I was wrong about Coaching (part 5/7)
Coaching – a missed opportunity
I joined The Wellington Academy in January 2013. Having joined thinking I was going to be the junior of three VPs, by the time I arrived I was the only VP and there were two Assistant Head teachers of sorts. The organisation ‘game’ was complex and it involved our sponsor, Wellington College. At this time, not only did not know the rules of engagement, I did not know to look or listen for them. Instead I worked considerably harder than I had ever worked before. I tried to keep pace with the phenomenally committed Principal. Line managing 11/13 Middle Leaders enforced that I approached things differently and some of this involved more distributed leadership. The first two terms until my VP colleague arrived where a blur. Words such as ‘rapid’ and ‘relentless’ was commonly used phrases that I grew to dislike. As were the many references to what other successful schools were doing and achieving.
The Principal that appointed me left the Academy in August. It was an uncertain time. A new Principal was appointed from the staff body at Wellington College. I encountered a new leadership approach.
New rules of engagement, that I now knew to look for. We had not shaken the ‘rapid’ and ‘relentless’ agenda and we were expecting a ‘Requires Improvement’ inspection rating. Three Vice Principals and Assistant Headteachers, offered a fighting chance from which to addressing the schools self evaluation. ‘Requires Improvement,’ (just about,) was confirmed later that year though. We pushed on, relentlessly. We were visited so many times, our work scrutinised both internally and externally, that we coined our own visitor feedback phrase.
Give me your watch, and I will tell you the time.
We pushed on and I report now that I knowledge that this relentless drive had a serious impact on the staff well-being at large. It was the language of leading and driving improvement.
Fast forward to 2014. Wellington College had embarked on a whole College coaching plan. In my thinking at that time, it meant that our highly successful sponsor endorsed coaching practice. However, I was still unsure what that actually meant in practice. The staff at The Wellington Academy were to benefit from that coaching initiative also as part of a group staff INSET. I attended a coaching development seminars and it was interesting however, I still didn’t know what it actually meant in practice. We were encouraged to work across Campuses in ‘Coaching triad’ (should have been quads) and I was partnered with a senior Wellington College colleague I respected. We tried. We spoke on the phone and we made a point of talking on cross campus visits. We didn’t do any purposeful coaching.
Truth is, we were waist-deep trying to make ‘rapid’ improvements through a ‘relentless’ leadership style. Then out of the blue, the three Vice Principals we were informed that a Coach had been appointed to work with us? That working as a Vice Principal at their sponsored Academy, meant we were to benefit from the ‘excess’ Coaching they had purchased for their leadership team. It felt like we were getting cast-offs from a big brother. If I am honest, I was puzzled and queried the reasons why? Which I will come to in a moment.
I completed the Adult Fulfillment Wheel and the Pre-Coaching Questionnaire and Partnership Agreement. We met in my office, a poor decision. Re-reading my responses to the questionnaire, I notice that what I hope to project of myself has not changed.
Good husband, father. Strong core values.
Moreover, I now know, and could articulate, those values more precisely and clearly.
As far as a “desired legacy.” I responded
One day at a time. One week at a time. One term at a time.
I think this speaks volumes. It was because we were working flat out. Being ‘relentless.’
I identified the same role-model leader that I happened to write about yesterday when exploring ‘Outstanding Leadership’ – John Wooden.
My response to question 14 was interesting. When do you give your power away? To whom?
When the impact is greater by giving it away.
I would like to think that I now give it away sooner and more readily. When the impact may also building capacity in a colleague, I will add that this perspective comes from an elevated position of authority.
I didn’t complete the questionnaire. Allocating time to Coaching felt like a luxury. Time I did not have under. Expectations were incredibly high and the pressures upon our elite private school sponsor passed on. We didn’t meet again. I did not pursue it. A missed opportunity?
Jane Suter: Looking back, what would have decided you to give more time?
Jane’s questions do not get any easier. 1-2-1 Coaching is not the cheap option. I was not convinced that there was going to be a sufficient return on my investment in the Coaching of me. It was introduced in an off-hand way. I was unsure of the aims and organisational rationale behind it. The relationship lacked security. Coaching for leaders and coaching across the MAT seemed ill-defined, muddle. In fact there were three layers, Coaching for leaders, Coaching triads, and coaching on the go culture. For whatever reason, I thought coaching was about your relationship with the coach, rather than my relationship with myself and how I interacted with others. I did not weigh-in the influence a ‘better me’ may have on the Assistant HeadTeachers and Directors of Learning, who in turn would influence the teaching staff in their departments, who in turn would influence the student body.
I wish the framing of Coaching opportunity had been more sincere. If felt like Coaching had been introduced as a developmental approach (which may have been required), medicinal even. That, as Academy leaders, we needed help from our sponsor? If I had the self-awareness and humility to accept Coaching. I may have been a strong leader, sooner. I may have engaged with Coaching, sooner.
Blinkered to Coaching
I have always actively sought leadership training opportunities. Coaching accreditation was not on my radar. I maintained conversations with Graydin and Maureen Bowes, engaged Maureen to work with our Senior Leaders (and attended myself for a refresher). I continued to read about leaders and leadership but not Coaching.
In hindsight, my leadership would have benefited from Coach education or accreditation or training. For me, one of the strengths of Coaching, is possibly it’s achilles heel. Coaching principles are accessible to all teachers and leaders, at all levels. However Coaching, like teaching, benefits from practice, experience but deserves that education or accreditation or training.
Our third child, Olly arrived.
Had I been more aware, in reflection, I recognise now that I would have benefitted from a) Coaching and b) training on how to use coaching as an aspiring leader. Much like the ‘Structure Conversations’ training I experienced as a Middle Leader. Or conversations without coffee as one former colleague referred to them as.
Ny now the coaching record had become a shared document and also acted as a place to converse with Jane.
Where I need direction, now, is selecting the most appropriate, accredited qualification. Jane, I would be most grateful to know the pitch, depth and time frame for recognised, accredited qualifications. Can you help?
Jane: The first step is understanding the reasons why one might want a coaching qualification. For some, it could mean the start a new career as a coach, to go on to specialise in Coaching at the Executive level. For others, like you Kristian, it compliments their work, possibly leading team members or introducing a coaching programme into an organisation. This information will determine the level and depth of the course.
ILM coaching courses have three academic levels namely 3, 5, 7 (post graduate level). A good course provider will ensure that a course is selected that is appropriate to the goal of the individual, the amount of time that they are able to devote to the course, and of course there is the cost to consider.
In my opinion, a higher academic level course does not necessarily imply that one is a ‘better coach’ but it does mean they have more in depth knowledge about the organisational / cultural / ethical implications of coaching.
Too late is better than not at all
Jane Suter: When you first gained an interest in Coaching, [back as an aspiring middle leader] somewhere between the Middle and Senior Leadership, I would have recommended ILM Level 3 to deepen your understanding of coaching and promote your Coaching practice.
The ILM Level 5 is a good all-round course that will enable one to coach at all managerial levels and many of our past delegates have gone on to set up their own coaching business or introduced coaching into their organisations.
No matter what level you study at, you can go onto Coach. As I pointed out, the Level does not necessarily make you a better Coach, thoughtful and reflective practice, makes you a better Coach. In summary, the higher levels demand more know level and more practice, in more complex scenarios.
A good school
The Wellington Academy secured it’s “Best Ever” results in 2015. This took the school from bottom of Wiltshire’s 2014 Performance Tables in all headline measures, to being the choice school for the local community. From the 85th to the 45th percentile nationally with an intake significantly below average.
The shared commute with two trusted Vice Principals colleagues made it worth it but the hour commute was taking its toll. The role has taken it toll.
In March the inspectors returned – The Wellington Academy was a ‘Good’ school with an exhausted staff-body.
In May 2016 I accepted a new role, as HeadTeacher, at a small independent school – a school in disarray, in the midst of a large, unfinished building project.