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What is leadership coaching? How REL Midwest is supporting state strategic plans

What is leadership coaching? Supporting strategic plans

By Cora Goldston
June 22, 2018

Changes in policy, practices, and priorities are important components of an educational system’s continued success, but they can also create challenges. To support state education agency progress through change, Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest is holding coaching sessions to help Michigan Department of Education (MDE) leaders integrate the state’s Top 10 in 10 strategic plan into their existing work and provide support to their own staff.

Steve Dibb, principal technical assistance consultant for REL Midwest, explained: “Generally speaking, large organizations like state education agencies are constantly undergoing structural change, due to legislation, leadership, and stakeholder needs. Because of that, external factors are always being introduced that affect educational programs. There are also internal factors, like budgeting and departmental policies, that require staff to adapt.” Dibb, a former state education agency senior leader, contributes expertise to REL Midwest’s coaching work.

Identifying strategic priorities is only one step to creating real change. As Dibb described, “An implementation plan must come along with the strategic plan. It’s important to make sure that strategy has the support needed for implementation. That’s where the REL Midwest leadership coaching comes in.” REL Midwest’s coaching in Michigan has the following primary goals:

  1. Help leaders work effectively with their staff to execute key components of the state plan (e.g., developing and retaining a qualified educator workforce).
  2. Provide leaders with tools to receive and act on input from stakeholders (e.g., students, parents, community members).

REL Midwest meets with the MDE leadership team monthly for coaching sessions. To guide these meetings, the group is studying the book Coherence: The Right Drivers in Action for Schools, Districts and Systems by Michael Fullan and Joanne Quinn, which is about working cohesively within an organization. The book provides a starting point and common language for future discussions. REL Midwest facilitates conversations with leadership team members about the barriers that prevent them from improving internal systems and opportunities to grow. In future sessions, leadership team members will create, implement, and discuss action plans that address barriers to change.

In addition to the group sessions, REL Midwest also conducts individual coaching sessions with MDE leadership team members. This allows MDE staff to reflect on and work towards individual goals more specific to their work. Progress between coaching sessions is fostered by an MDE team “champion,” or a point person who meets with REL Midwest regularly and ensures that the MDE team knows what they need to prepare for the next meeting.

Dibb said MDE staff initially started by trying to address multiple aspects of the Top 10 in 10 plan simultaneously. “The plan includes seven goals and 44 strategies to accomplish these goals. As we started the coaching sessions, MDE staff came to the realization that they could focus on just a few high-leverage goals and strategies at a time,” Dibb said. “Solidly implementing several key Top 10 in 10 strategies first puts them in a better position to address other parts of the strategic plan.”

The coaching sessions also provide an opportunity to foster collaboration within MDE. “Staff within an SEA are often working within silos, and they look at how a specific piece affects education,” Dibb explained. “Why have staff working individually on different strategies when different areas intersect?” In addition to identifying key areas of focus, having leadership teams understand each other’s personalities and individual strengths can help them collaborate more effectively. During the first coaching session, REL Midwest staff facilitated a personality assessment and conversations about underlying values to make meaningful connections among MDE staff. Participants discussed how they can leverage different personalities and values to accomplish the state’s goals.

Dibb notes that for leadership coaching to be useful to state education agencies, the supports need to be tailored to the state-specific context. “It’s not about using a specific product or coaching model; there isn’t one model that will work for every state education agency,” Dibb explained. “The leadership coaching is more about giving the SEA something that’s useful and actionable.” Gauging the SEA’s needs is a crucial piece of effective coaching. “The coach needs to talk to the SEA planning team to understand the state’s opportunities for growth,” Dibb said. “That way, the coach can home in on the right approach to support the SEA.”

Dibb said the ultimate purpose of leadership coaching is “getting to know everyone on the leadership team and how they can collaborate to achieve the common goals of the plan.” Setting a common goal will help MDE leadership sustain the strategic plan and continue to improve educational outcomes.

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Author(s) Information

Cora Goldston Staff Picture

Cora Goldston

Communications Associate | REL Midwest


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