Thursday / April 25

Leading Schools Through Effective Coaching Conversations

Coaching has become an important professional learning methodology for educators in recent years (van Nieuwerburgh & Barr, 2017). Initiatives designed to enhance teaching practice have been the focus of many programs, whether the coaching is provided by peers or by specialist instructional coaches (Knight, 2007). However, it can have an impact in other areas, too.

In any interaction that involves conversations, coaching has a role to play. As we discuss in our new book The Leader’s Guide to Coaching in Schools, schools are rich conversational communities involving dialogue between leaders and staff, between teachers, between teachers and students, and between students. The Global Framework for Coaching in Education (van Nieuwerburgh & Campbell, 2015) provides a model for conceptualizing the various areas in which coaching can have an impact.

The Global Framework for Coaching in Education

Both academic research and the practice of educators confirms that coaching can enhance the professional practice of educators. For many schools, this will be a natural place to start. However, it can also be used effectively in the three other quadrants: Educational leadership, community engagement, and student success and wellbeing. In particular, school leaders consistently play a role in influencing the direction, progress, and energy level of those conversations in which they are involved. According to Kegan and Lahey, “Work settings are language communities . . . all leaders are leading language communities. Though every person, in every setting, has some opportunity to influence the nature of the language, leaders have exponentially greater access and opportunity to shape, alter, or ratify the existing language rules” (2001, p.8).

Leaders using “a coaching approach” will more often lead and participate in positive, energizing conversations. This type of conversation brings a wealth of organizational benefits (Dutton; 2003). Furthermore, when a leader adopts a “coaching approach,” this can set the tone for the whole school community.

What then can school leaders do to bring this approach into their conversations?

  1. Bringing full attention and presence to each conversation. While this can be a challenge in a busy educational organization, there is no better way to build rapport and connection.
  2. Helping to clarify “what’s wanted” rather than spending time investigating the current (negative) situation
  3. Focusing on existing strengths and resources that could be deployed to help achieve the desired outcome
  4. Raising awareness about unexplored aspects of the topic by regularly asking, “And, what else?”
  5. Keeping the focus on committing to small, achievable changes that will move people forward
  6. Informally checking on progress to ensure a sense of accountability

In these ways, leaders can add to their broad repertoire of conversational skills in order to bring energy, engagement, and progress into their formal and formal interactions. Simple, easy to use techniques can make a big impact:


Dutton, J. (2003). Energize your workplace: How to create and sustain high-quality connections at work. San Francisco,CA: Jossey-Bass Inc.

Kegan, R., & Lahey, L. L. (2001). How the way we talk can change the way we work: Seven languages for transformation (1st ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Knight, J. (2007). Instructional coaching: A partnership approach to improving instruction.

Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

van Nieuwerburgh, C., & Barr, M. (2017). Coaching in education. In T. Bachkirova, G. Spence & D. Drake (eds), The Sage Handbook of Coaching. London: SAGE.

van Nieuwerburgh, C., & Campbell, J. (2015). A global framework for coaching in education. CoachEd: The Teaching Leaders Coaching Journal, February 2015, 2–5.

Written by

John Campbell John Campbell is Executive Director of Growth Coaching International Pty Ltd., an Australian-based consulting organization that provides coaching and coaching services to school leaders and teachers across Australia and in the UK, the Middle East, and the Asia/Pacific region. Christian van Nieuwerburgh Professor Christian van Nieuwerburgh is a well-respected executive coach, an internationally recognized academic and a sought-after consultant. Christian is Professor of Coaching and Positive Psychology at the University of East London (UK). Regarded as an international authority in the field, he regularly speaks at conferences, facilitates training, and consults in the UK, Europe, Australia, and the Middle East. Together they are the authors of The Leader’s Guide to Coaching in Schools, published by Corwin.

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