Coaching Principals – A Reflection

I was recently privileged to receive a copy of Keith Richardson‘s new book, Before the wax melts- Musings of a South African Headmaster‘. It is excellent insight from an incredible man and a highly recommended read. As we come to the end of our three-year partnership with The Principals Academy, Keith shares some of his learning’s on the journey of coaching principals. We trust you will enjoy learning from his experience and reflections below:

The Third Phase

“I am now nearing the end of my third year of coaching principals which followed on from a lifetime of coaching in schools. My professional life began as a coach of pupils – both in the classroom and on the sports field. I took to heart what Professor Tim Noakes once said:

“Don’t call me a teacher – call me coach. A coach is a bus taking people on a journey. The longer the journey, the better the coach”.

Seeing pupils improve and experiencing those ‘lightbulb’ moments are rewards which are unique to the teaching profession. Coaching in the educational space is about the development of individuals and helping them to grow. I took this into account in the second phase of my coaching when, as a principal, I was coaching teachers. From there it has been a short jump to the third phase of my career which has been coaching principals.

When I take on the coaching of a new principal, I always ask them what they expect of me. They invariably mention three aspects:

  • An understanding and appreciation from the coach of the individual context of their school.
  • Policies and documents indicating best practices.
  • Information on how to handle problems.

Every school has their own unique context and principals have to work out for themselves how to handle their context the best. My job as a coach is not to make them passive recipients of information but to set up the right conditions for them to reflect on what the best practices for their personal contexts would be. Thus, really good coaching is about enhancing personal confidence and competence.

How does a coach go about this?

  • Firstly, all Principals are volunteers in the programme.
  • To continually stress that the Coach and Principal are in a partnership.
  • Ensuring that the principal understands that there is no instant success.
  • Principals who want to leave a legacy, understand that they are in the business of handling change.
  • The most difficult aspect for principals in handling change is not in implementing it but sticking to it. This will only happen when all teachers understand why the change is necessary.
  • Successful change depends on the relationship between Principal and Coach.

Above: Keith and Halbert, Bongolethu Primary School

Traders in Hope

Nearly forty years ago, Henry Kissinger is reported to have said: ‘Leaders are Traders in Hope’. It is so easy for principals to blame context and to pursue safety-first tactics. Making sure that all the boxes are ticked is almost guaranteed to keep Circuit Managers off their backs. The drawback of this tactic is to ensure sterility of thought and action and fall back to the status quo where nothing changes. Nothing improves. The unintended consequence is that teachers become disengaged and see no need to do more than basic requirements – and sometimes even less. As long as those boxes are ticked.

The only way for a Principal to combat this feeling from his teachers of disengagement is to stress to them that within the teachers’ individual area of responsibility, they are striving towards a common vision. This creates an energy of thinking out of the box and promotes an excitement of seeing problems as challenges. Principals and Teachers then come to realise that there is a higher calling than merely ticking boxes. With this realisation comes growth. With growth comes hope – and that is what makes coaching so rewarding.” – Keith Richardson

Keith has been asked to be the principal for Springfield Convent in 2019. We wish him all the very best for this new challenge and thank him for all the hours, care, patience and guidance he has dedicated to the schools he has coached over these last three years – in particular, Bongolethu Primary. It has been an honour.

To see more of what Kamvalethu has been involved in during the course of 2018, please feel free to read our other blogs HERE.