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If I asked you to create a list of what it takes to be an outstanding teacher today what would be on your list?  Such words as well ‘organised’, ‘open to questions’, ‘prepared’, ‘good listener’, ‘committed’, ‘innovative and technology literate’ may spring to mind.  If I then asked you to compile a similar list of what it takes to be an effective educational manager (read leader here as well) how different would that list be? Would your list focus on the outputs of a manager or their inputs? For example, what they need to achieve versus how they achieve their goals. To be ‘organised’, ‘a good listener’ and ‘always planned and prepared’ may well be requirements. However, roles and standards fall at school, with a de-motivated staff room.

The final list I want you to create is one that identifies the skills of an effective coach. Again, what words would you use? ‘A good listener’, ‘strong, challenging questioner’, ‘builds an easy and supportive environment for coaching’, ‘professional’ could be buzzwords. With all three roles, there are similarities. It is not about working harder (when we are already working as hard as we can). There are still only 24 hours in a day and seven days in a week. Instead, we do need to think of working smarter, and that is where coaching comes in.

According to the many theorists who write about leadership and management, the key focus of any effective manager is to achieve the correct balance between task delivery and people development. We know that we can have strong staff working towards the wrong goals, or the right goals without the right management approach bringing staff in the right direction.  Whether we look at Adair’s Action Centred Leadership or more recently Alimo-Metcalfs’ Engaging Leadership, the importance of balancing task focus with an emotionally intelligent leadership style which combines authenticity and adaptability has become our Holy Grail.  Within the fast paced every changing and highly customer focused school environment this Holy Grail is not just about managing staff, it is about how we manage all our stakeholders, from the pupils in the classroom, through to parents, governors and the community we operate within.  So what makes an effective educational manager?

Hales (1986) suggests these five stages; firstly, there is the importance of ensuring a degree of congruence between actual and expected practices and performance.  Do you know and understand what is expected of you, and can you achieve it?  Secondly, there is the degree of fit between behaviour and activities on the one hand and tasks and functions on the other.  Is the managerial function structured in such a manner to enable you to be effective?  Thirdly, there is the effectiveness of the manager not only in their own work, but in ensuring the work of others. Do you have a team with the right skills and abilities to deliver?  Fourthly, there is the effectiveness of the whole management team.  Is the whole team capable?   Finally, there is the issue of who decides what constitutes the proper management function and managerial tasks, and on what criteria.

Where does coaching fit into this discussion? In addition, how can coaching enable me to be a better teacher, manager or leader? Put simply, ‘coaching is a conversation, or series of conversations, one person has with another’ (Starr 2003).  Knowles states that ‘learning is the act or process by which behavioural change, knowledge, skills and attitudes are acquired’ (2005) When working in an educational establishment it is important to think through how we are developing our own learning, as well as the teaching and learning of our pupils.

Where does coaching fit into this discussion? In addition, how can coaching enable me to be a better teacher, manager or leader? Put simply, ‘coaching is a conversation, or series of conversations, one person has with another’ (Starr 2003).  Knowles states that ‘learning is the act or process by which behavioural change, knowledge, skills and attitudes are acquired’ (2005) When working in an educational establishment it is important to think through how we are developing our own learning, as well as the teaching and learning of our pupils.

Ullrich and Smallwood (2007) discuss the importance of Leadership Brand and how that impacts the organisational brand.  In a highly competitive Independent School market place, the brand of your school needs to be easily identifiable. This enables you as a school to attract the right parents and pupils who relate to your brand. A leadership brand occurs when ‘the leaders’ knowledge, skills and values focus employee behaviour on the factors that target issues that customers care about.’  So, if we don’t value investing in our staff learning how can we value the learning of our pupils? Coaching is a learning approach which enables people to develop their behaviour, finding new perspectives to overcome barriers, unlock doors, and ultimately become the best version of themselves that they can be.

The skills of a coach are like those of a teacher – a good listener with an ability to ask curious questions (without knowing the answers), someone who can constructively challenge at the same time as offering encouragement and support; the coach holds the individual to account, keeping them focused and enabling them to see different options and perspectives. Fundamentally, it is a relationship based on a deep level of trust. How familiar are those skills within the classroom? These are the same skills which enable our pupils to become independent learners.

Coaching is not only about the development conversations that we have as part of our learning path. It is about the everyday practices that occur within a school, from the management briefings, the quick chats on how to solve an issue, the dealing with difficult parents, our annual reviews and so on…

Adopting a coaching approach in your own practice

  1. Ask questions instead of offering answers
  2. Listen acutely to the words people use – these indicate their frame of reference – do they think things through or feel them through?
  3. Try not to think that your solution is the best one – enable people to find their own solution which they will then own.
  4. Hold people to account through questions. Stop ‘spoon-feeding’ and enable them to solve their own challenges – this will save you time in the long run, and develop a stronger team around you.

To find out more about Synergia’s services for schools click here.