues. After seeing the great achievement of children, seeing the development of their team members can offer huge rewards.
Because of this, taking a coaching approach to their leading a leadership style is very congruent with this type of leader.
Being a coaching style of leader takes a shift but not huge
Most school leaders we train identify pretty early on that they need to reduce what they call the advice monkey. It definitely presents as a default behaviour, and it’s something that most leaders look to work on. Not to give up completely, as there are times when advice is useful, or even essential.
This is the first shift that school leaders need to take when they adopt a coaching style- a reduction in the amount of advice and direction they offer.
Many school leaders also identify that they would like to talk a little bit less when in conversation with colleagues. It is easy over the years to get into a rhythm of oversharing or taking too high a proportion of the meeting time. This is probably the second area that leaders need to work on when adopting a coaching style or approach.
Apart from that, many of the skills required for a coach are skills that teachers and leaders have already learned. Listen carefully, asking strong questions, pausing, respectful challenge and kindness. Not to mention structuring an outcome focused conversation.
Using coaching for discrete 1-2-1’s or in general conversation
One of the wonderful things about a skill like coaching is that it can be used pretty well at any time. Obviously the most substantial way that anyone uses coaching is to have discrete one to one coaching sessions in a room with a contracted coachee. Someone who has signed up for coaching and who is keen to be coached.
But that is not the only way. Because the fundamentals of listening, questions and pausing are everyday conversational skills, coaching can be brought out of the coaching room, and into the everyday conversation. This is one aspect that school leaders who become coaches really enjoy. It gives them the opportunity to do a bit of informal coaching as and when it pops up.
School leaders as coaches- there is nothing to lose!
One of the wonderful things that most coaches believe is that there isn’t really a downside to becoming a coach. There may be small things such as a bit of pushback by people who want you to provide an answer. But mostly it feels positive, empowering and supportive for self and for others. The ability to apply coaching approaches in many contexts simply can’t be under estimated.
Caveat – don’t just coach – or you’ll get a reputation for being indecisive or not knowing the answers
There is one small caveat, however. It is very important to recognise those occasions when actually coaching isn’t appropriate. There may be times where you could be coaching someone through an issue seems right, but it isn’t. Perhaps your colleague’s need to feel nurtured is more important than them coming up with the answer. Perhaps the time pressure that they have for the whole week is not helping them to think straight. Perhaps heir tiredness and what they have on their minds mean that bit of leg up is probably more important than taking an approach this is coaching in style.
It is really good as a school leader to get a reputation as being a coaching style of leader. But it may not be helpful to get a reputation as a leader who only coaches and never gives a view. That may tip over the balance from coaching being a strength to being a potential hindrance.
Final words on this topic go to Nigel Helliwell, a head teacher who learnt to be a coach with us in 2021, in his last year of headship. At the end of the training he said
“I really love coaching and I wish two things. One is that someone had given me a coach when I first started in headship. And the other is I wish I had learned to be a coach much, much sooner in my headship.”
Happy teaching and coaching!
If you were stimulated by this article and want to know more about how to use coaching for your career, your organisation or your life generally, then get in contact. Email us at email@example.com or book in a time for a 30-minute phone or Zoom call https://loveyourcoaching.10to8.com
We look forward to hearing from you!