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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

Do Principals and Their Administrative Team Need Coaching Too?

By Peter DeWitt — July 14, 2019 6 min read
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Leadership coaching, which is becoming increasingly popular these days, is often seen as coaching sessions between a building leader and their coach. Perhaps the building leader is looking to improve their walk-throughs or provide more effective feedback to teachers during informal and formal observations; the coaching relationship can help a leader home in on these goals.

In fact, in a recent Australian study focusing on interdisciplinary coaching, Page et al. found that, “Educational Leaders reported that having regular coaching sessions from an external expert coach supported them in their role to assist individual educators (2019 p. 9).

Although one-on-one coaching is a great method to fostering improvement for the individual parties involved, and ultimately the students, it’s a bit shortsighted to look at coaching through the lens of only two people. Sometimes coaching is more than just a one-on-one relationship. Leadership-team coaching is a viable option in the world of coaching as well.

What we know is that the impact of a team can often be more profound than just the impact of one person. This, of course, is not to minimize individual improvement, but when a group improves together, so does the climate and ... maybe even the culture ... of a school building.

In fact, the research around collective efficacy shows us that ... when a group learns and grows together, ... they can have an enormous impact on student learning. Tschannen-Moran & Barr (2004, p. 190) define collective efficacy as, “The collective self-perception that teachers in a given school make an educational difference to their students over and above the educational impact of their homes and communities.”

Unfortunately, too often building leaders focus so much on building collective efficacy among their teachers that they forget to do it among their administrative team. After all, building leaders and their assistants often have an impact on the climate and culture of the building, which impacts the collective efficacy of groups or grade levels. And that is where leadership-team coaching can have enormous benefits.

Status, Ego, and Things Left Unsaid
Any time a building leader is part of a group, the group often defers to that building leader because the leader is the one with the most “status,” and that can have an impact on the direction the group takes. This happens a great deal for administrative teams. As a leadership coach, I have worked with teams and can tell by the body language of the assistants around the table that they will not talk until the principals speaks first. It’s my job to help process through all of that status of individuals and dynamics of the group.

But there are some other issues that play out among an administrative group that a coach can help process through as well. In the narrative stylebook Coach It Further: Using the Art of Coaching to Improve School Leadership, I wrote about Gavin, a new principal at Naylor Middle School. Although Gavin had two years of assistant-principal experience in his previous school district, he realizes fairly soon into his new position that his assistant-principal days did not prepare him for the job of being a building leader.

Some of the disruption to Gavin’s preparation was due to the principal he worked with as an assistant. His principal often asked him to “do discipline” or managerial tasks that the principal needed completed. Gavin didn’t get the opportunity to go into classrooms and watch learning take place. In fact, his principal rarely did walk-throughs, so Gavin often found himself reading about them on social media but not getting the chance to put them into practice.

Another reason for Gavin’s lack of preparation was due to his leadership degree. His professors and many of his classes prepared him for the philosophy behind school leadership but offered very little in the area of practical advice and insight. Gavin soon learned that he was at a disadvantage when it came to the situations he found himself in during his first principalship.

What practical experience?

Gavin’s new principalship puts him in the position of working with two assistant principals, Beth and Brad. He believes he will now be allowed to do all of those things with his assistants that his previous principal did not do with him. Unfortunately, Gavin begins to experience another group dynamic that prevents him from building collective efficacy.

Gavin finds out that Brad applied for the position that Gavin ultimately received. Brad actually blames Gavin for robbing him of the position. Why? Brad was an internal candidate, and Gavin was not. It’s not easy to build collective efficacy among a team where one person on that team wants to see you fail.

Yes, I know .. .we’re supposed to be in it for the kids. Unfortunately, we know that a bruised ego sometimes gets in the way of what’s best for the kids.

Team Coaching
In Gavin’s situation, it’s pretty clear that coaching needs to be involved. Although Gavin fights it at first, as many leaders do, he begins to accept coaching. The first place they start is establishing trust among the leadership team. This is not rocket science, but establishing trust among a team of leaders is not always easy. Nor is it always easy to establish trust among any group of adults. A coach can help in that process.

What’s next? Well, that depends on the goal of the administrative team. After trust is established among the team, that team can begin to challenge each other’s thinking and get to the heart of a goal that will help them find the road to improvement. That collective thinking among the group is what leadership-team coaching can help foster.

In the End
As a leadership coach, I work one-on-one with leaders but also work with whole leadership teams that may involve a building leader and their assistant principals, or a team with teachers and staff as well. Just like with Gavin and his assistant principals, leadership-team coaching can be very powerful, especially when it’s focused on areas like instructional leadership. What’s really important is that we approach it from an OPEN perspective. This means we should have the following ingredients:

Opportunity—We need to establish a defined opportunity to coach. If it isn’t scheduled, it often isn’t done. Whether it’s one on one or with a team, there needs to be an opportunity for coaching to take place.

Purpose—There needs to be a purpose behind coaching. We shouldn’t hire instructional coaches or leadership coaches because other districts are doing it. We should establish coaching because it brings purpose to our learning and improvement.

Expectation—There should be an expectation that people bring their best selves to the table. This is often where a coach needs to work through the trust issues around the table. We are all 100 percent responsible for our 50 percent in any relationship and should remember that when entering into coaching.

Next Steps—When we leave a coaching session, we should always know what our next steps are as we move forward. It becomes our action plan.

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D., is an instructional leadership coach and the author of several books including Coach It Further: Using the Art of Coaching to Improve School Leadership (Corwin Press. 2018). Connect with him on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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.