This article introduces us to the reasons why coaching can be a very successful intervention in supporting leaders and aspiring leaders on their leadership journey. This particular offering is based around resilience, (tested greatly 2020-21), but could equally well focus on other leadership and personal development themes. It includes face to face coaching with the option of virtual sessions and can be monitored using a mental toughness questionnaire at the outset and close to demonstrate areas of change.
The aims for the programme and coaching practice
The programme is designed to deliver specialist educational leadership coaching based around organisational leadership with a focus on strategy; delivery and accountability; people management; workload consideration and accountability; long-term development and divergent thinking to meet the needs of the future educational landscape (sustainability) and financial and partnership working for more effective leadership.
The coaches involved are experienced professional coaches who have worked for many years in education and who bring an objective perspective to their coaching in this particular environment.
The coaching programme offers a supportive framework for the team as well as individuals and is based around real-world challenges which ensures that the conversations have a practical impact on leadership capability in the setting of each individual’s role.
The coaching meetings always have an agenda driven by the participant, with the coach offering a facilitated conversation which allows the coachee to explore their own ideas and derive their own solutions with guidance as necessary.
In the context of educational organisations the expectation of coaching is often centred around mentoring from an experienced school leader who provides support through specific guidance and help, but with an encouragement to the coachee to explore and extend knowledge themselves. As such, this falls between ‘pure’ mentoring and ‘pure or facilitative’ coaching. Coaching in other contexts – such as this programme – is more wide ranging, allowing the coachee to drive the conversations. A facilitative coach helps the client to develop the ability to grow knowledge and confidence through reflection and understanding of themselves which encourages deeper learning and a longer-lasting benefit.
Why coaching rather than formal training?
NPQs, tailored support programmes and other leadership development within Education have long used coaching to support the development of leadership skills introduced through formal training courses.
Coaching is accepted as the best long-term driver of change. As far back as the turn of the 20th Century, John Dewey (in his ‘Pedagogical Creed’) recognised that learning by doing was a powerful method for education. Both problem-based learning and project-based learning have elements that are relevant to coaching today, highlighting how we can learn in a practical, real-world environment and develop skills which will be valuable for long-term self-development and efficacy. This approach to learning helps us to develop flexible knowledge, effective problem-solving skills, self-directed learning skills, effective collaboration and intrinsic motivation.
Coaching facilitates the link between what is happening and how we can develop our skills to achieve goals not only now, but in future.
Research from Leeds Beckett University in January 2020 describes how coaching helps to build leadership capacity.* This is a key report and highlights some important features which coaching addresses, including the ability to build resilience whist maintaining well-being. The reciprocal nature of the coaching relationship helps individuals to feel supported, build confidence and to deal more easily with the pressures of their role. The space away from daily work and time for them to reflect effectively with an impartial sounding board (as opposed to advisor or peer) provides an opportunity to ‘stand on the balcony’ and take a good look at what is happening in their school.
*Report authors: Professor Rachel Lofthouse & Ruth Whiteside CollectivED at Leeds Beckett University. (Published by Leeds Beckett University, January 2020). https://www.integritycoaching.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/Sustaining-a-Vital-Profession-Final-Report.pdf
MENTAL TOUGHNESS AND MEASURING IMPACT
Benchmarking and measuring success
As a relatively new concept in leadership development contexts, there is a fairly small amount of information on monitoring success. Coaching, by definition, is intangible and it can be difficult to demonstrate clear change which is attributable to coaching. Businesses use ‘Return on Capital Employed’ (ROCE) which can show hard indicators like spend related to profit, but in recent years psychologists and leaders have brought in the idea of using cultural, social or human capital as measures for the more intangible interventions in organisations. More recently we have become aware of the importance of emotional intelligence and the clear link here to emotional capital provides us with the means to look more objectively at the effect that coaching is having.
For this programme we benchmark Mental Toughness (resilience) by using a well- researched psychometric – MTQ Plus – and comparing results at the start of the programme with those seen at the close.
Emotional Capital and Mental Toughness
Daniel Goleman, a leading thinker on emotional intelligence, is a psychologist whose book ‘Emotional Intelligence: Why it can Matter More than IQ’, brings this theme to the mainstream.
He describes five attributes of emotional intelligence which include:
– self-awareness (recognising our own emotions and their effects)
– self-regulation (emotional control, adaptation)
– social skill (interpersonal relationships)
– empathy (understanding others and decision-making)
– self-motivation (drive and enthusiasm)
These attributes relate very closely to the work on mental toughness and resilience that we are using as a framework for this coaching programme. In particular, the links to life and emotional control and to self-confidence (esteem) are clear.
The MTQ Plus questionnaire focusses on these themes (see section on MTQ Plus) and therefore help us to develop a relevant benchmark and exit point to see how the team develops over the period of the coaching programme.
Whilst it would be rewarding to think that any change is down to coaching, we need to take a realistic view and weave this in with the external factors which are particularly potent this year, (2020/21). In particular we need to consider:
- The shock of the pandemic
- The loss of school-year milestones
- The requirement to change all practices quickly
- The use of technology
- Individual flexibility and role changes
- Managing the unknown
- Planning for the unknown
- Loss of local control
The coaching conversations focus on day to day challenges, but each coachee creates specific actions or elements of learning from each session and identifies how that will move into real impact for their work and therefore for the children in the school.
Coaching as a development tool is focussed on individual needs (bespoke), facilitative (develops an ability to self-motivate and improve accountability), and it encourages reflection. It also provides a ‘safe space’ in a busy and fast-changing environment, allowing individuals to stand back and take a more objective and strategic view of their working world.