If you’re a headteacher, you’ve probably heard about coaching, whether you’ve actually experienced it yourself or not. In this blog, I thought I would explore the ways in which coaching actually benefits headteachers (or those in similar school leadership roles – principal, executive head, head of school etc).
I started by looking at some research. Rachel Lofthouse and Ruth Whiteside of Leeds Beckett University conducted an interesting piece of research in 2020 on the impact of coaching for headteachers, the results of which are available to read about online (see link below). They found a ‘positive impact on headteachers’ self-belief and confidence . . . coaching helped them to place greater priority on their physical health. Coaching also helped to address the feelings of isolation commonly felt by headteachers.’ More importantly, I think, they emphasised the importance of the quality and independence of the coaching provision. They recognised the potential of coaching to bring greater sustainability to the role of headteacher, in times of intense challenges for the profession.
My own experience as a head experiencing coaching and then as a leadership coach over the last couple of years, working with headteachers, up and down the country and overseas, very much echoes the findings of the Lofthouse & Whiteside report. I have identified 6 areas of benefit: being able to speak without fear of judgement, the opportunity to step back and see things from a fresh perspective, receiving objective feedback, a chance to do more strategic thinking, building confidence and being able to be more of a coaching leader to your own staff.
Being able to speak without fear of judgement
Coaching provides a safe and confidential reflective space in order to experiment with ideas and opinions without fear of judgement. Heads rarely get the opportunity for this. They may fear fallout or consequences when speaking too openly to colleagues, either in their own school, or from their LA/MAT. Headteachers I speak to often comment on how good it is to speak to someone external to their organisation.
Overwhelm is a common experience for school leaders. Jon Kabat-Zinn (mindfulness expert) says it happens when our lives are ‘unfolding faster than the nervous system and psyche can manage it’. When you’re overwhelmed with challenges, it can be hard to ‘see the wood for the trees’! Coaching gives you the chance to step back from your current reality into a reflective space and get a fresh perspective.
Within a confidential coaching session, heads can get objective feedback, delivered in a non-judgemental way. Feedback is essential for personal growth and can be hard to get when you’re a head. It’s not feedback in terms of judgements or evaluations, but more of a mirroring back of what has been said. For example, often heads will tell me that they aren't very good at something, and they then go on to describe situations and experiences which demonstrate the opposite. As a coach, I can make this observation, and get the coachee to reflect on what it means for them. Sometimes, in the role of ‘thinking partner’, I can help people to join the dots between different pieces of information.
When you’re working in a pressured environment, you often get caught up in day to day challenges. Putting time aside to get strategic can sometimes feel like an indulgence. Within a coaching session, however, the space frees up your mind to see the bigger picture, think of what you really want and what your school needs in the medium and longer term.
A 'pure' coach will not offer solutions or advice and will instead draw on your resourcefulness. As you discover solutions within coaching sessions, you will develop greater trust in your ability to deal with new challenges, hence building your self-confidence. Another aspect of this is getting to know yourself better as a leader. In coaching, we often uncover core values that hadn’t been recognised before. That knowledge is often transformational, leaders going on to use their core values to guide them towards more confident decision-making.
Being a coaching leader
Coaching isn’t just for 1:1 coaching sessions. The idea of coaching, where you draw out the resourcefulness of others, is an empowering leadership style. As you experience coaching for yourself, you start to discover ways that you can incorporate more of this into your own work as a leader.
If you’re a school leader, and you’d like to try coaching out for yourself, why not get in touch and arrange a complimentary, no obligation consultation. We can talk through the options, and you can get a feel for whether I would be the right coach for you. You can book directly into my calendar, using this link. I subscribe to the 'pure' coaching approach I describe in this article. I am guided by the European Mentoring and Coaching Council’s ‘Global Code of Ethics’, which you can read more about here.
The Leeds Beckett research mentioned above can be found here.