Principals Use Online Coaching to Maximize Strategic
Time with Teachers
November 13, 2003
Moveta Nanton, a vice principal at Heart Lake Secondary School in Brampton,
Ontario, has experienced a revolution in the way she and her associates
coach the nearly 110 teachers at the 1800-student school, part of the
Peel District School Board. Nanton says that instead of using her coaching
sessions with teachers to deal with heart-felt feelings and problems,
she has uses an online coaching tool in advance of these meetings to
facilitate the resolution of problems. Currently, she uses The Online
Coaching Clinic (www.coachingclinic.com), which makes some 182 modules
available to her, none requiring more than 15 minutes of a user's time.
"We've encouraged our principals to use online coaching when an employee
might present them with a fairly complex problem-for example, dealing
with a conflict with another employee," says Christine Delaney, the
Peel School Board's Manager of Health, Wellness and Safety. "Traditionally,
a teacher would say to a principal or supervisor, 'One of the parents
always seems to get angry when we are talking about the student; I don't
know what to say anymore! The principal would listen to 15 minutes of
frustration and then would engage in problem solving. There would then
be a return visit and more discussion. This has now changed."
"We've positioned online coaching as an immediate, accessible resource
for principals," Delaney adds. "With a problem like the one above, The
Online Coaching Clinic is particularly appropriate. We say, 'Here are
a couple of modules. Work with them, do some reflective thinking and
some initial problem-solving yourself. Then come back and at that point
we can start some specifics about solving the particular problem.' Principals
will therefore be giving their teachers skills to build on and will
save time reflecting and processing the issue."
Different Modules for Different Problems
"I have a binder of the different modules," says Heart Lake's Nanton.
"When a teacher comes to me with a problem, I select one or two and
ask that the modules be completed before we talk. This usually focuses
the discussion and turns it toward the direction of problem solving
rather than anguishing over the difficulties of the situation." The
Online Coaching Clinic is broken into Competencies such as "Managing
Others" or "Dealing with Discrimination and Harassment" and there are
topics like "Leadership" within each competency. A module within a topic
might then be "Better Leadership by . . . Establishing Objectives and
Each module contains about 150 words of concepts, ideas or direction
and a number of relevant questions for the user to reflect on and answer.
These questions are sequenced to help the user progressively create
new ideas for themselves. Web-based, The Online Coaching Clinic is always
available, at an educator's home or office, accommodating different
learning styles and an individual's learning pace.
"Principals and vice-principals act as the senior management of an
organization and that organization happens to be their school," explains
Marjorie Shore, M.S.W., a principal in The Online Coaching Clinic. "They
certainly have support through the central administration of the Board.
But they basically manage their organization and like all good leaders,
the more they are able to coach their employees, the more successful
the employees will be."
The Online Coaching Clinic is part of a blended learning program at
Peel which also includes a Work Life Harmony workshop and an e-course,
called Balance Bites, which principals get every Monday morning by e-mail.
The workshop gives administrators, principals and vice principals the
chance to discover that they are not alone, that many others struggle
with the same issues. "The opportunity to follow the workshop up with
complementary learning, like the Balance Bites e-course and The Online
Coaching Clinic is amazing-and that learning is not a book that will
require eight hours of concentration," Shore notes. "It will take 15
or 20 minutes. They can look at a specific module directing them to
the right kind of questions to focus their thinking and find a subject
or specific piece of information to create strategy and tactics around.
It can be done whenever or wherever an administrator has time, even
The Work Life Harmony workshop makes the case that organizations must
increase their employee engagement and connection by paying attention
to work-life concerns. Shore explains: "A work-life balance policy should
be an understanding that in most organizations the one most important
thing that an administrator can do is to create an environment in which
people feel connected and understood. Reward and recognition must fit
into the structure. Rewards can be looked at in terms of mentoring,
professional development and motivation. Online coaching is an inexpensive
method of providing all three."
"The word is spreading about the program throughout the Board. Every
time we've run the program the classes are full." Delaney says. "The
Peel Board has some 500 administrators and more than 100 have completed
the program, which is why we continue to repeat it." Other organizations
use The Online Coaching Clinic as a stand-alone tool to help managers
coach their staff or to allow for 7/24 self-development.
Teacher Retention and Leadership Development
Another reason an online coaching option makes sense is that school
boards face a significant challenge: to find and retain teachers and
develop them into future leaders," Shore adds. "School boards are losing
teachers due to retirement and attrition and now boards are in great
need of new personnel. School boards that demonstrate work-life balance
policies that grow with teachers will be the ones that keep their teachers
motivated and satisfied with their occupations."
One of the most often-used online modules covers Motivation. "I send
principals and vice principals two modules that help gain new prospective
about motivation, how to reward it and how to recognize it," explains
Shore. "A good example is Visioning. Every school should have a vision
of success-what a successful school environment would look like. Without
that vision, everything else you do is blindly throwing a dart at a
dartboard - a stab in the dark. These modules help them think through
what their vision should be. The more you tune your vision, the more
specific you can make it and the more likely you will become more specific
and strategic in your actions to achieve it."
According Vicki Wilson, a Toronto coach who utilizes The Online Coaching
Clinic with clients in finance and law, many executives, like principals,
are not trained in the leadership skills they must employ as they grow
in an organization. As they lead bigger teams soft skills are much more
critical than the skills that got them promoted.
Describing the passage from teacher to principal, Shore explains: "When
teachers train, they train technically and as principals they have a
new hat. They are wearing a leadership hat and they have had very little
training there. The soft skills are far more effective in a leader than
Shore advises that school boards wishing to use online coaching tools
should appoint one person to have ownership of the program. "Our material
is rich and it works best when we can equip people to act as coaches
and consultants to participating administrators. They can then add complementary
programs such as the Monday morning e-course of Balance Bites that will
get administrators more motivated to use the modules. That's the smart
way to do it."