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The Rise of Coaching in Educational Leadership

The Educational Coach

19 Sept 2023

What was once considered a remedial intervention has now become a proactive strategy embraced by successful leaders.

Coaching has undergone a remarkable transformation in the field of educational leadership. What was once considered a remedial intervention has now become a proactive strategy embraced by successful leaders. This shift in perception has ushered in a new era of leadership development, and RSAcademics, a prominent name in education known for its extensive network, knowledge and influential research, has illuminated the profound impact of coaching in the 2023 RSAcademics Headship Report.

For those unfamiliar,  coaching involves identifying focus areas, a series of confidential sessions over a defined period, and a final review of progress. It's important to separate these coaching sessions from informal peer or mentor relationships, this is an external resource.  A coach may not necessarily have a background in education but is typically an experienced leader with expertise in coaching. They play a vital role in helping headteachers reflect on their challenges, solve problems, and achieve their goals through a balanced approach of challenge and support.

Let's dive into the key findings and insights for coaching from the 2023 RSAcademics Headship Report.

Our own Julie Keyes identified several recurring themes that emerged from coaching conversations with headteachers. These themes encapsulate the core areas of growth and development for educational leaders:

1. Trust: Trust is a cornerstone in the realm of educational leadership, particularly within the school organisation. Headteachers discussed elements such as credibility, reliability, intimacy, and their impact on trust and leadership. Research by de Haan and Duckworth (2012) emphasises the pivotal role of trust in coaching relationships and its influence on achieving desired outcomes.

2. Managing Staff: Effectively managing staff, especially in light of generational differences among teachers, is a significant concern for educational leaders. Coaching can unravel the motivations within teams and staff, empowering leaders to excel (Mosca et al., 2010).

3. High-Stakes Decision-Making: Educational leaders often grapple with high-stakes decisions that profoundly affect schools and communities. Coaching, as demonstrated by Ben-Hur et al. (2012), aids teams in making informed decisions by embedding frameworks that enhance understanding of the  decision-making processes.

4. Building Teams: Building and collaborating with new or inexperienced teams and developing complementary skills to bridge leadership gaps are critical aspects of educational leadership (James-Ward, 2013; Grant et al., 2010).

5. Leadership Style: Aligning one's leadership style with specific situations or complex issues is a perpetual challenge. The application of self-determination theory, as illustrated by Stone et al. (2009), leverages coaching to foster autonomous motivation and leadership alignment.

6. Delegation: Delegating responsibilities effectively, including time management within the context of delegation, is a fundamental skill emphasised in coaching for leadership development, as highlighted by Lindle (2016).

7. Different Domains of Leadership: Headteachers juggle various leadership domains, from executing tasks to strategic thinking, relationship building, and influence. Coaching, as per van Nieuwerburgh and Barr (2020), provides the time and space for leaders to adapt and excel in these multifaceted roles.

8. Adaptability: Balancing adaptability in unpredictable situations while maintaining a structured vision is a recurrent challenge in educational leadership. Research by Lindle (2016) and Goff et al. (2014) illustrates how coaching fosters agency and behavioural change, enabling leaders to develop solutions in dynamic environments.

The leading self: a coaching journey 

The report introduced their framework comprising three leadership domains. Findings suggest an update is required within CPD to support Heads. These findings are: 

  • 1. Leading Self:  including personal abilities and qualities related to emotional intelligence and personal effectiveness.

  • 2. Leading the Organization: including leading people and teams, interacting and influencing inside and outside the organisation.

  • 3. Leading and Influencing Others: – including the knowledge and skills needed to plan and organise what needs to be done.

For more, find p82 in The New Art of Headship 2023

Leadership Development: A Shift in Focus

The report highlights a shift in the focus of leadership development within education. While leading the organisation remains essential, there is a growing recognition of the foundational significance of leading self and leading others. Traditionally, leadership development prioritised leading the organisation, assuming that leaders excel in personal and interpersonal domains. However, it is now evident that personal development areas, such as leading self and leading others, serve as the bedrock of effective leadership.

Coaches and coachees alike advocate for prioritising personal and interpersonal aspects of leadership, as they form the foundation upon which leadership in the educational context is built. These areas include building self-awareness, enhancing emotional intelligence, improving well-being and resilience, and fostering strong relationships with team members. 

In response to the evolving landscape of educational leadership, leadership development methods are undergoing transformation. Traditional training approaches are giving way to more interactive, flexible, and personalised methods. RSAcademics recommend:

  • Reflection-Based Learning: Encouraging leaders to reflect on their experiences and challenges to derive meaningful insights.

  • Coaching: Providing one-on-one coaching sessions to address specific leadership development needs.

  • Peer Support: Creating opportunities for leaders to learn from their peers and share best practices.


This is an exciting era for coaching in education, with research like the RSAcademics report supporting its importance. Coaching is no longer a peripheral endeavour but an integral part of the educational leadership journey—from early-career teachers to senior leaders. As one headteacher put it, coaching should be an essential component of the job offer. 


Mosca, J. B., Fazzari, A., & Buzza, J. (2010). Coaching to win: A systematic approach to achieving productivity through coaching. Journal of Business & Economics Research (JBER), 8(5).

Ben‐Hur, S., Kinley, N., & Jonsen, K. (2012). Coaching executive teams to reach better decisions. Journal of Management Development, 31(7), 711-723. 

Stone, D. N., Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2009). Beyond talk: Creating autonomous motivation through self-determination theory. Journal of general management, 34(3), 75-91.

Lindle, J. C. (2016), “Posing questions for leadership development and practise: A coaching strategy for veteran school leaders”, International Journal of Leadership in Education, Vol. 19 No. 4, pp. 438-463. 

James-Ward, C. (2013), “The coaching experience of four novice principals”, International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, Vol. 2 No. 1, pp. 21-33.

de Haan, E. and Duckworth, A. (2012) “The coaching relationship and other ‘common factors”’ in executive coaching outcomes”, in de Haan, E. and Sills, C. (Eds), Coaching relationships: The relational coaching field book, Libri, Faringdon, UK, pp.185-196.

Grant, A.M., Green, L.S., and Rynsaardt, J. (2010), “Developmental coaching for high

school teachers; Executive coaching goes to school”, Consulting Psychology Journal,

Practice and Research, Vol. 62 No. 3, pp. 151-168.

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