Ollie Bray finishes his series of posts on the Scottish International Summer School, here he provides a summary of day four of the conference.
Judith McClure was the fourth person to take up the position as Chair at the International Summer School. Judith is the current Convenor of the Scottish Educational Leadership Management and Administration Society (SELMAS). In her opening address Judith picked up on some of the emerging key themes of the conference including the importance of building relationships, emotional intelligence and allowing time to think. She even managed to slot in a quick advertisement for the forthcoming SELMAS Conference in September.
The morning was taken up by an activity led by Graeme Finnie around the theme of coaching. We were asked to use group coaching to see if we could think of ways to develop leadership capacity through coaching and mentoring. I have written about coaching before and do believe that it is a powerful way to support leadership at all levels. However from the various conversations that emerged from the morning discussions it seemed that there was still a bit confusion in terminology as to what the differences were between coaching, mentoring, life coaching and counselling. Although we may never reach a true consensus or exact definition of what each of these things are for. I do believe that there is some work to be done in really helping Scottish teachers and leaders understand what we mean by “coaching” in an educational sense.
Here’s what I think:
Mentoring is normally provided by to another person or group of people who have an expertise in the subject that the person is being mentored in. As well as reflection mentoring is also about giving advice based on the experience of the mentor.
Coaching does not have to be provided by a subject expert. Instead the coach has been training in questioning techniques. They are skilled in getting the participant to come up with their own answers by providing structured questioning to allow the person to have some really focused thinking time.
With this definition in mind and one of the recurring themes of the conference being that all leaders need more time to think. I think that coaching could be one way to push forward this aspect of the leadership agenda.
I also think that it is important that we differentiate between “formal” and “informal” coaching if there are such terms? School leaders may already be using informal coaching in schools because it is really just structured questioning. However, I think formal coaching is different. During a formal coaching session a coach will guide the participant in order for them to find their own solution to a particular problem or obstacle. The coach will also help the participant set their own goals to help them overcome or review the problem. Coaching is powerful and important to school leaders because most of the time our minds are filled with more than one task and sometimes it is difficult to prioritise or tackle these tasks in any sensible order. I also believe that coaching can be immensely valuable when helping school leaders plan strategically. All to often school leaders get tied down with the day to day running of the school / authority and do not give enough time to strategic “blue sky” thinking or a clear vision for the school. Working with a skilled coach can provide a way to give some quality time to both of these issues.
One final point, I believe that coaching is here to stay and I hope that there are some plans to engage the ITE Universities in the coaching process. To me this seems a useful way to push forward and develop a coaching model. 3580 students will enter ITE next year and I think that if they all new what coaching was (a clear definition) and if they had all had an opportunity to be coached and perhaps even benefited from being a peer coach then this would be a huge step forward and 3580 less people to convince about the merits of coaching when they enter the profession full time.
After Lunch the conference received a presentation from Graham Donaldson, Senior Chief Inspector, HMIe and Eamon Stack, Chief Inspector, Department of Education and Science, Eire. It was interesting to hear a little bit about the inspection model in Eire and to hear Graham Donaldson’s speak about school leadership. One big difference between the Scottish and Eire systems is that there is no Local Authority Education structure in Eire. Schools report directly back to the centre. After their presentations both Graham and Eamon received a number of questions from the delegation about the advantages and disadvantages of both systems and the inspection process in general.
The final presentation of the day was from Norman Drummond on the Columba 1400 experience. After a motivational introduction from Norman staff and students from Lossiemouth High School and Cumnock Academy took the lead and spoke to the conference about their own Columba 1400 experience. I have always been enthusiastic about outdoor learning and the power of the outdoors to develop leaders, aid reflection and empower people. The presentation provided me with even more evidence to support my theory. The audience listened to two groups of young adults explain to them how the Columba experience had changed their lives. The audience also had an opportunity to take part in some Columba activities and to find out how the schools had gone on to develop their own sustainable leadership programmes. This presentation was an excellent end to the day and for many the highlight of the week.