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How Leadership Coaching Can Help Teachers and Students
Inherent in the teaching profession is the value of leadership. I know this directly as our daughter Kristina is a 26 year old 5th grade teacher now beginning her third year. She has grown dramatically as a leader thanks to her school’s recognition of her potential. She has learned from older teachers and has received lots of feedback through in-class observation and evaluation as well as stretching opportunities through after-school programs and leading safety patrol and managing student trips to Washington DC. Whether you’re leading kindergarten students in learning a poem or helping high school seniors master differential calculus, if you’re a teacher, you are a leader. It only makes sense that leadership coaching can benefit teachers, because a teacher with outstanding leadership skills is more likely to take the initiative to improve the learning environment.
Teachers who embrace their designation as leaders may represent a school or district in state-wide programs (like All-State Orchestra or Model UN programs), and can be effective role models in anti-drug and anti-bullying programs. Naturally, this can only really work when teacher-leaders have the support of administration in their leadership efforts. Leadership coaching for teachers is beginning to be recognized as a potentially effective method of helping teachers teach better and enjoy their work more.
Many Programs Focus on Mentoring New Teachers
Teaching is unlike any other profession, and teachers face everyday challenges that other professionals can scarcely imagine. Many school systems make a special effort to assist new teachers in adjusting to the reality of teaching, implementing mentor programs that pair new teachers with experienced teachers and allowing new teachers to draw on the knowledge and wisdom that come from a long teaching career. Mentoring makes sense for new teachers, because most school systems have an interest in keeping teacher turnover rates low, and formal teacher training simply doesn’t prepare a teacher for the reality of leading a class day after day.
Can Mid-Career Teachers Benefit from Leadership Coaching?
Once a teacher is established in his or her role and has many years of teaching experience, is there anything left to learn about effective teaching? Absolutely. Whatever your profession, there’s never a point at which you know everything there is to know and can’t benefit from further learning. Leadership coaching for the experienced teacher hasn’t been studied on a large scale yet, but one study in Louisiana indicates that leadership coaching for mid-career teachers can improve teaching effectiveness in mathematics and social studies. There’s every reason to go forward with larger studies to see if the great results can be achieved at scale.
How Coaching and Mentoring Differ
Coaching and mentoring are not the same. While mentoring is generally career-specific, coaching is more skill-specific. Mentoring may last for months or years, while leadership coaching generally has a defined duration of weeks or months. Coaching is a bit more structured, and focuses on specific development issues with the aim of achieving specific goals.
A teacher participating in leadership coaching may, for example, want help in keeping his perfectionism under control. That same trait that expects great performance can, when taken to an extreme, paralyze students with fear of making a mistake. Leadership coaching might address this issue specifically and involve regular meetings with a coach to assess progress, perhaps try role-play scenarios, and discuss possible setbacks.
Coaching Can Address Specific Behaviors that Hold Back Performance
By addressing specific tendencies and behaviors that hold back a teacher’s performance, leadership coaching can turn a good teacher into an exceptionally good teacher. There may be times when a teacher knows that “something” is holding her back, but can’t identify what it is. A coach can provide something similar to a sports coach analyzing a person’s golf swing, observing and learning which specific behaviors cause a good teacher to trip up or go off track. Leadership coaching offers an outside perspective that can be a valuable addition to the more insider perspective a mentor offers. And improvements made through leadership coaching can make the mentoring relationship better as well.
Teachers are leaders, and we as a society expect great things from them. Training is essential, and many schools believe that mentoring is important enough to implement formal programs, particularly to help new teachers gain their bearings. Leadership coaching can play a positive role too, helping the established teacher recognize skill deficits and address them directly with the aim of improving overall teaching performance. Indeed, early studies with leadership coaching for teachers show promise.
My extensive experience in helping people in all walks of life unlock their leadership potential may benefit your educational organization, particularly if you are interested in leadership coaching to help good teachers become great teachers. Perhaps we can work together to kick off a leadership coaching initiative that can help your local teachers achieve even greater things with tomorrow’s adults.