Coaching in the context of education
Most of my current coaching clients work in education. This is perhaps not surprising as I had a 30 year in education and have experienced the joys and trials of many different roles in education, including being a Geography teacher, leading a Department, being a Housemaster/Houseparent in boarding schools, being an Assistant Head, a Deputy Head, a Headmaster and a Governor and Trustee. It is a world that I know well and love being part of.
The last 18 months has been unbelievably stressful for so many people, but I am extremely concerned about the short and long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on those who have been working in our schools. They have had to deal with a rapidly changing unstable educational landscape with new decisions and announcements flying at them, often at very short notice, which have had deeply profound impacts on their daily lives as they have fought to ensure that the children in their care continue to receive the best possible education.
So, how might coaching and mentoring be of use in the context of education?
If you are rushing around trying to juggle setting up lateral flow testing systems, one-way systems around your school site, closing year-group bubbles, home-learning provision, “catch-up” sessions plus all of the usual issues and problems that arise daily within schools, then there is very little time left for reflection, either on the future direction of your school or, in many cases, on your own mental health and well-being. Even one hour each half-term purposefully and intentionally set aside for a coaching conversation can give clients a much-needed opportunity for reflection that is simply not possible at other times.
Some of my clients have told me that they feel that they “cannot see the wood for the trees”. They are so embroiled in the trails and tribulations of daily life in UK schools at the moment that have lost their sense of perspective. Perspective can mean drawing back and trying to see the big picture but it can also mean seeing things form the perspective of other people. I have heard more than one school leader tell me that the thin g they are most worried about is that they feel they are losing their sense of humour. This is critical as if you don’t have a good sense of humour, it is not wise to be working with children.
When clients do make the time to invest in coaching and mentoring, one of the most sought after benefits that they speak with e about is the desire to seek clarity. This may be clarity over some important decisions that they need to make in their professional context, or it may be that they are seeking clarity over key decisions that will affect their lives and futures. It is a genuine privilege to help clients seek and achieve clarity, as this then releases them to think about how they move forwards.
Once clarity has been achieved and goals have been set for the future, much of my work with school leaders then shifts to providing support for them as they start to map out a route towards their goals and objectives. It is at this stage that I often find myself flipping modes from pure coaching to mentoring and back again as I frequently hear my clients sharing issues that I have experienced and am happy to share with them if they give me permission to do so. For many school leaders, especially Headteachers, there is a non-threatening, non-judgemental space in a coaching conversation where they can be more candid and more open than they might with other people who are available to support them in their role such as Governors and Trustees.
One of the most satisfying outcomes for me as I draw to the end of a series of coaching sessions with a school leader is to see how they have grown in confidence. The only thing I can guarantee them is that further challenges lie ahead, but they have learnt a lot about themselves through the coaching journey and will also have been equipped with some tips, tools and techniques that hey can use to self-coach as they move forward. It is always lovely to find that my own clients then start to extol the benefits of coaching to their senior leadership teams and other senior staff!
Lastly, and this really is the icing on the cake for me as a Christian coach, it is an honour and a privilege to be able to offer to pray with clients if they wish me to. I can’t be alongside them every step of the way, but our heavenly Father can through his Holy Spirit. There are tens of thousands of Christians working in our schools and they deserve our care, support, love and prayer.