I always value the professional connections I make through my work. I get to talk with some very interesting people with such wide experiences that I almost always finish those conversations learning something. I recently spoke with Nick Wahl, Superintendent-In-Residence with Equal Opportunity Schools. He has led in many capacities in various organizations over the years. He asked me to explain my work.
Being a consultant, I get to wear many hats: speaker, writer, strategist, advisor, trainer. But my favorite role is that of coach. I was telling him about the job-embedded coaching I do with teachers, principals, instructional coaches, and district administrators. I told him how I get to work one-on-one with these leaders multiple times over the course of a year. I explained how this type of professional learning is naturally personalized as each individual sets their own goals and action steps for achieving the outcomes they desire. I have seen the greatest impact on change through coaching than any other professional development available. He said, “I like that term, ‘job-embedded coaching.’ I was doing that when I was a principal but didn’t have an actual name for it.” It was that regular practice that enabled him to build an organization that shared values and a mission, creating a positive culture.
I’ve seen the same results in the districts I partner with over and over again. Many times at the end of the coaching cycle, the people I’ve worked with tell me that it’s the best professional development they’ve ever experienced. I believe it’s because of the relationship we’ve formed, the personalized nature of the objective, and the fact that strategies and tools can be immediately applied in their direct work environment. They get a fresh set of eyes and another way of thinking to provide useful feedback directly relating to them. Teachers learn to become more student-driven. Principals learn how to drive change initiatives in a positive and sustainable manner. Instructional coaches learn how to better structure their time and support their teachers. District administrators learn how to build a culture that is stable, beneficial and successful for all stakeholders. That doesn’t happen after attending a fifty-minute session at the annual conference they attend. Or from that book that was a required book study for the staff. Or from that engaging keynote they recently heard. All of these are great methods for growing, but that real learning and change comes from dedicated ongoing professional development that can only be provided through job-embedded coaching.
In The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever, Michael Bungay Stanier shares about something Daniel Goleman suggested in an article in Harvard Business Review. Goleman wrote that there were six essential leadership styles with coaching being one that had an obviously positive impact. “At the same time, it was the least-used leadership style. Why? Goleman wrote, “Many leaders told us they don’t have the time in this high-pressure economy for the slow and tedious work of teaching people and helping them grow.”
That is usually the case in any industry. Leaders don’t have the strategies or the time to be effective coaches to the other people on their teams. That shouldn’t stop coaching from taking place, however.
Schools often have instructional coaches on the payroll. Many times, these educators come straight from the classroom and are never actually taught how to coach. Teaching children and coaching peers are very different beasts. These coaches need learning and support in order to help those teachers they are working with. While teachers may have instructional coaches to go to, who is coaching the administrators? Leaders at every level need continuous growth opportunities. With no time to be out of the office, job-embedded coaching becomes a valuable and viable solution, bringing the learning to them. As administrators have the benefit of being coached themselves, they learn how to employ coaching strategies with their employees, being able to continue the momentum I’ve established when also coaching other members of their staff. The leaders refine their practice and become stronger champions for their organizations, making job-embedded coaching worth the investment on every level as it helps build a healthier culture.