Coaching & Leadership Development
June 21, 2018

How to Engage the Heart for Successful School Improvement

How to Engage the Heart for Successful School Improvement


Change is never easy. Ironically, we counter it almost every single day of our lives and yet the accompanying struggles and stresses that are often a part of the change process, still seem to always take us by surprise.


Never more so is this the case than in schools where very often the emotional responses to change and school improvement can cause individuals to lose sight of the fact that change is just as much a relational process as it is a strategic and operational process.


Successful change involves engagement of the heart, just as much as it does engagement of our cognitive faculties. When the heart is engaged, the stories that individuals then tell about the change process within their schools is more humane, generative and hope-centred.


Research carried out by Dr Belinda Harris (one of the workshop hosts for our up and coming “Education for the Soul” Conference) suggests that there are three emotional conditions necessary for school improvement or three `heart’ conditions which are central to the process of change…


1. Emotional Fitness


The first of these is defined as `emotional fitness’, whereby creating a climate of trust in the school is essential to foster positive feelings of involvement and ownership.


When fears, anxieties and even resistance are articulated and accepted as normal and healthy responses to change, teachers are more likely to trust that their efforts will not be ridiculed or dismissed. Communication and positive relationships are central components of emotional fitness allowing staff to realistically assess and confront their own strengths and weaknesses in order to achieve personal growth and change.


2. Emotional Literacy and Depth


The second condition can be defined as emotional literacy and depth, whereby time and space is actively provided for self-esteem and positive relationships to develop. Within this context, constructive feedback is a means to enhancing self-awareness and shared reflection is encouraged.


The aim of emotional literacy and depth is to deliberately enhance the quality of communication and relationships between staff and other stakeholders and to build self-reflection into the fabric of school life.


The emphasis here is on improving the intra-personal, inter-personal and social processes within the school. Where emotional fitness and literacy in depth combine, the third condition of emotional alchemy is possible.


3. Emotional Alchemy


This is where teachers are more willing to take bold and creative steps forward to improve their practice, to take on leadership roles and to engage others in research and theory making.


In essence, this means a high degree of emotional exposure and trust, which is at the heart of successful and sustainable school improvement. An essential aspect of successful change is the optimal development of interpersonal and emotional energy.


This is achieved by harnessing and maximizing the creative talents of all those within the school and, where possible, outside it. It is achieved by building trust and tolerating ambiguity, dissonance and difference.


Leaders have a prime role to play in this process; they can orchestrate the conditions for school development to succeed but they need to recognize the limitations of rational approaches to change.


Through respectful, honest, direct communication, relationships with colleagues, students, parents and governors can flourish.


The emotional work, however, is not cost neutral and it requires courage, patience, humility and resilience on the part of those leading within organisations and on everybody’s part. At its simplest, emotional alchemy calls for leaders to invest more time in building and nurturing relationships; at its most profound, it suggests a radical re-conceptualisation of what is meant by organisational change and improvement.


It calls for the normative and inherently reductionist theories of change and improvement to be replaced with more holistic, humanistic and experiential forms of intervention and understanding.


Most importantly, it calls for leaders to recognise the limitations of approaches to school improvement that factor out the very emotional conditions that are most needed to transform their schools.



On the 18th October at our “Education for the Soul” Conference, Belinda Harris joined us as we explored how school leaders can use the challenges of leadership to bring greater depth, meaning and purpose to their roles.

This workshop formed a crucial part of the day which centred around the theme of “Creating New Narratives for the School Leaders’ Journey” and aimed to extend the conversation around school leadership, well-being and standards in our schools.

It is fair to say, the day was a very special one and a huge success with so many school leaders and education professionals joining us for this. It was so wonderful to watch these individuals drop their leadership masks and come together, in service of one another and in service of shared hopes, dreams and ambitions for our children and our schools.


Following the success of the conference, I’m delighted to say that in October 2019, we will once again host Headteachers & School Leaders for this special conference.


The conference will aim to build on the outcomes of our previous “Education for the Soul” conferences and seek to explore how school leaders and teachers can learn to lead with integrity, depth and purpose. As part of this, we will look into how individuals can stay connected to their “why” and the role coaching can play in helping those in education in create alignment with their deepest values.


Above all, “Education for the Soul” Conference 2019 will aim to help school leaders and teachers:


– Foster a deep sense of vocation and purpose amongst all staff

– Gain a better understanding of coaching (theory, processes, neuroscience etc.) and how it enables others to work in deep alignment with their true values

– Increase their understanding of the relationship between school development and adult development

– Keep hope, joy passion, commitment and creativity at the heart of their school and relationships with self and others


Learn More

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *