Coaching Works for School Leaders, Too

Learn why a leadership coach is an important part of your support system, and how a coach can help you cut through the clutter, get clear on goals, and take action.
Althea HammondAlthea Hammond
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School leadership can be a lonely and overwhelming place, but it doesn’t have to be. One incredibly beneficial way to strengthen your support system is to work with a coach.

As a school leader, you’ve likely seen the positive benefits coaching has had on your teachers. Instructional coaching expert Jim Knight says this is because they’re the ones initiating the relationship, choosing their goal, and receiving personalized support in service of it.

The same can be said for coaching school leaders. Whether you’re a long-serving principal or just starting out in your career, here are four reasons to consider working with a leadership coach.

Coaching flexes adaptive leadership muscles

As the effects of the pandemic continue, school principals are leading their communities through uncertainty and change. This means zeroing in on adaptive leadership practices and finding solutions to problems that don’t have easy or singular answers. Ensuring teachers feel supported while addressing ongoing staffing shortages, managing parent concerns particularly when sharing divergent viewpoints, equitably distributing resources—these adaptive challenges require leaders to seek out multiple perspectives, identify key partners, and mobilize the school community to work together to forge collective solutions.

As New Leaders alum and former principal Keisha B. Warner reminds us, adaptive leaders want to keep their focus on “putting the opportunities in place for students to excel.” Principal coaching can offer a sounding board for these opportunities and offer guidance when there’s a roadblock.

Coaching offers individualized support

The relationship between a school principal and their leadership coach is one-on-one, individualized professional learning, and relevant to your specific needs: where you are in your career, your leadership goal or vision, the growth area you’d like to focus on, or the needs of your school community. In knowing your specific context, a coach is able to help you get clear on where you are now, where you want to be, and the steps you’ll take to get there.

Leadership coaching also provides a non-judgemental space to talk through concerns with another leader who understands your role, not only the day-to-day challenges, but the environment and circumstances in which you lead. At New Leaders, our coaches are former principals, school system leaders, teachers, and industry experts. In addition, 57% of our staff identify as people of color.

Our diverse backgrounds and leadership experiences often lead to increased trust, where a leader feels safe and therefore more open to learning and implementing new information and strategies. A school leader who is more open to ideas and different ways of approaching challenges models that same exploration for teacher leaders. So everyone in your school benefits.

Coaching ensures direct application of professional learning

Too often professional development for education leaders happens outside of schools, making it difficult to truly apply the learning because it’s rooted in theory, not practice. An effective coaching relationship, on the other hand, provides professional development that is job-embedded, continuous, and directly applicable to your goals.

Karen Bryan-Chambers, New Leaders alum and leadership coach, started working with a coach during her fourth year as a principal. One day, her coach shared feedback that surprised her and created an opportunity for her to lead in a new way. Her teachers wanted to be more engaged. They thought she did all the work herself. So, at her next staff meeting, Chambers and her team reflected on why they became educators and what their shared vision of student success looked like. Her coach’s observation allowed her to see a need and find a relevant and authentic way to engage in real time. That year, student achievement increased dramatically, as did collective teacher efficacy.

Coaching creates space for self-reflection

Reflection is a crucial part of equity-focused leadership. Working toward a school community that centers on equity starts with self-reflection on the part of the leader. It can be tough to make time for this kind of contemplation, especially now with the shifting demands of the pandemic.

Coaching offers you a way to deliberately and mindfully slow down, flex your curiosity muscles, and think about current situations and solutions. Leadership coaches keep you accountable in this practice by scheduling time with you to go over your reflections, posing additional questions for you to explore, and elevating voices and perspectives you may have not considered. This self-reflection may be uncomfortable at first, but it provides a way to improve your leadership—and student outcomes—by keeping your self-care at the forefront.

Leadership is a journey. And one that shouldn’t be walked alone. A skilled coach—someone who understands your context and helps you formulate a path to your goals—can be invaluable in gaining perspective, deepening your learning and understanding of your school community, and improving how you connect with your teachers and students.

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