Coaching to create real leadership

20th May 2005 at 01:00
The latest thinking is that we all need to be empowered, from students to headteachers. Katrina Tweedie explains why

Coaching is the latest concept to be embraced by many in education. The Scottish Executive is keen to popularise the idea. Graeme Finnie, a consultant working with the Executive's education department to develop the potential for coaching techniques, describes it as a holistic approach to personal development.

"In its most basic form it relates to class performance. It's far from a woolly 'Let's have a chat'," he says. "Done well, it is a very skilful art.

"Education is in the process of coming to terms with the potential and relevance of both coaching and mentoring. There is a growing lobby of evidence that bringing in some of these approaches will be beneficial to education in the way it has been beneficial to other contexts - individuals within organisations, people working in teams, individuals in leadership roles, people trying to effect change in their situation - those are common, whether you are in teaching or in banking."

The Hunter Foundation has helped fund East Ayrshire to send senior managers to Skye since the Columba 1400 leadership centre opened in 2000. Its headteacher leadership academy is credited as the catalyst for a local authority project to develop leadership skills further within schools.

Gillian Hamilton, headteacher of Nether Robertland Primary, in Stewarton, and Pam Dunsmore, senior depute at Cumnock Academy, were released from their schools last August. Nine months later, they have almost completed an extensive induction programme and handbook, which senior and middle managers throughout East Ayrshire will receive next session as part of that authority's commitment to professional development.

Described as a self-help manual for teachers, the handbook contains strategies and advice, designed to enhance both classroom and professional performance. It encompasses facets from Columba 1400's programme, such as non-directive coaching skills, as well as principles of the critical skills programme and the ideas of Tony Buzan, famous for mind-mapping. It is set to become the central focus of East Ayrshire's teacher development programme.

"Leadership and development have become a priority of the Scottish Executive, but we were already working on this when the Executive made announcements of its plans," says Mrs Hamilton.

"During teacher training, leadership is not part of the programme. What they are learning is teaching strategies, learning about subjects and the theory behind teaching. Not the management skills of people and resources.

"People can be good managers but they won't always be good leaders. One of the things that coaching does is try to build capacity of leaders.

"There is a difference between managing and leading," she explains. "You can be managing the day-to-day running of the school, the finances, budget, and the school is ticking over fine.

"Being a good leader is more about where you want to take the school. It's a corny phrase, but it is about having a vision for where you want the school to be, empowering your staff to help you take that forward and building a community with parents and pupils."

Mrs Dunsmore says: "Columba was only a part of it, but East Ayrshire recognised that something had to be done to explore how we were going to develop leadership for everybody, from students to headteachers."

Now new heads are given mentors from a pool of experienced headteachers, who are all using non-directive coaching skills learned at Columba, in which the coach merely supports the other person to find solutions themselves.

Although the East Ayrshire project sounds as if it relies heavily on the teachings of Columba 1400, this is, they stress, just one part of the programme. "We are trying to give teachers lots of tools," says Mrs Hamilton. "This is about providing people with lots of opportunity to select what they need for their own development and then use that in their own practice."

East Ayrshire is also considering a project linking schools with local businesses. Already, it has had positive responses from firms interested in comparing management strategies with teachers.

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