Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Coaching: Key Leadership Skill for School Leaders

According to Ken Blanchard, “Coaching is a deliberate process using focused conversations to create an environment that results in individual growth, purposeful action, and sustained improvement.”

Those of us who have spent time coaching sports teams in schools know coaching’s goal is always:

  • to try improve the performance of the individual being coached,
  • develop him or her into a better player,
  • encourage him or her to move to the next level,
  • support all the things he or she has learned in the sport,
  • and teach him or her how to support and help one another perform.

Those five aspects of coaching sports are the same five applications of coaching that Blanchard calls for in coaching an organization to higher performance.

In schools, it is imperative that school leaders regularly engage in deliberate conversations with individuals. These deliberate conversations, otherwise known as coaching, are indispensible in efforts to bring an organization to higher levels of performance. As Blanchard indicates in his book Leading at a Higher Level, coaching is a key competency in leadership development and it must be applied when situations call for it.

Blanchard indicates in his book that there are five ways a leader should apply coaching.

  • Leaders should apply performance coaching when “individuals need help returning their performance to acceptable standards.”
  • Leaders should apply development coaching when individuals are already performing at a high level and who need to expand their role.
  • Leaders should use career coaching: when individuals have reached a point they are ready to plan their next moves.
  • Leaders should apply coaching to support learning: when it is necessary to sustain recent training or learning.
  • Leaders should create an internal coaching culture when they want shift the focus from managing performance to focusing on development and long term growth.

In the schools, it is important that administrators be competent in coaching if they want to make their schools into places where individual growth is valued. They also need to realize that different situations are going to call for different coaching. For example, performance coaching would be entirely acceptable if a teacher fails to manage classroom behavior properly. That means the teacher and the principal come to an agreement on what needs to be implemented and develop  plan to make that happen. However, performance coaching would not be needed when trying to get math teachers to implement a new teaching strategy with graphing calculators. Coaching needed in that case would be coaching to support learning because the goal is not to improve performance, but to sustain and develop a new teaching strategy.

To modify the words of Blanchard, “If we want to make our schools perform at a higher level” we can’t rely on old top-down leadership strategies. We have no choice but engage in the deliberate process of coaching our school staff.


  1. Really like this post, John! It's differentiated leadership at its finest, and I have bookmarked this for our next Admin Meeting.

    Thanks for all of your posts!


  2. Jan Robertson's work out of New Zealand is worth looking at. Thank you for this very timely post... and to Cale for tweeting it.

  3. Thanks. I will have to check out Jan Robertson's work. Always looking to sharpen the leadership skills.

  4. Thanks Cale. It is my own trying to make sense of Ken Blanchard's book Leading at a Higher Level. I hope you find it useful.

  5. Thank you for this post--I intend to now read Blanchard's book! It is key to understand which application is needed for a given situation, and to be able to shift to a different application once the current situation is resolved. In my experience, job-embedded coaching is powerful for school improvement and sustainable success.

    The coaching model I'm familiar with is Cognitive Coaching--it will be so interesting to see how Blanchard's approach is same/different.