Podcast: The Path for Women in School Leadership - Steve Barkley

Podcast: The Path for Women in School Leadership

The Path for Women in School Leadership

Kim Cofino, the author of, “Finding Your Path As a Woman in School Leadership: A Guide for Educators, Allies, and Advocates,” shares insights from interviews she conducted with over 70 successful female school leaders. Her discoveries are important to female educators at different stages in their leadership development and roles. Equally important, Kim provides reflection for school leaders, regardless of gender, who need to be addressing their role in identifying and supporting more females to be engaged in school leadership. Our students deserve a diverse and representative educator community. We all have a responsibility.

Find Kim’s book, “Finding Your Path As a Woman in School Leadership” here.
Connect and learn more about Kim’s work here.

Subscribe to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast on iTunes or visit BarkleyPD.com to find new episodes!

Podcast Transcript:

[00:00:01.130] – Steve [Intro]

Welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. As instructional coaches and school leaders, you have a challenge to guide continuous teacher growth that promotes student success. This podcast looks to support you with strategies from our experienced guests and insights that I’ve gathered across many years. I’m thrilled you’re here. Thanks for listening.

[00:00:27.380] – Steve

The Path for Women in School Leadership. Today’s podcast is a chance for me to reconnect with Kim Cofino. Kim is the founder and CEO of Eduro Learning, a company that focuses on supporting international schools in building community through instructional coaching. I’ve had the opportunity in the past to connect with Kim by joining her in conversations around instructional coaching on her Coach Better podcast. Our conversation today is to connect on Kim’s new book, finding your path as a woman in school. Welcome, Kim.

[00:01:09.060] – Kim

Thank you so much for having me on the podcast. It’s great to have another conversation with you, Steve. I’m happy to be here.

[00:01:14.460] – Steve

I’m looking forward to it and I’m excited about the topic of your book. Would you share a little bit with the listeners about your background with coaching and your background in international schools?

[00:01:25.910] – Kim

Sure. I’ve been in international schools since 2000 and I started out as a tech intern at Munich International School and that kind of built out into me becoming a tech coach. I was a tech coach for quite a while. I worked at Munich International School, International School Bangkok, Mont’Kiara International School in Kuala Lumpur, Yokohama International School in Japan and now my husband and I are back in Bangkok, Thailand, where he works at NIST International School and I run Eduro learning as you were talking about before. For most of my career, I was a coach. For most of my coaching time, I was on the tech side of things. And now I run this business, Eduro learning, where I primarily work with instructional coaches, helping them define their role as coaches, advocating for their role in their school, and building thriving and sustainable coaching programs. We do online courses, I do coaching with them, I work with schools and school leaders in helping them build coaching programs. And this book is actually a result of that work, which is kind of interesting because the book is about women in school leadership and I primarily work with instructional coaches.

[00:02:30.010] – Kim

So I’m sure I’ll get a chance to tell that story in a few minutes.

[00:02:33.470] – Steve

Great. Well, I know that you have a co author on the book, Christina Botbyl. I’m wondering if you’d share a little bit of her background.

[00:02:42.540] – Kim

Sure. Christina has also been an educator in international schools for many years. She previously was also working in the United States. She’s currently at George Washington Academy in Morocco. I think her title right now is director of academics. She’s basically the deputy superintendent, but I think that’s her formal title. And she was actually one of the women I interviewed for my book because I’ve worked with Christina for many years in many different capacities. In her role as curriculum director, she’s hired me to do work for her schools. I’ve helped her train her coaches. And when I decided to write a book on the interviews that I conducted, Christina, who had just finished her doctorate, immediately came to mind as being the perfect person who’s had that personal experience and has all of the research chops to be able to add some real significant weight to this book. And she was the perfect person.

[00:03:33.780] – Steve

Terrific. Take us the next step, then. What instigated your start on this book and then partnering with Christina on the book?

[00:03:44.360] – Kim

So I have been working with instructional coaches and sometimes aspiring leaders in my various courses for coaches and coaching mentorship that I do. And I was having these conversations again and again and again with experienced women educators who are doing really phenomenal things in their school settings that were leadership adjacent, whether you call it informal leadership, like, I would describe instructional coaching, or just kind of helping out in ways that demonstrated leadership capacity. And they would tell me stories and we’d be talking about them on a coaching call or whatever, and I would say, “wow, you’re really developing your leadership skills, or you’re showing such leadership, or that’s a huge leadership skill.” And these women would consistently say, “no, I’m not a leader.” Like, immediate first reaction, not even a breath to be taken. “No, that’s not me. I’m not a leader.” And I kept hearing this so consistently, and I feel that same way myself. Even today, the first word to describe myself would not be leader. It probably wouldn’t even be in the first ten, right? So I got it as soon as they said it, I understand you don’t associate yourself with that word.

[00:04:53.170] – Kim

And because I have this podcast, the Coach Better podcast, I thought, you know, what might help these women is to hear some stories, to peek behind the curtain of some successful women leaders and see that all of us feel this sense of impostor syndrome. Most people didn’t show up. They weren’t born, and they’re suddenly this perfect leader ready to lead. They went through struggles, they face challenges. There are barriers. And people even who sometimes feel like they’re not leaders are leading really well. They’re leading effectively. So I thought I might have, like, ten interviews, and I would do a little series on my podcast. So I reached out to one or two women that I personally knew, and I found out later that there is a research, I don’t know if it’s a technique, but a research practice called the snowball effect and that’s exactly what happened to me. At the end of every call I had, I said, is there anyone else that I should talk to about this? You’ve now had this conversation. Who should I talk to next? And it just so happens, the timing of these calls, I started them in December of 2019, January of 2020.

[00:05:57.510] – Kim

Everyone was trapped in their homes. People were dying to have a real conversation, an authentic conversation about something that wasn’t stress, emergency, drama, crisis. And so I just got connected, connected, connected, connected. And so in the spring of 2020, I ended up talking to over 70 successful women leaders in public and private schools around the world completely organically. But one of the pieces, as I was asking, I was very intentional in making sure I’m not just getting lookalike people, that I’m talking to people from many different backgrounds with many different experiences, different languages, all of those different pieces. And so by the end of June, I think I had conducted around 70 interviews and I thought, I need to pause this. I still have a list of at least 70 more women, but I thought, I have to pause this and figure out what to do with this thing because this is not a ten interview series on my podcast anymore. This is so much bigger.

[00:06:53.540] – Steve

Wow, you triggered something there that I have to play within my mind. Frequently when I’m writing, maybe I’m writing a blog and I want to make a statement about this is an important issue, I’ll say this is an important issue for school leaders, I put a comma, instructional coaches, comma and teachers. And every time I write it, I feel awkward because I shouldn’t be separating instructional coaches out from my term school leader. But I have this fear that if I don’t put it in as a specific, instructional coaches are going to skip over it because they’re not seeing themselves in that role. So I’m somewhat accurate.

[00:07:42.340] – Kim

Yes, absolutely. And that is probably one of the biggest high horses I can get on is helping instructional coaches embrace their influential or their informal leadership. You are a leader, and this book certainly highlighted for me the skills that you learn and develop as an instructional coach are leadership skills.

[00:08:02.220] – Steve

I started a long time ago. As you know, I’ve been at this a long time and I’ve seen a lot of instructional coaches move into administrative positions. And I’ve spoken frequently about the value of that background experience as an instructional coach being great preparation for the next roles that they stepped into. It does make me ponder, do you have any idea as the percentage of instructional coaches that are female?

[00:08:31.860] – Kim

Oh, that’s a good question. I would venture a guess that it’s higher than men, similar in the role of teachers. We were talking before the call about more teachers being women versus positional leaders. I would venture a guess it’s probably pretty similar in instructional coaches as well, but I don’t know.

[00:08:48.490] – Steve

It strikes me that it may be even bigger.

[00:08:52.390] – Kim


[00:08:55.500] – Steve

I’ll only say that every time I speak at an instructional coaching conference in a hotel, they have to turn some of the men’s rooms into ladies.

[00:09:06.960] – Steve

And it just seems a much larger female population in those. But I don’t think I’ve seen a statistic anywhere.

[00:09:16.490] – Kim

No, that’s a good thing that I could look up. One of the things that we talk about in the book is the actual path to positional leadership. And there is research behind the fact that women primarily take a more winding path to leadership than men. Men might be classroom teacher, department head of athletics, deputy head of school or principal deputy head of school, head of school, whereas women traditionally or mostly go into curriculum adjacent roles before moving into those more administrative roles. And a coach is such a natural intermediary position between teacher and curriculum director that it makes total sense to me that there would be a lot of women in coaching positions because it can be a pathway to leadership if that’s kind of the direction you want to go.

[00:10:04.720] – Steve

In your book description, you make the statement that women in school leadership often face hidden challenges that don’t appear or aren’t known about until they’re encountered. I’m wondering if you expand on that a little bit for us.

[00:10:25.480] – Kim

So many stories. So I’m going to step back just a tiny sec and then get to that question. When I was doing these conversations, doing these interviews, I don’t know that I went in thinking, oh, I know a lot about women in leadership, but I’m sure I thought to myself, like, I’m a woman, I’ve been in schools, I know things about what happens to women. But every conversation there was a new thing and it was like, how is it possible that these things are happening to all of these women I speak to and even myself, I’m kind of adjacent to leadership, I haven’t had that particular scenario happen to me. So I’ll give you a couple of different examples to kind of highlight some of these things. And for me now, they don’t feel so new and so hidden. So I’m going to try to remember the ones that felt like so shocking when I was listening to the conversation. One example that stands out to me is from Nicole Schmidt. She talks about walking into being an administrator, walking into a recruiting event, into the ballroom, and just seeing a sea of men and just a very few women, and the women being physically isolated from the conversations that men were having.

[00:11:40.000] – Kim

And she talks about a lack of access to engaging in these conversations because it’s very clique-like. You might think, once I become a school leader, I’m going to be part of the club, but it’s not an automatic entry door. And so that was kind of like a oh, aha moment for me. Junlah Madalinski, who is currently in Egypt, sorry, Nicole is in South Africa right now. Junlah Madalinski is in Schutz American school in Egypt right now. And she talked about a couple of things. First thing being, when you move into a leadership position, especially as a woman, especially as a woman of color, you are much more visible in the school community than you were in your classroom. And while you may face microaggressions and incendiary behavior in your classroom, the capacity for that just expands once you’re a leader. So things that are racist, sexist, misogynistic, any of these comments that might come at you just kind of broaden in scope and reach as soon as you step out of the classroom and you’re in a leadership position, having to navigate and deal with that in a leadership position is another step of being a woman of color in a leadership position.

[00:12:58.680] – Kim

She also talks about that many school leaders hire people they already know. So when you’re new to school leadership, it’s so much harder to have those conversations to make those connections. And people of color tend to have less connections. This is what she’s talking about because they’re maybe newer to the international school circuit. So all of these barriers. Katie Wilbrook talked about being told in an inter you, are you too ambitious for this position or are you too ambitious going for this position? No one’s ever said that to me as a teacher. I can’t even imagine hearing that in an interview. So you go in an interview and someone tells you you’re too ambitious applying for this position, why are you interviewing me then? Just all of these pieces. Another great example – I know these aren’t all exclusively barriers, but they’re just great stories. Jen Tickle is, she was in Dresden when I interviewed her, but I think she’s in Florence – somewhere in Italy now, and she talks about both her and her husband are administrators. And the different types of questions they get asked as they’re in the same meeting. They’re in the same interview. The different questions when she’s going for the interview versus when her husband is going for the interview.

[00:14:08.180] – Kim

And she told me one specific story that I will always repeat because it’s just a great example where her husband was going for the interview position and they asked her, and Jen, what do you bring to the table? How do you support your husband in this position? And she was so flabbergasted. She said, kind know off the cuff as a joke, like, “I bake great cupcakes.” And they wrote it like as if that’s a talent that she has. She herself is also an administrator. So these experiences that women are having on the pathway to leadership already, it feels hard to make that leap. I know we’re going to talk about in a little bit because women tend to not apply for positions until they feel they’ve ticked all the boxes. So they’re already presenting their own internal barriers and then they get to the interview or they actually have the position and there’s still more coming.

[00:15:00.640] – Steve

Yeah. So there’s two pieces jumping out here at me, and I’m guessing that you’ve addressed both of them in your book. And they relate for me back to an experience I had. I host a podcast for a colleague that is for superintendents, largely superintendents in the states. And I was speaking with the heads of the New York Council of Superintendent Schools, and they shared with me their focus on looking to have more women in the superintendent roles within the state of New York. And they shared that 77% of the educators in the states are women. In New York state, they’re currently looking at 28% of the superintendency being filled by females. And what came out of that? And I think I hear you talking to both of these. It’s kind of two areas. One being for the women themselves who are applying, and then the second being for the people who are doing the recruiting and the hiring. I think you just spoke to the people doing the recruiting and the hiring. Their tendency, if they are being successful, is that they’re looking for people like themselves. And I know in my first leadership role in hiring trainers, that was one of the biggest mistakes I made.

[00:16:36.020] – Steve

I knew that I was successful as a trainer and I was out looking for people who approached training the way I approached it. And I missed that whole group of people who were equal and at times, more successful than me. And I had to stop looking for people who did what I did and instead look at what people can do and could do that caused them to be successful. So I think that’s that natural tendency, that women aren’t being invited and recruited into the opportunities. I think in many cases, nothing purposeful by the person, they’re just looking for people like themselves to build that success component. And then the other side being, as you were talking about women having this sense of needing to meet all the criteria before they apply, years back, I read Claude Steele’s work on stereotype vulnerability, and that’s really what I kind of heard coming forth there. So you want to talk a little bit that your book addresses both of these issues? What do women have to learn from your work to look at themselves? And then what do the people currently in school leadership need to be looking at?

[00:17:55.180] – Kim

So I’m going to answer that backwards, the second question first, and then I’m going to tell a little more about what women. One of the things I’m really proud of in this work is that we did not want it to be, “here are some stories about women.” There are books like that. They are great. But really, we wanted it to be action driven. Here’s what you can do. Here’s what school leaders can do. Here’s what school communities can do. Here’s the research to back up the challenge that you’re facing. This is a real thing, the motherhood trap. These things impostor syndrome – these things are researched. It’s not just you feeling it. You are not alone. And so each chapter has several sections. One is the reflections in the research. So every chapter, whatever we’re talking about, whether it’s imposter syndrome, we lay out highlights of the research for you. So, you know this is a real thing. People have studied it. You’re not the only one feeling this way. It’s common. This is what the research says. Then we share a bunch of stories of women talking about their own experience with imposter syndrome.

[00:18:53.940] – Kim

Some of their advice, some of our advice. And then at the end of each chapter, we have three layers of action that can be taken. We call that section take action. And there’s action for you as an individual leader, action for a school leader who wants to support aspiring women leaders. And then there’s a layer of action that’s for organizations, because the reality of the situation, as we were talking about before the call, is this is a societal issue. This is not something one individual woman is going to solve on her pathway to leadership. This is a much bigger issue than one person. While as an individual, you might be able to take steps towards making this situation better for yourself, you’re not going to solve the problem for everybody. So we wanted to make sure we had those three layers. So that’s one of the things I’m really proud of in this book, is that it is not just about what an individual woman can do, although that is the kind of main focus of the book. It’s also about what other school leaders can do to support aspiring women and what school leaders and boards and institutions can do to change the systemic structure of the institution they run to make it more equitable for everyone, not just women.

[00:20:04.070] – Kim

And so I think that’s the consideration there is. The people who are in power now are primarily white men, and so they’re the ones who are going to have to make the intentional change to be more inclusive in their practices. And how can we do that? So that’s why this book is not just for the individual woman. It’s also for existing school leaders who recognize that they have a part to play in this. The first part of the question you asked me was, how can women use this work?

[00:20:33.100] – Steve

Yeah. For the woman to understand where some of those pieces, like the imposter syndrome, could be coming from. I know years back when I looked at that work from Claude Steele, it blew me away. And he looked at it in race, but he also looked at one of his studies was women in math classes at universities. And what triggered it was when you described walking into the room for the interview and seeing who else is there in the room. He described a study where they hired actresses to pretend that they were taking a class. And by increasing the number of women in the room, the women who were actually taking the class, their performance went up.

[00:21:24.700] – Kim

Just by seeing them there.

[00:21:26.860] – Steve

Because they looked around the room and didn’t get that immediate feel of not belonging. Exactly what you described of people walking into the interview.

[00:21:39.200] – Kim

So that piece of feeling impostor syndrome, but also maybe cutting yourself off from potential steps forward, I think that’s a big piece of what this book can do for you, is you can see, oh, my gosh, I’m not alone. We repeat that statement, “you are not alone” in almost every chapter. And that’s why, one of the reasons why I’m so proud of this work is that, like I said before, it’s not just stories of women. It’s not only not just stories. Each chapter is a story of women. Each chapter is a themed topic. So the one I wanted to talk about right now is exploring intersectionality for women in leadership positions. And when we talk about the stories of women, there’s like 15 different women’s stories featured in here, talking about their experiences with their own intersectionality and how it has affected them in their leadership pathway. So it’s not just telling the story of one woman per chapter, it’s telling many different interconnected stories about a theme. And then each chapter also has a profile of one specific woman. But I did want to say when we were talking before about how women can take this and feel, I hope, empowered, empowered to act.

[00:22:44.690] – Kim

I hope they feel reflected in this work, they see themselves in this work, and they recognize, again that they are not alone. One of the huge aha moments for me is when Christina really just crystallized all the research down into one table and it’s on two pages and you can’t see because my screen blurs it out. But implicit bias, intersectionality, maternal wall bias, microaggressions, prove it again bias, tightrope bias, tug of war bias. Like, every single chapter has all of these research based terms and definitions for what you are experiencing. So when you are feeling like, why isn’t this working for me? Why is this so hard for me? Why is it easy for this guy sitting next to me who I know is not as qualified as me? This book is going to answer those questions and tell you, like, oh, you’re experiencing, let’s say, the maternal wall bias, whatever it might be, this is what’s happening to you right now. This is why it’s happening. These are the societal structures that have led to this point. And then at the end of that chapter, there is going to be a prompt for a way you can take action.

[00:23:48.430] – Kim

There will also always be advice in the chapter, like, here’s how our women have dealt with this, but we know that the stories of success of women in this book are not necessarily going to be exactly the same stories of success for the women reading the book. So then we also have bits and pieces of action that you can take that might help you move forward in your unique context, because everybody’s context is different and experience is different.

[00:24:11.790] – Steve

Great. Well, I was expecting this to be a delightful conversation, and it certainly has turned out to be. I’m wondering, is there a question that I should have asked that I didn’t that has more about what you found out and what you’ve put into the book? Give you a chance to share that.

[00:24:34.120] – Kim

I think a couple of things I could just say about the book is that it’s very readable, it’s very approachable. It’s appropriate for women who are just considering leadership. Like, just thinking maybe this is something in my future. It’s appropriate for women who are currently in leadership, and it’s appropriate for people who are leaders right now who are not women who want to help them. So I think I just want to make sure it’s really clear that this is intended to be an inclusive work, not only in the women featured in the book, but the people who can get something out of the book. And we really just want people to read it and be able to take action at whatever level that is right for them. So if you’re a person who is wondering, what is my next step? It looks fuzzy going forward, or how can I support the people around me? This book is for you. And we did design it a little bit like a workbook, although the publisher, it’s still like a small, readable book. It’s a carryable book. You can take it on a plane, but there are spaces in there where you can either grab a journal and plot out some ideas, or you can use the space that’s provided in the book.

[00:25:42.000] – Kim

So it’s really action oriented.

[00:25:44.640] – Steve

The statement that I want to make is as important as everything you’ve said is for the women reading the book for themselves, the inclusion and inclusivity, our kids deserve it.

[00:26:02.420] – Kim


[00:26:04.100] – Steve

We all have to tackle that issue of creating that school that our kids deserve. And women in leadership roles, women of color in leadership roles, is an important step in getting our schools to be what they need to be for the kids who are attending.

[00:26:27.740] – Kim

Absolutely. So gift it. Gift it to people who need to read it, too. Buy a copy and gift it to somebody.

[00:26:35.760] – Steve

What’s the best way for listeners to touch base with you, find out more about the work you’re doing, and maybe even follow up with some questions about the book?

[00:26:44.900] – Kim

My website is a perfect place to find out all about me, and that’s eduroarning.com, edurolearning.com. I am still stuck on Twitter. I’m working my way out of it. My Twitter handle is @mscofino, and I’m on Instagram at superkimbo. And if you look me up on LinkedIn, I’m there, too. Just Kim Cofino. You’ll find me on LinkedIn. And we are hosting a virtual global book study of this book from February to May 2024. I’m not sure when this episode is being released, but if anyone is interested in potentially being part of that, reach out to me on any of those avenues and I’ll give the details on how to do that.

[00:27:23.060] – Steve

We’ll post before then, and I’ll make sure that your website is listed in the lead-in so people can go back and find it. I saw the book study, and that did look like a great opportunity.

[00:27:38.740] – Kim

Yay. Excellent. Thank you.

[00:27:40.370] – Steve

Thanks a lot, Kim. Appreciate it.

[00:27:41.800] – Kim

My pleasure. Thank you so much.

[00:27:44.980] – Steve [Outro]

Thanks for listening, folks. I’d love to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter or LinkedIn @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.

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