Saturday, November 26, 2011

Leading -v- Coaching

I've been in two very different meetings this week and have been trying to clarify in my own mind what I believe the next steps for me are.  The first meeting I was in was one for team leaders and I sat through that meeting feeling fairly uncomfortable by the mismatch between my vision of what team leadership could be and the reality of what we are expected to do or be.  I definitely agreed with the sentiments expressed by  one of my colleagues in the meeting that what we really need as leaders of our teams is empathy with those in them.  Change is not easy and many are struggling.  For me I find change exhilarating, but I know that others find it stressful.  While I understand that as leaders we set a certain tone, so shouldn't walk around complaining about things, it's also no use being overly upbeat and negating the feelings of others.

The second meeting made me feel totally different.  In this meeting I was discussing my goals for the year.  This year I'm focusing on coaching, on empowering all our teachers to take on the ownership of technology.  I feel a sense of urgency in this as I know I only have a few more months until I leave and I want to give our teachers the confidence and skills to go forward by themselves in empowering students to use technology.  As this feeling is at the base of almost everything I am doing these days, it was good to talk about how this could happen.  I know that for many teachers, the year they decide to leave is a fairly "dead" year with very little of their energies invested in a school whose future they will no longer be a part of.  In my case I feel totally the opposite.  I feel a total commitment to the teachers that I work with. As my time with them is getting shorter, I'm investing more and more into what I do with them. I'm trying to make every single day count.

Only a couple of weeks ago I was reflecting on one grade level this year that didn't yet have class blogs.  Yet during the past week, three of these teachers have started blogs and have independently posted student work on them and designed them in ways that uniquely reflects them and their classes.  I'm really excited by this.  I'm really proud of them.

Getting back to my goals:  since technology is now at the heart of our daily lives, I'm concerned that students will miss out if technology isn't effectively integrated into all aspects of teaching and learning.  Students need to be prepared to be productive and responsible digital citizens, they need learning experiences that will encourage collaboration, creation and innovation.  My goal this year is to support teachers to design technology-rich learning environments.  In the past I've tried various methods of professional development, from techie-brekkie sessions, to scheduled classes and drop-in sessions, but it's very clear to me that the most powerful form of professional development has happened one-on-one, in the teachers' own classrooms, during the school day.  The majority of staff have moved forward with a simple explanation or demonstration by me, and then me just sitting back, encouraging and watching them use the tools.  After that I need to give them time to play and experiment with technology and practice their new skills and then I need to come back and check to see how they are doing.  Do they need some reinforcement or a recap, do they need to be taken further to the next level?  This form of professional development is powerful and leads to lasting change.  It gives teachers ownership of the learning opportunities for themselves and their students.

At the end of the year, when I'm actually at the point of saying my goodbyes and leaving, how will I measure success?  First of all I will know I've achieved my goal by seeing teachers using the technology they have as effective tools for their own professional learning - learning they will carry on with independently regardless of whether I am there or not.  I will be seeing teachers making choices to use technology to improve student learning.  I will see them connecting with other teachers in professional learning networks to share their ideas and to get new ideas to take student learning forward.

At my goals meeting this week I was given a lot of support and ideas for how to move forward, and also resources to help me.  One of these was started me thinking about the difference between self-focused leadership and people-centred coaching.  I'm sharing these now and reflecting on them.

Often the focus of leaders is on themselves, whereas the focus of coaches is on others:

Leaders often want to do things their way - they are the boss and their way is the right way.  All too often I've heard the expression "if you don't like where the bus is going, then you need to get off the bus."
Coaches often want to support others to do things their way but do them better.  They are more willing to listen to others' perspectives, or perhaps to move people forward at a more individual pace.

Leaders are often very task focused and tell people what needs to be done.
Coaches often ask people what needs to be done and try to get everyone aligned to the vision.

Leaders are often very competitive which means they may keep a lot of things to themselves.
Coaches are more likely to share best practice and to collaborate.

Leaders often have the answers and don't like being questioned.
Coaches often encourage others to come up with their own solutions by using questioning techniques.

I'm not sure all of the above are true - or maybe it's only true of poor leaders!  However throughout much of my teaching career I've been lucky to work with wonderful leaders.  When I think of these people they were definitely more like coaches.  I've been blessed to have been mentored by great leaders who have been supportive and encouraging, who have actively questioned what they were doing and the direction the school was moving in and invited others to question it too. These leaders are the ones who have made me into a better teacher.   If I'm going to be a leader, these are the people I'd like to model myself on.  But if I'm in a school where the leadership style is one that I don't want to emulate, in those cases I want to be a coach.

Photo Credit:  *marguerites*daisies* by âœ¿ nicolas_gent ✿  AttributionNo Derivative Works 

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