Is Professional Coaching Too Luxurious for School District Leaders?

By Delano Garner

I was recently working with the Director of Nutrition Services for a large public school district in California. We were just getting to know each other over coffee and light chatter. It was our very first coaching session so I asked a fairly standard question. “What are your top three, most pressing concerns currently?” She paused a good moment, and replied, “My people, my people, and my people.” She said that if her people showed up every day and did what they were hired to do, all else would be okay. I asked a follow-up question, “What do you think needs to happen to get your people to show up and do what they are hired to do?” She replied again, “We really need to update our functional operations and improve employee engagement.” I responded, “That's a wonderful place to start!”

A good coach asks good questions and quickly becomes a valued thought-partner. Leaders don’t need someone to tell them what to do. They need space for collaborative problem-solving, organized planning, and thoughtful reflection.

Leadership within today’s school systems is becoming increasingly complex. Leaders need skills that are not traditionally offered in undergraduate and even graduate curricula.  Furthermore, they need to update and refresh these skills regularly to keep pace with their rapidly changing organizational cultures. Most effective leaders would agree, “If you lead a group of people, you need a coach.”


Communication Skills

The ability to persuade others through verbal interactions or presentations is natural for some and acquired for others. In both cases, being able to calmly and clearly convey ideas, and gain momentum and buy-in, is a skill that can be enhanced through practice,-analysis, and reflection.


Sometimes an organization's most seasoned employees suffer from what I call "set-in." What I mean is that they've always done things a certain way and have become highly resistant to change (Usually, without knowing it). The best way to overcome "set-in" among your employees is to modeling adaptability: When the leader exhibits personal attributes like learning, growing, and stretching, most employees will try to follow suit.


Within the chaos of every problem is a solution that can make your organization even better. “Focus on the opportunity, not the problem” is the message that best serves the emerging and veteran leaders of today’s rapidly changing organizational environments. This begins with a positive attitude but also involves the willingness to see problems as they really are in order to develop solutions that work.

Critical Observation

Data is very useful in pointing out blind spots and informing organizations of possible areas of improvement. Coaching helps take this idea further by asking important questions like “How do I best communicate with my staff regarding the behavioral changes needed for success? What does my staff need from me to make these changes feasible? How do I get them to buy into the changes, and not resist the changes?"

Conflict Resolution

The effective leader must be able to recognize conflicts that are impeding smooth functioning and regularly negotiate win-win solutions. Often this requires understanding the personalities involved and how they relate to each other.  A good coach assists in attaining the vital skill of holding multiple perspectives while staying on course toward goal achievement.

We’ve seen it over and over again; professional coaching benefits leaders and their teams with quantifiable results. Sign up for a complimentary coaching session