Coaching: Challenging Some Common Misconceptions

Rosie Connor and Denise Barrows
June, 2024

Every school principal we’ve ever met has an unwavering commitment to learning … yet not all principals manage to find the time and space to truly reflect on, and continually develop, their own practice, to be the ‘lead learner’ in their school. Professional leadership coaching offers one powerful way for busy school principals to do this, yet it is poorly understood by many. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why principals hold back from engaging in coaching …

“I don’t have enough time”. Many principals are working long hours, for sure. Yet a coaching conversation only takes an hour – at a time to suit you – and can help provide a new perspective and a breakthrough solution for those tricky challenges that continually eat into your time and keep you awake at night.

“I can’t afford it”. Coaching is one-to-one and therefore comes at a price. However, the price is ‘all in’. Unlike conferences or workshops, there are no travel expenses and no need to arrange people to cover for your absence from school. Sometimes just two or three coaching sessions is enough to make all the difference.

“School funds are better spent on the children”. This of course is overly simplistic, given the impact the quality of school leadership has been shown to have on student attainment. In fact, as the influential 2021 Wallace Foundation report – looking at how principals affect students and schools – concludes, 'It is difficult to envision an investment with a higher ceiling on its potential return than a successful effort to improve principal leadership.'

“Coaching is for those who are struggling”. This is certainly not our experience. Whether it’s elite sports stars or ‘high potential’ leaders, coaching can (arguably) have most impact for those who already excel.

“Coaching is soft and fluffy!”. We’ would argue the opposite. Your coach is absolutely on your side. Yet, in the gentlest way possible, they will challenge you where appropriate, and hold you accountable for any actions you commit to as they want to see you flourish. For example, 98% of the school leaders we coach report that it has resulted in tangible change to their leadership practice.

“Coaching? I’ve done that already”. When we hear this, it very often means the person has attended one or two days’ training to improve their own coaching skills. That is totally different from being on the receiving end of professional leadership coaching. And the great thing about coaching is that you can tap into the support of a coach whenever you need it. As long as you are a leader, there will always be new value a coach can offer.

So, what’s your reason for not giving coaching a go? Perhaps now is the time to take the plunge!

Rosie Connor and Denise Barrows

Rosie and Denise are Directors of BTS Spark, a not-for-profit initiative enabling school leaders to access world-class leadership coaching.