I was wrong about Coaching (Part 1/7)
I had captured my thoughts on coaching at various points in my teaching career, through snippets here and there, segways and diversions within leadership post and reading, brief encounters and a semi-successful introductions with the Wellington College Coaching programme and a brief opportunity to be Coached whilst at The Wellington Academy as Vice Principal. Then 2017-18 I took taken part in an experimental 12 month Complexity Theory in Education course with Keven Bartle, delivered in part by guest speaker seminar and narrative enquiry, of form of group or co-Coaching. This experience was particularly demanding and illuminating and it most certainly encouraged me to think more deeply about Coaching, communication and how organisational management. In April I attended a seminar with Dr Paul Browning, Trust in Leadership: How trusted are you as a leader? with my AHT colleague, which led to his book Compelling Leadership, then going onto read his PhD thesis and pretty much anything else I could find on trust.
…we notice trust as we notice air, only when it becomes scarce or polluted Baier (1986) (p234).
In late May 2018 I convened two separate meetings, with two trusted Head Teacher colleagues, who I know worked with an Executive Coach. With their affirmations ringing in my ears, I accepted an invitation to work with an Executive Coach myself, early in the summer term. After all, I had two years of Headship under my belt and plenty of experiences, missteps, reflections and successes to explore and a clear line of enquiry – how to develop trust in schools.
Given an opportunity to temporarily step back from school leadership, I made the conscious effort to reflect on these and others leadership experiences. I wrote a number of summative articles, on developing pedagogical expertise, on change management, on personal-professional productivity and a rather lengthy one on my personal engagement with Coaching. In that summary I acknowledged that ‘I was wrong about Coaching,’ and to put the record straight, I was committed to pursuing a Coaching qualification, to enhance and extend my Head Teacher effectiveness and influence, reading myself for my next leadership role.
Finding the right qualification and Awarding Body was far from straightforward. Multiple organisations, all with various levels, with varying components, support and costs. (I will explain why, in later posts). So I turned to an old Coaching friend who’s recommendation led to an early morning coffee meeting Jane Suter (Executive Coach and owner of Red Tiger Consultancy).
Jane very kindly and thoroughly took me through the various accreditation pathways and options. In making her recommendation, she noted that she had read a few posts from this blog. A little embarrassed (and impressed by her level of preparation), I told her that I had also recently documented my thoughts on Coaching, from unimpressed, unconvinced and inexperienced Middle Leader to the point of this very conversation – beneficiary, investing my own time and money on getting accredited. Jane asked if she could read the post and I saw no reason not to, it was only in draft and I had not decided what I planned to do with it.
What resulted from that initial review was a series of return emails with questions (mainly about word choices) and points of clarification (it was only a messy draft). These led to further questions and conversations that resulted in me moving the post to Google Docs so we could exchange comments more freely, in a narrative enquiry style. ‘I was wrong about Coaching,’ through the unintentional narrative enquiry approach, became a five part series. I revisited part four, adding to it, and splitting into two more manageable reads. The same again with what was originally part 5. So now we have a seven parts.
I want to be very candid here. This series was initially written as a way to clarify and unpick my own professional thinking on Coaching. It was afforded by the rare opportunity to pause, notice, mark and record my feelings and thinking at this moment in time (though the series relies heavily on past record or blog posts). It is my raw, initial reaction, that is largely shared here, rather than my refined, considered response. The validity of which, is not whether it appears to true, but rather the informed actions that resulted from it. I am enrolled on my first formal Coaching accredited course. (That, my friend, in for you Dr Sean Warren).
Unimpressed or unconvinced by your introduction to Coaching? Frustrated with the mixed messaging of Coaching and Mentoring? Continue reading.
Interested in Coaching and mentoring? Ready to see what Coaching and Mentoring can offer your leadership. Looking to enhance and extend your own effectiveness and influence as a leader then skip to Part 3.
10 years under my belt
I had been teaching near on ten years, been promoted, led a successful and experienced PE and Sport Department, led a Grade 1 Department inspected, joined an External Review collaboration, secured my first whole-school leadership role, before I ever heard of Coaching (with a big ‘C’).
It was December 15th, 2009. What is more, I am a little embarrassed to share with you, that Coaching was met with insouciance. (I choose my words very carefully. You learn very quickly to do that when you work with a skilled and experienced Coach (and also when one becomes a coach too). More often than not you are expected to prompted to explain yourself.) These are not hazy reflections. Since 2007, I kept a professional diary / blog. My indifference for Coaching is not well hidden, not even camouflaged. In a summary post titled LftM Development Day (LftM Leading from the Middle) I report it in black and white.
It didn’t work, it felt contrived. I don’t like role play at the best of times.
If you stay with me, and I hope you do, I plan to explore how I journeyed from a position of poorly considered indifference to Coaching advocate and student.
Now, with twenty plus years in education, at a time where Instructional Coaching is making surfable waves in teacher development, where the profession is failing to retain teachers, at a time where I have personally and professional benefitted from being Coached, I am planning to invest both time and finance in an accredited Coaching qualification. Though I did not know where to start my investigations, I knew exactly who approach for advice and guidance. More about Maureen Bowes (People Intelligence), Julian Stanley (CEO Education Support Partnership at the time) and laterly Jane Suter (Red Tiger Consultancy), in due course, for I am about to tuck into a rather large slice of humble pie.
Professional journey sans Coaching
My PGCE with Loughborough University was a blur. The two school placements felt more like a professional initiation than preparation. I best remember the evenings, returning to University hall digs, eating and haphazardly preparing the following days lessons before clambering into bed at little after 8pm, exhausted. I left my first PE job at West Bridgford School at the end of my NQT year for Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. I can remember very little formal professional development. I do recall being explicitly shown how to manage the PE changing rooms, school uniform standards and setting expectations of behaviour. I can recall feeling very much a part of a PE team. As for formal professional development. Nada. No pedagogical support, planning or delivery. No mentor. No appraisal.
With a Masters degree and some fantastic memories, I returned to the UK and took up a role at Tauntons College, Southampton. I had two great unofficial mentors, experienced PE teachers who did what was right and expected us to do likewise and one or two experienced colleagues around the College who I looked up to and admired. No formal line meetings, some co-planning and moderating of BTEC coursework and some rather horrendous Faculty meetings. We did have one or two whole-college INSET days, one memorable training session on assessment – ‘TAGs and PEGs,’ or target grades and predicted grades. Memorable for all the wrong reasons. One staff INSET Day visit from Farnborough College Principal – who introduced me to the term “discretionary effort.” Coaching, no. Mentoring, yes, informally but definite. I still catch up with my old Head of Department, Howard Tear, to this day.
It was not until I reached Hamble Community Sports College that I experience formal one-to-one line meetings. I had taken on the ICT Department and a whole school role on Digital Learning. These were both formal, “report and justify,” type conversations, as well as informal, “on-the-fly, how are you getting on” conversations. In addition, once a year the Head Teacher drove me three hours drive up to the SSAT Conference in Birmingham. Though I was not aware of it at the time, the journey was a prolonged ‘Coaching’ session – almost. 80% Coaching and 20% “best be aware that…,” and “don’t do that again.” The conference itself was stretching and motivating. Unbeknown to me, attending with the Head Teacher, was very clear strategy employed to expose me to leadership culture and conversation (a strategy I have borrowed since – attending a number of events with senior staff.) As far as my own Middle and whole-school Leadership – I shudder to think how blunt my leadership practice must has been.
I was promoted onto the Senior Leadership Team. I reflect and recognise that I had modest self-awareness, I perceived that leadership and management were pretty much the same thing. I expected myself to be out in front – leading. I wasn’t looking forward to the late Monday evening SLT meetings. I had been mentored and recognised it. I had received some Coaching, though it was covert and I most certainly didn’t recognise it (I do now). I was not aware that I was about to enter a phase of a senior leadership characterised by “trial and error,” “learn through experience” and “reactive action.” I am confident that Coaching would have made this journey both more productive and less painful for both myself and those I was dragging along with me. Formal professional development, as I recognise it today, was not a part of the schools improvement plan.