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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

4 Components Necessary for Leadership Coaching

By Peter DeWitt — February 12, 2017 5 min read
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Many leaders want to be coached. Even though they may live in a state that offers coaching, they may be so deeply entrenched into their every day lives, that they don’t have the opportunity to proactively search for a coach. Therefore, coaching gets put on the backburner. Something they’ll think of next summer.

The truth is, just like teachers have a blind spot in the classroom, leaders have a blind spot in their leadership practices. As leaders, we operate from a place within and don’t always have the 20/20 clarity that we should. Sure, leaders may have people around to criticize them, but do they have a coach or critical friend who can help them grow?

After posting this blog asking if coaching is so powerful why aren’t more leaders being coached, I posted a few others asking leaders if they would want to be coached. Out of hundreds of respondents, 99% answered that they would want to be coached. Who could wonder why the percentage is so high given what is happening in the world. We are all surrounded by constant noise, and good coaching could help us hone in on what we truly need.

OPEN to Coaching
At the end of the same survey that was mentioned above, leaders were asked to cite obstacles they would face in the coaching relationship that would prevent them from getting the deep learning they could. There were a variety of answers that revolved around the credibility of the coach, and the authenticity of the coaching relationship.

Over time I realized that there are at least four necessary components to a successful leadership coaching relationship. With them, the coach and leader will find common ground, and be able to go deep into learning. Without them, the relationship could be fractured and the learning would merely stay at the surface.

OPEN To Coaching?
In order for leadership coaching to be effective, it seems that leaders need to be OPEN to coaching. OPEN is an acronym for Opportunity, Purpose, Expectation and Next Steps. The following paragraph explains those a little further.

O - There needs to be an authentic Opportunity to coach. This means that when a coach and leader set up a meeting, they are both completely present during their time together. There should be no phones or going onto the computer. If this means that the coach needs to meet the leader after school when things calmed down a bit during the day they would do that. The coach and leader need to have scheduled time once a week or every two weeks when they can meet and have deep discussions around learning. Not everyone will like the every two weeks idea but the reality is that when leaders and coaches set up a time, it needs to be doable on the part of both parties.

P - There needs to be Purpose behind coaching. There are so many great ideas in education that begin with good intentions and then through miscommunication, competing priorities, and a lack of authentic purpose, those ideas were swept to the side, or worse, become a checklist that participants checked-off and say they completed.

For example, walkthroughs. In the best case scenario walkthroughs were supposed to bring about a common language and understanding of what teachers and leaders wanted when it came to student learning. In certain case, walkthroughs actually involved students to that the whole school community had the same focus around learning. Unfortunately, walkthroughs became something leaders did to teachers. They walked in to look for specific items in the classroom that the teacher may or may not be privy to. And then in the end, the leader walks out with the leader deemed important, and then checked it off on their list if it was there, and left it blank if it was missing. Walkthroughs rarely provide teachers with the feedback necessary to understand if what they’re doing is going well or not. Additionally, walkthroughs seldom focus on the students as much as they focus on the adults.

Purpose is necessary when it comes to coaching, which is why it’s necessary for the leader to choose the best goal for them and their school community. Where will the coaching relationship focus so that student learning and teaching strategies become a priority. Is it the faculty meeting, classroom observations, or those walkthroughs that could be beneficial but have done been thus far? We shouldn’t bother getting into the coaching relationship if the goal lacks purpose.

E - The Expectation needs to be that the coaching cycle will change beliefs and behavior. It’s not enough to just go through the coaching cycle to say we did it. It’s important that when the coaching cycle is completed the leader is on a new path toward being a more collaborative leader. In the beginning of any coaching relationship, the leader and coach need to set expectations, and the leader should always work hard to exceed those expectations.

N - What will be the Next step after the coaching is completed? If we are all truly lifelong learners, then we need to start thinking of next steps at the end of the coaching cycle. In the instructional coaching work of Jim Knight, the next steps may involve the following:

  • Choosing a new goal
  • Taking the completed goal and extending it to make it stronger and more impactful.
  • Taking the completed goal and using it in another subject area or with another grade level.

When it comes to collaborative coaching, is it possible for the leader and coach to take the collaborative mindset and move it into another aspect of the leader’s practice? We should always think of next steps when we achieve a goal.

In the End
If instructional coaching is so powerful than collaborative coaching can be equally as powerful. Clearly, a leader who wants to be coached can make coaching very powerful. However, having a credible coach who wants to work on the goal of the leader and not manipulate the leader into going after a goal that they are really not interested in will not lead to powerful coaching.

The truth is we have so many unauthentic things going on in the world that we feel are happening to us, I would like to try to focus on those things that we do have control over, like our own learning and our relationships with others. I think that we can be just as genuine as we have ever been, and still focus on things that matter. Leadership coaching, when done correctly, is a way for leaders and coaches to focus on what matters, so they walk away raising their own self-efficacy, and caring about the efficacy of those around them a little bit more.

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is the author of several books including the best selling Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most (September, 2016. Corwin Press/Learning Forward). Connect with Peter on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.