Reading time: 2 minutes. Relevant programme: SSAT Coaching
Nic Harrison, SSAT senior education lead, explains the paradox that an outsider’s expertise can put you more in control
School leadership is a hugely rewarding role which provides a professional development opportunity every day – no two days are ever the same. It is a developmental role which never stands still and continuously evolves at every level. It is a special role and one that I enjoyed immensely as a middle and senior leader and a headteacher.
I was fortunate to have been given access to programmes of continuing professional development and learning, and the opportunity to challenge my own leadership qualities from each of the roles I undertook.
Reflecting on all these roles, one constant throughout, which unpinned my personal development as a school leader, was having access to a coach within and beyond school. Being coached, and coaching colleagues, has been one of the most challenging experiences of my teaching career. As a leader you are always evaluating the past to have positive impact and to influence the future. Reflective practices incorporate all aspects of the school, from curriculum to staffing, outcomes to budget. We move at such a fast pace that all too often we don’t have time to reflect on one of the most important factors – ourselves. Sharing your journey and discussing the challenges with a professional is deeply rewarding in establishing and nurturing leadership qualities in yourself and your colleagues.
School leaders move at such a fast pace that all too often we don’t have time to reflect on one of the most important factors – ourselves
For all the right reasons, we ensure that there are opportunities for our staff and colleagues. But what is of fundamental importance is how we are developed and challenged professionally to improve as a leader.
The process of being coached is a very rich, self-reflective experience. Accessing leadership coaching strengthened my practice and informed many strategic decisions that I made. It challenged my moral and ethical purpose, pushed me to re-evaluate core decisions, influenced my leadership values – and at times contributed to life-changing school decisions. The experiences of coaching led me to extend the same opportunity to my colleagues, who will benefit on many levels and enriched beyond their expectations.
A good coach develops the right rapport with their coachee. This is invaluable as you embark upon an important journey and one that survives above all else by the nature of the relationship between the two, the dialogue, the dynamic and the experiences shared.
A personal concern of mine was always whether the coach would ‘get it’: would they understand the nature of my challenges, the direction of my vision, the issues that I faced and the successes that I wanted to share? Would they share in my pursuit of making a positive impact on children’s life chances?
The right coach doesn’t just agree with you and tell you that you are right or wrong, but challenges your reasoning, reflections and vision. They don’t give you the solutions and they very often don’t give you any answers. But most importantly they provide you with a platform to move forward, to take hold of the issue that you are fighting with and to come through with the answer – one that you believe in by yourself. I made a commitment to be honest and utilise the time I had with my coach effectively, thinking through the issues and having an open mind about how I could come to a resolution.
Rapport a key feature
The rapport developed with my coaches was instrumental in how each session developed. There was trust, professionalism, respect without judgements and criticism. But there was a personal accountability which required me as the coachee to be open and honest, and engage in the process with the help of the parameters laid down in the ‘coaching contract’. The coach and I always knew what was expected of us in our roles, and this gave me the professional security of each session.
I took great strength from working with a coach and the experiences of being professionally challenged. The coaching was one of the best professional development opportunities that I have undertaken. I regularly felt empowered, reflective and able to stand by my own convictions. I assessed my own moral and ethical beliefs. Paradoxically, the coach’s expertise above all else ensured that I remained in control of the outcomes. A coach once discussed the need to grip the issue at all levels to ensure a desired outcome.
Coaching isn’t without its challenges, but what makes the outcome strongest is the challenge that you make to yourself. To be professionally challenged, in a productive and highly respected environment, gave me opportunities to become the leader that I wanted to be.
This autumn, as part of our commitment to supporting the personal professional development of school leaders, SSAT is launching its coaching offer. We are making available 1:1 coaching sessions and training that will help you to embed a culture of coaching in your school or across your MAT. Find out more.
Read on the SSAT blog: My experience of coaching and why I think it’s so valuable
Nic Harrison, SSAT