Does Leadership Coaching Really Work? It Is Failing to Understand, Respect and Respond to All the Diverse Elements of the School Community-Simultaneously and Constantly-That Can Prematurely End a New Principal's Career

Article excerpt

In California, when a new teacher assumes responsibility for instruction in an elementary classroom of 20 to 35 students, or for teaching six periods of up to 180 secondary students, that teacher is supported by a BTSA mentor for two years. That new teacher has just completed four years of college/university work and a year or more of specific graduate preparation, including at least two phases of student teaching, each under the watchful eye of a veteran teacher and a student teaching supervisor.

However, it is assumed that the new teacher will face challenges in classroom management, planning, data collection, data analysis, instructional delivery or parent and staff relations that will require coaching. Thankfully, our state regards teachers as precious commodities and sees benefit to nurturing and supporting their development. In their hands rest our children ... our future.

If we value our children and their education, how is it that the new principal is still left to "sink or swim" in most of our school districts? Some believe that the new principal should come in fully prepared to meet the challenges of running a school. Usually, the new principal has demonstrated skills as a classroom teacher. And, after all, the new principal has completed some post-graduate program in educational leadership and/or has demonstrated competence on an administrative licensure test. The principal, then, comes to the job with successful instructional experience and a respectable chunk of post-graduate preparation. He or she should be ready, right?

Leading adults: A whole different deal

An enormous issue forgotten by many, however, is that leading adults in an educational setting is a whole different deal than teaching children in a classroom. In public schools, where principals really have very little power and authority over staff, leadership--the building and careful, situational exerting of influence--is essential, and a whole new challenge even for the most successful and well-schooled educator.

So often we hear that site leaders are not adequately prepared to bear the responsibilities of the principalship. More and better training is thought to be the key. New principals need to know more about research-based instructional models, about budget management, personnel, evaluation, data-analysis.

All this is certainly important, but in our experience, knowledge of these issues, and even making mistakes in most of these areas, isn't what determines the new principal's success or failure. What makes, and too often breaks, new principals is not knowing the right thing to do, but the inability to thrive in the implementation of the best instructional practices and programs, budget and personnel practices.

It isn't that the new principal doesn't understand the essential elements of a professional learning community, and doesn't know that the building of a data-driven collaborative community is essential to the school's success. It is failing to understand, respect and effectively respond to all the diverse elements of the school community--simultaneously and constantly--that can prematurely end a new principal's career.

Recognizing and managing stress; dealing with a job that is never done; relating to all sorts of adults with differing backgrounds and needs; measuring and balancing conflicting demands; building trust and influence; charting and navigating change; engaging in truly open, honest self-reflection about one's values, biases, behaviors and communication; instructional leadership vs. dealing with the fires that seem to flare up every day! These are the greatest challenges the new principal is called to face. Is it just more and better "training" that will help our new principals successfully meet these challenges? We think not.

It's kind of like learning to swim. One can read books about it, study diagrams of various swimming strokes, watch video clips of others engaged in swimming, hear lectures from successful swimmers--even get into the pool, on the shallow end, with an instructor and practice. …