When my international school decided to offer life-coaching sessions, the rationale put forward in the initial email to staff was gloriously straightforward: happy teachers means happy students.
It may seem like a bold, simplistic claim, but theoretically it makes sense. If a life coach can successfully support individual teachers in achieving their personal and professional goals, then they’re more likely to bring the best version of themselves into their lessons.
The context behind the claim is more complex but if a school is sincere about wanting to effectively cater for the physical, emotional and mental wellbeing of their employees, then life-coaching sessions are one option I’d definitely recommend exploring.
Life coaching for school staff
The life-coaching programme was funded by the school for three years. Each semester (so twice a year), 10 staff members could sign up on a first-come-first-served basis to attend eight sessions with an experienced life coach who specialised in supporting professional educators.
All participants were to complete a form with questions about their past, their life, their aspirations and their fears. It was up to the teacher as to how much detail they wanted to give.
All this information was fully confidential and not shared with anyone else at school. The eight weekly Skype meetings were then scheduled to take place during one of the teacher’s free periods of their choice.
The beauty of this approach meant that those who were simply curious, or more sceptical (myself included), were able to speak to this first cohort of colleagues about the process and outcome.
In the second year, I signed up to the first round of sessions and the experience was quite transformational.
As with any form of coaching, building a relationship is key. I found I was able to trust and develop a professional relationship with my life coach very quickly.
They encouraged me to consider what I really wanted to achieve overall from these sessions, and after a few conversations, “balance” appeared to be the answer.
They then helped me to articulate clear, short-term and long-term personal and career goals, and over the next few weeks, we implemented strategies to help me on the way to achieving these.
For example, we talked about how a path to achieving “balance” for me meant, at home, I needed more sleep and more mindful eating habits.
At work, I needed to increase my confidence in being able to say “no” and create time to pursue my own professional development.
These goals were broken down into smaller steps and routines that we reflected upon each week and either adapted, developed or changed entirely depending on how well they’d worked – and how motivated I was to see them through.
My motivation increased due to the frequency of sessions, and once I started noticing the positive impact that these small changes made.
My life coach helped me to realise that my true priorities were not necessarily related to milestones like purchasing a house or achieving a promotion.
Keep moving forward
Although it was difficult to wholly maintain the momentum after the sessions ended, some of the strategies have now become part of my daily routine and habits, and I have thereby reaped the benefits of the time and money that was invested by the school.
In my conversations with colleagues who have also been through the process, it was evident that while not all participants enjoyed life coaching as much as I did, they were able to give examples of at least one way in which it had improved an aspect of their personal and/or professional life.
It had led to one teacher reconciling with an estranged family member, while another went for a promotion that they thought was out of their depth – and got the job.
As with any wellbeing initiative, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Each school can be dramatically different.
However, as the discussion around what wellbeing looks like in international schools shifts, investing in long-term initiatives should be a priority if schools desire to retain and support staff.
Rebecca Markham is an English language and literature teacher at an international school in Vietnam