Rosemarye Taylor is professor emerita of educational leadership at the University of Central Florida and a former school and school district administrator, as well as co-author of The Coaching Partnership: Collaboration for Systemic Change, 2nd Edition. In this blog post, Rosemarye, provides recommendations for supporting educational leaders as they prepare to lead learning in their school districts this academic year.
We experienced novel challenges over the last year, both personally and professionally. Educational leaders faced more than many. Not only were they dealing with their own family’s concerns, but also those of students, teachers, staff, and even the school community. From this lens, I have been reflecting and thinking about how educators can rebuild their confidence with leadership coaching to lead learning during the 2021–2022 school year.
New Expectations: Reflective Listening and Generative Thinking
As leaders and aspiring leaders, we see ourselves as serving others within our school or school district. Formerly, this commitment required long hours and service beyond the workday. Generally, we encouraged others to consider educational leadership who had a tireless work ethic, educational expertise, and the will to continue to learn, along with excellent interpersonal skills. Today, we are reminded that successful educational leaders also have refined communication skills. They have expertise in listening reflectively and using generative or inventive thinking to support teachers and staff in building their expertise.
These expectations represent a tall order for those who have been overly stressed as they took on multiple concerns and needs from others within their community centered on how to learn or teach face-to-face with social distancing and/or virtual learning and instruction, or both simultaneously. Some teachers and students did well; others faced myriad challenges. And, it is likely that instructional delivery may continue to be changed as we move forward this school year.
Also, consider that there was a teacher shortage before schools suddenly closed in spring 2020. We now have an even greater shortage of those who are willing and prepared to teach. It is clear that coaching is needed.
Educational Leader Coaching
This presents a moment to pause and think about how educational leaders learn reflective listening, generative thinking, and coaching skills to support novice and experienced teachers. Who helps leaders develop expertise? Who listens reflectively to the educational leaders and assists them in generating good decisions and next steps? Like most with expertise, they learn to coach teachers by being coached themselves as educational leaders. Modeling or experiencing coaching is the most effective approach, whether for leaders, teachers, or students. Peers, supervisors, and consultants can provide leadership coaching to support improved effectiveness of leaders.
Just as our school districts and schools need systems for coaching teachers, we also need systems to support continued growth in coaching for educational leaders. Effective systems, such as those for improving teacher effectiveness, include listening to educational leaders and assisting them in thinking through priorities within their unique contexts, rather than telling them what to do. With reflective listening, they generate the best next steps for their school or school district—students, teachers, and staff. Further, if these reflective listening and coaching expectations are modeled for them by peers, supervisors, or consultants, educational leaders will feel valued, affirmed, and efficacious. As such, they are more likely to be confident moving into school year 2021–2022, and to use those same skills when coaching teachers and staff to grow their expertise.
Reflective listening and generative thinking serve the purpose of giving confident ownership to leaders. Similarly, these practices build ownership for teachers. For this reason, the E.A.S.Y. Framework for coaching is highly beneficial (Taylor and Chanter, 2019). Instead of telling or directing educational leaders what to do, we believe in empowering them with the expertise to continually improve and support improvement of others—teachers and staff. When leaders generate solutions with our E.A.S.Y. Framework (Evidence, Analysis, Solutions to explore, and Yes agreements), they are more likely to successfully implement solutions of their choice and use the E.A.S.Y. Framework with teachers and staff to improve student learning. Here is the E.A.S.Y. Framework with some potential phrasing examples related to moving into this school year:
- What was most effective last spring (or before the shutdown)?
- How do you know?
- Which evidence leads you to this conclusion?
- Which are meaningful in making decisions about this school year?
Solutions to explore
- Share some alternative approaches you are considering.
- Which do you think will garner buy-in by your leadership team and staff?
- And you’ll try…?
- What will be your first step?
Confidence to Lead
During the last year or so, along with stressors related to ever-changing delivery of instruction, personnel concerns, building concerns, and the politics unique to each context, the already challenging leader role, became even more so. Confidence may have faltered in the rapidly changing professional environment.
However, educational leaders continue to be trusted by students, teachers, and school communities to provide services, even if they experienced varying levels of positive outcomes. Now, more than ever, we need to lift up educational leaders with positive coaching leading to their empowerment. Leadership coaching can assure that we are at our professional best and confident to lead learning in the new academic year.
Taylor, R. T. & Chanter, C. (2019). The Coaching Partnership: Collaboration for Systemic Change, 2nd Ed. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.