10 Reasons to Consider a Leadership Coach
At New Leaders, we believe that school leadership matters. In fact, we were founded on that very concept. As one of the first professional learning organizations to focus on building the capacity of school leaders, we know that school leaders (as well as educational leaders at every level) learn best when their professional development is rooted in their day-to-day work.
Enter principal coaching. Social scientists all concur that adult learning is dynamic. We know that leadership development doesn’t happen in one sitting, but rather over time and through regular practice. For optimal results, that practice needs to be authentic, highly relevant, and continuous so that adults can translate theory into practice. And, the feedback adults receive needs to be rooted in evidence. It needs to be objective, unbiased, and actionable in order to drive school improvement and accelerate student learning.
Maybe you’re wondering if a leadership coach might be right for you. Or you know you need more support, but are not quite sure how leadership coaching can be helpful. Or why it might be worth the investment at the district or school level. Here are 10 reasons for you to consider.
1. Zero in on your own professional goals
The nature of one-on-one coaching is to focus on your goals. Be that career advancement, a new leadership skill you'd like to focus on, a team that you need to develop, teachers who need more instructional coaching, or a specific issue within your school or district community. Skilled coaches take the time to understand you and your unique context. In doing so, they help you get clear on where you are right now, where you want to go, and how to get there.
2. Get on-time support when you need it most
“Coaching doesn’t feel like I’m adding something to a leader’s plate,” New Leaders coach and former principal Janelle Styons explains. “I’m supporting them in what they’re already doing.” This kind of real-time approach to coaching, be it in-person, virtual, or a quick phone call, offers support for the day-to-day needs of leaders. PD sessions are often after-the-fact and not nearly as effective. Coaching lets you problem-solve in the moment and then holds you accountable for the results.
3. Tackle the really tough stuff
The hardest challenges you face as leaders rarely have an easy answer. Or, a single solution. Managing parent concerns, equitably distributing resources, retaining high-quality teachers and staff require leaders to seek out more than one perspective, find key partners, and engage the whole community in implementing solutions. We call this adaptive leadership, and it’s critical to your success as a school or district leader. Executive coaching offers expert thought partnership and guidance when you need to see a path forward.
4. Center your focus on students
“My coach was the first to ask me a radical question: ‘What was the impact of my behavior and decisions on the academic outcomes of my students?’” observes Hal Harris, a former principal and now district leader. By examining student work and grounding coaching conversations in relevant student data, leadership coaches keep a measurable focus on what matters most: advancing student achievement.
5. Dedicate time for self-reflection
Self-reflection is a critical component of transformational leadership and influences your district and school culture as well. Leadership coaching provides a designated time for you to slow down, ask yourself some insightful questions, and think about a situation without reacting to it. An effective coach will listen, pose a few more questions, add some additional perspective, and then work with you to identify or refine your action plan so you can move forward differently.
6. Leave the judgment behind
District leaders often tell us that their principals want to talk with an experienced leader who is not their supervisor or someone who might judge them for the questions they most want to ask. “Having that trusted safe space where you can present a problem of practice and get immediate feedback from someone who is invested in your growth as a leader, that is the biggest benefit of coaching,” explains former principal and New Leaders coach Courtney Torres.
7. Learn at your own pace
With today’s technology, professional learning can happen asynchronously as well as during scheduled coaching sessions. By blending the two approaches, leaders can learn at their own pace, accessing resources and tools at any time and then coming to a coaching conversation with a deeper sense of what is possible. Research shows that virtual coaching is equally effective in building leadership capacity.
8. Enhance your problem-solving skills
The best coaches are remembered for their questions. Why? Because those questions fuel creative thinking, ownership, and independent problem-solving skills. My coach, adds Harris, “asked many questions that allowed me to own both my results and take command of my development. She did not prescribe to me an instructional booklet of directions.” Look for a principal coach who pushes past compliance and challenges you to drive toward solutions.
9. Optimize your resources
This is particularly true for virtual coaching, as it can take place anywhere. All you need is Wi-Fi or a mobile device. Virtual coaching eliminates the need for travel, coverage for any time away, or any added scheduling conflicts or logistical hurdles. It can be less expensive than in-person coaching which may allow you to redirect resources toward other key priorities.
10. Increase retention rates for principals and teachers alike
School leaders cite opportunities for professional growth as a central reason they stay invested in their school and in their district. Principal coaching is job-embedded PD so it enables leaders to grow in their current role as well as explore the skills needed to advance their leadership in new ways. Research also confirms that the best leaders attract and retain the best teachers. By investing in leaders, you can boost retention rates for principals and teachers too—for the benefit of students and everyone in your care.