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 (, 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 Ground Rules."

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."

Work-Life Harmony
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 at home."

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 technical prowess."

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."