Starting Strong: What K12 Leadership Coaching Can Do For You

Job-embedded leadership coaching can deepen your impact this school year. Discover how it works and why leaders and educators at every level find it beneficial to achieving ambitious goals.
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Blog date
9/28/23
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How do school leaders and educators start the year strong—and stay strong (and committed) all year long? One answer is coaching. We know professional development matters. It’s one of the main reasons principals and teachers cite for staying in their roles. Yet only 23% of elementary school principals report having a coach or a mentor.

It’s important for districts or school systems to be proactive in providing job-embedded professional learning opportunities for school leaders and their teams. That investment sends a message that they are valued, and it supports them in achieving their goals, getting clear on where they are right now, where they want to go as leaders, and how to get there. This kind of real-time support is key to driving student achievement gains. 

The goal of coaching, like all professional learning, is to support and advance growth in adults that fuels learning and growth in students. Student success is the end goal.

In our more than two decades of offering leadership development, we’ve asked thousands of K12 leaders from across the country—vice principals to superintendents, teacher leaders to principals—how they benefit from leadership coaching. Here’s what a few of them had to say:

Prioritize. 

“Executive coaching helps me to prioritize where to start, how to identify my next steps, how to look for evidence of progress, and how to keep the focus of our decisions centered on student learning.”

- Gina Sudaria, Superintendent, Ravenswood City School District, CA 

Accelerate.

"I’ve seen coaching move leaders and teachers from ‘our kids can’t do this’ to ‘our kids can.’” 

- Katie Carmany, Vice Principal on Special Assignment, Fresno Unified School District, CA

Build.

“My focus, whether I am talking to a long-time teacher or a brand-new one, is to help ensure my team feels supported and ready for the challenges that lie ahead this school year.”

- Amy Jackson, Academic Instructional Coach, Jefferson County Public Schools, KY

Grow.

“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.”

- Courtney Torres, Director, Program-Leadership Networks, New Leaders

Amplify.

“Strong coaching leaves a legacy. Years after my coach supported me and my students in getting ELA results, I used the same coaching skill set in developing teachers and administrators as a school principal.”

- Hal Harris, Executive Director Leadership Development, Little Rock School District, AR

What to look for in leadership coaching

Not all coaching is created equal. As district leaders providing this kind of PD for your teams—or as a principal or assistant principal securing coaching for yourself—you need to know what to look for and how it works best. There are many different coaching models, but at its core, coaching is about changing practice, specifically shifting mindsets and behaviors. At New Leaders, we call this kind of leadership ‘adaptive.’

Adaptive leadership requires leaders to mobilize resources and gather multiple perspectives to unearth solutions for challenges that have no easy answer or one-size-fits-all solution. Coaching that builds adaptive leadership muscles, as opposed to addressing technical issues like bus schedules or lunch room duty, is far more effective. This kind of coaching also advances equity and instructional leadership. And it zeroes in on a leader’s strengths and identifies areas to build more capacity. 

Coaching practices follow a similar structure that includes setting goals, reflecting and problem- solving, identifying actions steps, and ensuring accountability for results. Coaching may be short-cycle for a designated period of time or over the school year. Highly effective coaching provides meaningful and timely feedback based on evidence, most commonly in the form of observations and student data. To drive continuous improvement, the feedback also needs to be actionable and objective. 

The goal of coaching, like all professional learning, is to support and advance growth in adults that fuels learning and growth in students. Student success is the end goal. 

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Start strong and deepen your impact

Still wondering if coaching is right for your district? Consider a few of our top reasons for how coaching helps leaders at every level to drive school improvement and accelerate student learning.

  1. Get on-time support when you need it most: Coaching lets you solve problems in the moment and then holds you accountable for the results. 
  2. Tackle the really tough stuff: The hardest challenges you face as leaders rarely have an easy answer. Coaching offers expert guidance when you need to see a path forward.
  3. Center your focus on students: By grounding coaching conversations in student data, coaches keep a measurable focus on what matters most: student achievement. 
  4. Enhance your problem-solving skill: Effective coaches push past compliance, asking hard questions to fuel creative thinking, ownership, and problem-solving skills. 
  5. Increase retention rates: As job-embedded PD, coaching allows leaders to grow in their current role and explore the skills needed to advance their careers in new ways. 

To see the full list, visit: Ten Reasons to Consider a Leadership Coach

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Want to support your school leaders?

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Want to support your school leaders?

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