A Coaching Model By Leslie Ford, Education Coach, UNITED STATES
PULSE: A Brief Glimpse Into the Working Brain of a School Administrator
I have worked in k12 education for over 45 years as a teacher, school counselor, independent contract counselor for social/emotional support, district Guidance counselor, Vice Principal, Middle and High School Principal, and Superintendent. The common thread of success in this work was to work with the students as the center of all planning, acknowledge and plan for the emotional wellbeing of ion the building, organize meaningful work as a learning organization, progress monitor, evaluate, and reflect often.
This is a brief glimpse into the working brain of a school administrator. Often the only one on the job for a site or district, the main emphasis for success is to develop the people around you by building healthy, sustaining relationships set in well-functioning systems that challenge both the children and adults for our growth and development. This is the reason that aspiring administrators and principals new to their role have sought my advice and engaged with me in thinking through issues. I believe this is one of the draws for my upcoming coaching practice, along with the ability to support aspiring female administrators and support those in leadership roles whose careers and lives have been burdened with the effects of dealing with a prolonged and difficult pandemic. Recognizing that leadership, fostered in the electric energy of the Principal and Superintendent, filters through the and nurtures leadership throughout the organization, PULSE, as the steady and strong heartbeat of a school and district, is a distinctive and memorable model.
The PULSE Model Explanation
The PULSE model uses design thinking tenets to create a tool so that managers or those seeking leadership may develop competencies as they work with real-world problems in their school or district. Those who manage people, chair or sit on committees or sit with decision-makers are practical thinkers. They seek a process or system that will help them think through multi-layer problems with stakeholders of various agendas using a finite set of resources in people, time, space, and money for a desired level of change. PULSE acknowledges both the immediate need for effectiveness and incorporates double-loop learning through regular reflection following the execution of this Developmental Coaching model.
Daniel Goleman quoted psychologist Albert Bandura concerning his work on self-efficacy: “People’s beliefs about their abilities is huge variability in how you perform. People who have a sense of self-efficacy bounce back from failures; they approach things in terms of how to handle them rather than worrying about what can go wrong.” Goleman’s intention with this quote was to quote the power of optimism or positive thinking to change our outcomes. His challenge is that this is a more important predictor of success than any standardized test. This core message underlies the thoughtful and positive planning of the PULSE model.
The Action for the PULSE Plan
The coaching I intend to offer to administrators will be based on the principles of adult learning: chunks of material related to practical experience in which the client can be involved, have the responsibility for some level of the outcome and use reflection to deepen the learning. Coaching sessions, grouped in monthly or bi-weekly meeting times, would allow for learning enhancement through practices demonstrated in the study of neuroscience. New information would have the opportunity to be enriched with context and experience over a period of time, to be stored in long-term memory. As this will be offered in 1:1 sessions, it will offer the opportunity to address specific concerns and leadership goals in a way that can be customized to each assignment, district, and set of current circumstances.
The coaching process will bring the client through the steps of considering their own state of mind and readiness to approach a goal. This first step is crucial to people whose jobs may have them at a high level of activity and distractibility not conducive to thoughtful planning. It is a moment to pause, to quiet the noise both around and inside the client, and make room for the work they select.
During the second step, the client takes time to sharpen their focus on the work they can accomplish with the resources available. It is also important in this step to envision what the task, whether working with staff, planning an event, or holding a difficult parent meeting, will look like when it is complete. The work at this step is to create a picture, a model of some sort, for them to anchor their work.
Leaning in borrows from the action of our arm when rowing. We lean in as final preparation for the stroke that propels us forward. The client takes time to do an environmental scan, and accurately place the goal in the current circumstances. Since administrators work with and through teachers and other staff, taking time to see whose efforts will assist their effort and who may restrain them is an important element of planning.
Select refers to the process the client will use to set out the action for themselves and others. In an organization such as a school, this is happening in the context of many other competing activities which have to be accounted for so that they don’t get in the way. Everyone involved appreciates when the team has a series of clear, measured steps spelled out ahead of time.
The last step combines the actual execution of the plan for the goal with all steps, surroundings, people and timing accounted for. This is when all that thought and planning pays off for the benefit of students, learning, and the team. Following that, a period of reflection and review completes the action for the PULSE plan. This is also the hook for double-loop learning, as what is learned in reflection can be material for the next goal of the client.