Practicing What We Preach: SEL for Coaching Educators

Here’s a rhetorical question for you:  If we believe that social and emotional learning (SEL) skills are essential for the healthy development of our children and youth as well as for their academic learning, then wouldn’t you think that adults ought to know about and be able to use and to practice SEL in their own work and lives, especially in the places where we hope children will learn it—our schools?

With that in mind, for the past several years, I have been involved with colleagues and friends in higher education along with school leaders on many levels to apply what we have learned about SEL to coaching adults in the field of education.

I’ve been privileged to work with Dr. Janet Patti and Dr. Robin Stern, who are the co-presidents of Star Factor Coaching, to create a six session coaching model that is now being used with school superintendents in New York City and other districts. I’ve also been deeply involved with Dr. Marc Brackett and the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence; the center has a played a key role in developing and delivering what we call personal, professional leadership coaching for school leaders.

SEL Coaching

What do we do? What do I do as a coach? Star Factor says:

Coaching is a working relationship between coach and leader. In emotional-intelligence-based coaching, a compassionate coaching relationship forms in which individuals reflect on their own strengths, challenges, and experiences to develop insights and experiment with new ideas and behaviors. This is especially important where deeper change requires more than just new technical skills (Patti, Stern, Holzer, and Brackett, 2011).  The coach guides and provides the safety necessary for the client to explore his or her own potential. STAR Factor coaches are “vision keepers.” A coach helps a client explore his or her vision as an educator and leader.

As a coach, I explore what emotional intelligence competencies and tools can help my “client” move toward that vision. I ask, for example, what five adjectives describe the person you need to be to reach your vision—not what do you need to do, but who do you need to be?

As STAR Factor says, “Coaching sessions become sacred time—time to reflect on their real and ideal lives, time to embrace hope and optimism, time to transform. It is within this trusting relationship that true change can happen.”

I have found it to be so.  My clients explore new ways to handle challenging situations and to work toward grand goals in ways they hadn’t imagined.

I consider my years as a coach as a learning process for me too, and I see that coaching can have a profound effect on our ability as school leaders to create the conditions for transforming school climate and culture for the sake of our children and youth, the very mission of Operation Respect.

I have used some of these coaching skills in Operation Respect’s work over the past few years. Recently, in Clark County, Nevada, at a Training of Trainers session, I led a circle of Trainers telling their stories of teachers who made a difference in their lives. Very powerful! We wondered together what SEL skills those teachers had that made that difference in our lives

I’m convinced that the work of transforming schools has to be wide and deep, and I believe that SEL for coaching educators can be a key component in this work.

Learn more about Operation Respect’s services.

By Mark Weiss, Operation Respect Education Director

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