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Lead like a Coach

I had a great conversation this week with a few leaders about teacher retention. Obviously, this is a hot-button topic right now. We are losing so many educators that are leaving the profession for a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons we simply cannot control. So, in my conversation this week I suggested we focus on the things we can control. Including how we, as the leaders of our schools and districts, choose to lead. This took the conversation in the direction of coaching. While I realize not everyone coached a sport or sponsored an activity, coaching is honestly just great teaching. As a coach, you focus on the whole picture of your team while being mindful of the skills each player brings to table. My coaching experience is a bit unique, I coached basketball (team sport) and tennis (individual sport). The two sports are quite different in terms of the approach I had to supporting both my athletes and the team. I now serve as a leadership coach, supporting and helping principals, assistant principals, district leaders and so forth to be the best they can be. Coaching is, in my view, essential. So why wouldn’t we approach leading our school or district in the same fashion? How does a coaching mentality for school leaders work? Let’s break it down:

  1. Grow each player based on their skills – educators are just like our athletes, they come to us with varied skill sets. Our newest members in the profession need feedback and guidance to grow the skills they naturally have and to develop new skills. Veteran educators often need support in learning a new skill and feedback to help them continue to master their craft. Coaching our staff in areas like classroom management, technology integration, increasing rigor, building relationships, development of highly engaging lessons, interpreting data and assessments, and the like are examples of the work school leaders should be doing to coach and grow their players.
  2. Got your back – as a coach, I was willing to go to the mat for every player on my team. Once someone stepped on the floor or the court with me, they were with me for life. I had their backs, sometimes a little overzealous (the occasional technical foul), but my team knew I had them, still do. The same should be true as the coach of our school. Knowing your leader has your back, versus worrying your boss is gunning for you, makes all the difference in how you perform your duties. In the culture of ‘gotcha’, people perform just above the level of punishment. I call this the ‘punishment to gain compliance’ mindset. Compare that to a culture where ‘I’ve got you’ is the mentality. In this atmosphere, teachers will take some risk and be willing to innovate, to do what’s honestly best for kids. Compliance is the enemy of innovation folks – keep the coach mentality here.
  3. Pause the action – as a coach, I watched a lot of tape…I mean A LOT. There is a saying in the coaching profession, ‘the tape doesn’t lie’. In a nutshell, that means what we see on film is what actually happened compared to how we remember it in the moment or from just our own perspective. Being a coach in the classroom means spending time and observing. Not observing for evaluation, rather observing to give tips, feedback, to COACH. Adjust your lens and quickly you’ll find teachers wanting more and more from you. Why? Because, at heart, they WANT TO GET BETTER’. They will value and appreciate you for being their coach and for supporting them on their journey.
  4. Be the front man – as the coach, especially the varsity basketball coach, I met with the sports reporters after every game and occasionally during the week leading up to games. I was the front man, the lead vocalist, the narrator of our story. Being the front man for your school means giving credit for the wins to your staff and students. It means taking it on the chin when things don’t go well. This might also fit under having their backs, but I never blamed a player for a loss. I always took those and was happy to point out great performance and some that might go under the radar in our wins, taking no credit for a win.

I know so many of you are beginning to gear up for the return of your staff later this summer. Think deeply about this post for this reason: as we continue to lose educators, we have to do everything in our power to retain those still here. The culture of our schools and our districts will be crucial to that effort. If you want to change your culture, consider changing how you lead it. Consider leading like a coach.

Have a #RoadToAwesome week


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