Coaching for School Leaders | Steve Barkley

Coaching for School Leaders

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A recent blog by Eric Sheninger highlighted the importance of providing coaching for school leaders at all levels. Sheninger describes the value of coaching for all professions and points to the need for administrator coaching, which is often overlooked. He cites the following from Marta W. Aldrich:

When it comes to the impact of school-related factors on student learning, research shows that school leaders are second in importance only to teachers — but also can have a multiplier effect on the quality of teaching. Historically, however, professional development has been limited to periodic workshops and training that focus mostly on administrative, operational, and compliance issues. They rarely receive ongoing, embedded coaching and problem-solving support based on the instructional needs of specific schools.”

The School Principal as Leader: Guiding Schools to Better Teaching and Learning from the Wallace Foundation identified five key principal responsibilities:

  • Shaping a vision of academic success for all students, one based on high standards.
  • Creating a climate hospitable to education in order that safety, a cooperative spirit, and
    other foundations of fruitful interaction prevail.
  • Cultivating leadership in others so that teachers and other adults assume their parts in realizing the school vision.
  • Improving instruction to enable teachers to teach at their best and students to learn to their utmost.
  • Managing people, data, and processes to foster school improvement

As I read that list, it strikes me how coaching others is a major element of being an effective principal. “How can a principal lead as an instructional coach when they have all of the other hats they have to wear, including evaluation?” is the question that led Kathy Perret, Shira Leibowitz, and Jessica Johnson to write their book, The Coach Approach to School Leadership. (Find a podcast with the authors here)

Several of my ongoing messages about coaching apply to the need for coaching opportunities for administrators.

  • As one advances in their practice, coaching becomes of increasing importance. Similar to professional athletes or performing artists, coaching should increase as one’s performance level becomes more and more complex.
  • Everyone deserves a coach. As John Dewey stated, “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” Coaching creates valuable opportunities for reflection.
  • Being coached is a critical learning component of developing one’s coaching skills. Teacher leaders, instructional coaches, and school leaders should be among the ‘most coached’ members of a school staff.
  • Coaching creates opportunities to celebrate successes which build confidence and perseverance. Teachers working in isolation often miss these important shared moments. Administrators often work in greater isolation than teachers. Conversations with a coach create shared celebrations.

Work from home with asian businessman video conference collaboration with streaming meeting.banner mockup for display of contentAcross my 35-year history serving schools throughout the United States and internationally, I frequently experienced the value that administrators at system and building levels, along with teacher leaders and classroom instructors, found in the coaching moments that we had. Many of these coaching sessions with administrators occurred spontaneously in unexpected free moments. Much of my coaching role was questioning and listening that encouraged reflection.

Prior to quarantines, I had begun doing some virtual coaching, usually with international schools where distance, time, and costs limited “being there” options. I was somewhat surprised to get substantially positive responses back regarding the value of these virtual sessions. I now have two years of additional virtual experience, learning and being coached, which is encouraging me to increase my availability to provide virtual coaching that is highly personalized to meet educators’ needs within time and financial limits.

Here are some examples of current coaching sessions I am providing:

  • A district-level Learning Design and Innovation Team- coaching team facilitators, team meetings, and individual team members.
  • International School Heads of Departments and Teams- coaching at team meetings, middle-level leaders’ meetings, and one-on-one coaching sessions.
  • Instructional Coaches and Their Administrators- coaching sessions with individual coaches and with coach-principal partners as they implement a new instructional coaching program.
  • Teachers Implementing a New Professional Growth Plan Process- individual coaching sessions with teachers as they created a plan around a hypothesis for increased student success- follow up coaching sessions as plans are implemented, evidence gathered, and reflection begins. (Includes coaching for administrators supporting teachers’ implementation)

Contact me if you’d like to explore ways to increase coaching opportunities for school leaders at all levels.

If the goal is to support our teachers better then commitments must be made to ramp up assistance to all school leaders, including central office. Investing time and resources in people, regardless of position, is the key to transforming school culture in a way that leads to better results.

– Eric Sheninger

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One Response to “ Coaching for School Leaders ”

  1. Michael Chirichello Says:

    Glad to read about the importance of coaching school leaders. I had that opportunity to engage in coaching sessions in-person and remotely for several years with principals. I have also written about the process in Principal, the professional magazine of the NAESP in the September/October 2020 issue. School leaders frequently talk about coaches for teachers but seldom realize that they too can benefit from a coach. Thanks for sharing your insights on this critical topic.

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