In the article The Path to Leadership, I explored the common themes among the varying paths to leadership shared by our Women Who Lead. One trend in that article was that many women were “tapped on the shoulder” for leadership but had not considered themselves leaders prior to that experience.
In conducting the Women Who Lead interviews, and by sharing these stories, I am hopeful that women who are curious about leadership consider taking the next step forward on their own. If making the move to leadership feels like the right next step for you, this article highlights four ways you can consider using your current experience as a bridge into formal leadership.
These highlights come from several conversations on the #coachbetter podcast with experienced leaders, one with Dr. Chaunté Garrett, the superintendent of a kindergarten through 12 charter school in North Carolina, U.S. (who is also featured in Women Who Lead) and one with Ange Molony, the upper school vice principal at Canadian International School in Hong Kong. Both women highlighted how well the informal leadership role of coach helped prepare them for leadership.
Four Considerations When Moving From Instructional Coaching to Leadership:
As we know, there are few opportunities for middle-level leadership in schools. In fact, instructional coaching is one of the very few roles that provide a window into leadership while remaining in an informal leadership role. Recognizing your work as informal leadership (or “little L” leadership) will help you articulate your leadership skills so that you can leverage your current experience during the interview process.
Instructional coaches are fortunate to be part of lots of leadership conversations, which allow them to demonstrate “little L” leadership all the time. Coaches are often part of strategic planning and part of conversations at the leadership level. This provides a window into aspects of leadership that other educators might not see when we’re considering moving into a formal leadership role.
As Ange said in her #coachbetter episode, “The door that got me from middle leadership to something with much wider influence was instructional coaching. Developing the ability to move seamlessly between conversations to connect with people at all different divisional levels of the school in all different capacities opened so many more doors for me, and helped prepare me for leadership.”
As you are considering making the next step into leadership, here are four considerations highlighted by Chaunté in her #coachbetter episode that you may want to consider:
1: Define your purpose as a leader
Sometimes you may feel pressured to move into leadership. You may be hearing that it’s the right next step for you, or you might feel like it’s the “only step up” you can take. Better understanding what your own goals are and why leadership is the path forward will help you confidently move forward.
You may want to ask yourself:
- What is your vision?
- What is your purpose?
- What are you trying to accomplish as a leader?
- Is this something you truly need that formal title for or is it something you can continue to do in your current role?
Chaunté advises, “As a coach, you get so much exposure to so many aspects of leadership. Our coaches serve on some of our highest level leadership teams, either by expertise or by way of position. When you’re getting that exposure, understand where you’re truly marrying leadership. When you’re in leadership, you don’t want to be miserable. It’s important to find your alignment.” Understanding why you want to move into that role will help you decide if this is the right next step for you or not.
2: Recognize the aspects of your current role that you love!
As you consider moving into a new role, it’s worth understanding what you love about your current role.
You may want to ask yourself:
- What are the parts of your current role that make you happy?
- What are the parts of your current role you want to continue with?
- What are the parts of your current role that you really don’t want to leave behind?
As Ange highlights, “I like to build relationships, so I knew what was going on in different areas of the school. Knowing what’s going on around you was really beneficial. Instead of being focused on ‘what I would do,’ I could talk about my conversations with others.”
You want to make sure that when you’re moving into that leadership position, you’re not losing the aspects of the role that you love and gaining things that don’t seem as interesting or engaging for you as an educator.
When you understand what it is about your current role that makes you so passionate, you can identify and ensure that you are bringing that into your leadership role (or if it wouldn’t be a fit and you’d be losing something essential to your professional satisfaction and enjoyment).
3: Identify when and where you demonstrate your leadership capacity
In any informal leadership role and, in particular, as an instructional coach, you likely have lots of opportunities to demonstrate your leadership skills, but oftentimes those skills are not obvious to others (even sometimes they’re not obvious to you!). Identifying your leadership work will help you articulate these experiences to others.
You may want to ask yourself:
- How are you intentionally positioning yourself to be able to take on different leadership roles?
- How are you demonstrating the leadership experience that you are building as a coach and showing that you want to take on more formal leadership roles?
- What are you participating in that shows your current leaders that you want to be a leader?
- In what ways are you building those more formal leadership skills?
- What opportunities are you taking advantage of as a coach that can help you be better prepared for that leadership position?
As Chaunté says, “Leadership is not inherent, there’s positional leadership but that’s not what you want to lean on. Leadership is connection, leadership is the ability to help people understand why, give them the support to do the how and the encouragement and affirmation to carry out the what.” You are likely exposed to many opportunities to build and demonstrate leadership capacity in your current role, take advantage of those and define them as leadership for yourself and for others.
4: Demonstrate Your Commitment to Being a Learner
As educators, we know that it’s so important to show a growth mindset so that you can empower others to do the same. This applies to a leadership position too!
Intentionally continuing to build your skills and be a learner in as many spaces as possible, rather than relying on your experience, is a powerful way to demonstrate your commitment to learning as a leader.
Chaunté notes that coaches are always learning together as a team. She says coaches travel for training just like teachers. “We participate together to make sure we’re all getting the same info, and then processing together as a team.” As a potential leader, how are you making sure to take the time to read and research and build new skills to document your learning, to demonstrate that you are a learner alongside your colleagues? This way you can demonstrate that as a leader, you’re a learner too.
Taking the Next Step
When you think about being intentional in your leadership, you might consider seeking out mentorship to help guide you and talk to others who might see areas where you have opportunities to grow. You’ll find over 70 successful women leaders as virtual mentors in our Women Who Lead annual global cohort!
Getting an outside perspective can help you identify opportunities to build your leadership skills in areas that need to grow while continuing to build the strengths that have made you successful as a coach. As you’re moving into this leadership role, having that outside pair of eyes to actually help you identify where you have opportunities to lead will give you the perspective you need to find just that right opportunity to demonstrate new leadership skills.
If leadership is on your radar, taking the time to reflect on these prompts, either with or without a mentor, may help you determine the best next step for you.
Kim Cofino has been an educator in international schools since August 2000. Having lived and worked in Germany, Malaysia, Thailand, and Japan, Kim has had a variety of roles in international schools, including (her favorite) instructional coach. Now based in Bangkok, Thailand, Kim is the co-founder and CEO of Eduro Learning, which offers online customized professional development in a community-driven environment, including COETAIL, Women Who Lead, and The Coach Certificate & Mentorship programs. Kim is co-author of Your Connected Classroom: A Practical Guide for Teachers, as well as co-host of the #coachbetter podcast and YouTube series. Find out more about Kim at edurolearning.com.