This Blog comes from a Headteacher, whose identity for the purpose of this blog will not be disclosed.
For the last three years, I have been the Headteacher at a special needs school. When I first joined the school, it was very much going through a difficult period of transition.
The head and the deputy head had both left at the same time, and so had left the school without any real leadership and in a state of instability. So I was brought in, relatively inexperienced and without any real leadership support, to make some substantial changes.
Firefighting without the equipment
It was clear from the beginning that some of my team had different opinions about what could be achieved at the school and that many of staff were struggling to come to terms with the changes that were going on. So I found myself having to constantly firefight, with no time or space to really develop my thinking and find long-term solutions to these problems.
I knew where I was going but I could only fulfil my vision for the school, if everyone in my team saw it too and fully got behind it. I realised that I had to find a way to lead that team through the changes, to promote my vision and demonstrate that the changes that I wanted to make were really going to develop the school, whilst maintaining all the things which I believed made it outstanding.
However, I knew that to do this – I needed support; support to help my staff fully understand my vision, the role I needed them to play in bringing it about and above all, to help them to see that this was for the good of the school and the children.
I tried to get support from other Heads, I went to conferences but more often than not, this proved not to be the support I needed. I also knew my local authority wouldn’t offer me support as OFSTED had rated our school outstanding. So I ended up having to wait for issues to occur before I was able to ask for help, rather than having someone who could help me deal through challenges before they turned into issues.
The challenge of reaching out for help
So instead, I decide to approach my Governors about the idea of coaching. Initially, there was resistance to coaching, as some of the Governors took the attitude that as Head, I should be able to manage the challenges I was facing by myself.
I’d been a client of Integrity Coaching before and so I had experienced the benefits of coaching first-hand. I therefore, felt confident that they would be able to provide the support I needed to help me in my role.
The Governors rather than supporting me, kept putting new obstacles in the way that I had to overcome. They had no experience of coaching and seemed to ignore the evidence that was presented to them. It felt like they trusted me enough to give me the role but didn’t truly trust my opinion on what would be most effective to support both myself and the school in moving forward.
So I was expected to create reports on why I needed it and justify the benefits of coaching. Although I still felt unable to admit that I was struggling to manage my team for fearing of them thinking I wasn’t upto the job.
In the end, I had to enlist the local authority to support me and to put my claim forward in a meeting with the chair of Governors. The whole experience was not only disheartening but it was unhelpful as it meant that the process was drawn out over 6 months before I could finally get the help that I needed. It could have been so much quicker, if they really understood how much I needed it.
Coaching – The impact
Coaching gave me an opportunity to reflect on the challenges I was facing and empowered me to work through them to find solutions. It gave me a chance to be truly open and real – if something had gone awfully, I could say it had and I knew I wouldn’t be judged. It provided me with the strength I needed to come in everyday and the confidence that I could handle whatever would come my way. The best way for me to describe it, would be for me to say, ‘It’s like facing your struggles with your best buddy by your side rather than having to tackle them on your own’.
Meanwhile, my staff also had coaching as a team. They were given a space where they could be listened to, share the issues they were facing and find solutions for addressing them. Those sessions were so helpful, because my team needed to know that there was no enemy within the group.
Coaching was able to open my team’s eyes time and time again, as to how they could be supportive of the vision we were trying to achieve and helped them to collaborate positively together to make things work. It wasn’t me enforcing this behaviour, rather coaching created an environment where they chose to change so that they could best help the school.
The entire fabric of the school felt like it was changing to and there began to be a real team atmosphere amongst the staff. I found myself wondering “Is this even the same team? Am I even in the same place?”
They so loved their sessions that they kept asking for more. This meant I could go to my Governors and this time, when I asked for more coaching sessions, they didn’t question it as they could see the benefits and how much stronger the team had grown as a result. The school became a place where if people wanted to leave, we made sure they left well and if they wanted to stay we made sure to support them.
“I just wish other Governors could see the power of coaching (like fortunately mine now have) – as I feel that everybody should have an offer of coaching from their schools. No Head should be in the position that I was at the start of my headship, where they have to plead for the support they so badly need!”
Supporting your School Leaders
Particularly, with growing numbers of Heads leaving the profession, fewer applicants for Headteacher roles and a significant proportion of headship vacancies now having to be advertised more than once, it is more important than ever that Governors take this responsibility seriously.
There are many ways school Governors can both challenge and provide support their School Leaders, however, coaching support is an option that is often identified by Headteachers.
Research has shown that coaching helps new Headteachers to increase their effectiveness and confidence, when they start out. It also enables longer serving heads to sustain their commitment, renew their vigour and maintain their impact on their schools.