My experience of coaching and why I think it’s so valuable

Reading time: 3 minutes. Relevant campaign: SSAT Coaching

Angelina Idun, SSAT director writes

A colleague at SSAT asked me recently whether and how teachers and leaders would know that coaching is the right solution for them or members of their teams.

Having been a big advocate of coaching since participating in the London Leadership Centre’s intensive coach programme in 2002, I naturally gave a positive response. But their question caused me to reflect on years of being the senior leader with the open door – or what came to be fondly known as the revolving door. Readers of this blog will know exactly what I’m referring to, that space of time so easily filled well before the start and well after the end of most school days. Colleagues constantly dropping in for support, reassurance or guidance as they tackle an issue, a problem, conflict, change, a new venture or opportunity.

I am passionate about the contribution I’m able to make to growing and developing leadership in others. This is such a central and immensely rewarding aspect of any leadership role. I do believe all those dawn and dusk, corridor, break duty, formal and informal conversations go some way to releasing the potential of those we work with. I’ve found that drawing on knowledge of coaching and the skills and training, topped up at regular intervals, is invaluable to these conversations.

However, setting aside dedicated time with individuals for structured coaching sessions is so much more powerful than that ad hoc approach, and doing what a grateful colleague once referred to as taking the monkeys off people’s backs (and transferring them to your own). With coaching you don’t take on the other person’s problem yourself but allow them to explore and come up with a solution themselves. This precious time allows colleagues to more deeply explore different routes they can take to reach their goals and to consider options for effective action. The best coaching dialogues heighten performance, empowering individuals to successfully achieve the outcomes they are working towards.

Coaching has taken me out of my comfort zone to face some fears and address some limiting self-beliefs

Coaching is not a soft option, it’s not a quick fix and it is not a one size fits all model. It is a deeply personal experience. The easiest thing to do in this blog would be to relay feedback on coaching from anonymous third parties and tell you about the effect I’ve seen coaching have on those I’ve worked with. But coaching has taught me to be a little braver so this is me being just that and sharing a bit about my reasons for and experience of being coached.

Sometimes the external coach is best

There have been a couple of key points as a senior leader when I’ve simply known that a short period of having someone external to my school coach me was the right thing to do. We give so much as teachers and senior leaders and are expected, and want, to be constantly at the top of our game no matter what the size of the challenge. Let’s be frank, sometimes we need more than a training programme or collaboration with colleagues and professional peers can offer. Something that will simultaneously unblock, lift, refresh, sharpen thinking and unearth solutions buried deep within us. Why then shouldn’t we be selfish, invest a bit more in ourselves and access high-quality, truly personalised, professional development? These are some of the thoughts that have made me turn to coaching.

Leaders are human. During coaching sessions I didn’t need to be wonder woman, just me. I was taken out of my comfort zone to face some fears and address some limiting self-beliefs. As I said earlier, coaching is not a soft option.

To get the most out of the coaching experience I needed to:

  • Be completely honest with myself and my coach. This is crucial to benefit fully from the rare chance to completely open up in a confidential, non-judgemental, professional dialogue.
  • Be open-minded, adaptable, willing to suspend scepticism and believe in the possibilities visualised in coaching conversations.
  • Set aside uninterrupted time for sessions.
  • Put my trust in the person coaching me. This was made easier by knowledgeable, credible coaches who quickly and skilfully built the special rapport which is the foundation of coaching relationships.

Coaching may be deeply personal. However what these conversations have in common, no matter where you are on your professional journey, is the challenge to take full ownership of and responsibility for the direction you take and decisions you make to achieve your goals. I’ve felt well supported by the coaches I’ve had. In those sessions you have someone in your corner giving you their undivided attention as they listen and prompt with questions that reveal, among other things, what you perceive is stopping you and the extent to which you’re prepared to find solutions –and then commit to and apply action between sessions and in the longer term.

The coach’s prompting reveals what you perceive is stopping you and the extent to which you’re prepared to find solutions – and then commit to and apply action

Empowering is the word often associated with coaching. For me this has meant leaving each coaching session a more confident, focused, stronger and surer leader. I’d like to think I’ve learnt, and will continue to learn through coaching experiences, to be a better coach too.

SSAT Coaching

This year many of you will be taking on roles supporting Early Career Teachers. Some of you will be considering different ways in which you can continue to support the development and wellbeing of colleagues and others will be thinking about how to make performance management conversations more meaningful. Exploring fresh ideas, solutions to the challenges we face and future possibilities is something we all need to set aside time and space to do, and key coaching skills are an invaluable part of our toolkit as teachers and leaders. Take a look at SSAT’s 1:1 Coaching offer and successful courses like An Introduction to Coaching to see how these might benefit you and colleagues that you work with. Find out more.

Read on the SSAT blog: 10 key skills for mentoring and coaching

Angelina Idun, Director, SSAT

This was a fantastic introduction to coaching for beginners. It was really interactive despite being virtual and I really enjoyed having the opportunity to practice with other colleagues on the course.

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