Finding the Right Coach for You as a School Principal

Denise Barrows
June, 2024

If you have decided to invest in professional leadership coaching, you’ll want to be sure the coach you choose has the expertise to give you the value you’re looking for. While it might be tempting to work with someone who is already known to you – perhaps an ex-colleague who has branched out into advisory work or coaching – it pays to bring much of the rigour you would bring to a staff recruitment process, and assess potential coaches with some clear criteria in mind.

Just as you wouldn’t employ a non-qualified teacher, we would not recommend an unqualified, or poorly qualified coach. Look for a well-recognised coaching qualification, accredited by an established expert body, such as the International Coaching Federation (ICF). While there are many short courses that will provide an introduction to coaching practice, these are far from the level of training you should expect of a professional coach. ICF’s accreditation framework is a useful guide.

Ask prospective coaches how many people they’ve coached previously. You will gain more from a coach who has supported hundreds of leaders over several years than from someone who is just starting out as a coach.

Although you may well wish to find a coach who has a good understanding of school leadership and won’t be flummoxed by educational jargon, be wary of assuming you need a coach who has themselves previously been a school leader themselves. Coaching is not a process that relies on the coach knowing your sector. You bring the knowledge and expertise of education – your coach brings coaching and leadership expertise that will help you find new solutions and apply these to your particular context.

An expert coach will be able to articulate the coaching approach and principles they employ. While inexperienced coaches may over-rely on a standard step-by-step process or model, a more experienced coach can flex their approach. For example, they may draw on a wide range of coaching strategies to take the conversation where it needs to go in order to uncover what might be unsaid, or to seek insight from emotional as well as rational responses.

Of course, your relationship with your coach will be deeply personal. A successful relationship is built on trust, mutual respect and open communication. You will want to ensure you feel heard, valued, and understood by your coach – that there is a natural rapport. With a great coach this will be established remarkably quickly, whatever their own background. It might be tempting to seek a coach who ‘looks like you’ and is from a similar background, but in reality, many leaders, when reflecting on their coaching experience, have found that the coaches or people that they’ve learned most from in life, are in fact very different to themselves.

So, if you’ve carried out your due diligence and found a coach – with the qualifications, training, hours of coaching experience, and solid track record with clients – who warrants the label of ‘expert coach’, then we would encourage you to take the leap and trust the process. You are likely to benefit from a powerful coaching experience.

Denise Barrows

Denise is the Director of BTS Spark UK, a not-for-profit initiative enabling school leaders to access world-class leadership coaching.