Leadership Coaching Q&A: Past Experience and Big Picture Thinking

04/21/2010 13:42

An excerpt of this interview appeared in the April issue of the Step Update. The following is the full article.

Coralie Kelly is leadership coach at the Trotter School in Dorchester, she supports Principal Mairead Nolan and Assistant Principal Romaine MIlls-Teque.

Q: Coralie, how has your experience as a principal contributed to your role as a leadership coach?

Coralie Kelly: I think back fondly on my days and years as principal of the Hooks School [in Chelsea]. The challenges were great and the rewards even greater. Relating my experiences as an urban principal is a joy for me and my way of letting [Mairead and Romaine] know that the challenges they face are not new and are not just happening at the Trotter.

My experience taught me that improvement will come with consistency, collaboration and most importantly time. The principal’s most important role is to provide the necessary supports for students and staff. This demanding and important job also requires support. It has been my pleasure to provide some support to both Mairead and Romaine as they take on the daily challenges of running an urban school.      

Q: Mairead how is having a former principal as a leadership coach assisted you in your approach to the challenges you face at Trotter and in your daily work there?

Mairead Nolan: The impact of Coralie's experience as a principal, and specifically as a principal who worked in a school with demographics that are similar to the Trotter's, cannot be overstated. Coralie's skills and knowledge-base are enormous and they match the needs and questions I have. There have been so many occasions where Coralie has been able to provide answers and ideas to questions and challenges we are facing because she has faced the same challenges. Perhaps more importantly, Coralie shares insights and ideas on challenges that I haven't even identified but that she has been able to observe based on her experience. Coralie's experiences also give her credibility and give us hope. When she shares a thought or idea, I never have the desire to dismiss it with the thought, "What does she know?" If she had never been a principal or had been a principal in a school with very different needs, I would have to work harder, I think, at trusting her thoughts and ideas. That's never the case. She's done this work and done it extremely well! 

Q: Could you briefly describe a typical day and your work together?

CK: I come to the Trotter with a plan of action. After meeting with Mairead and Romaine that plan usually changes. This is typical and definitely recognizable by every principal. Students, teachers, and parents immediate needs take precedence and everyone goes into action. Reflection and planning, the real work, happens long after the children have gone home. This is typical at the Trotter School and was the typical day at the Hooks School.

MN: I'm not sure that there is a typical day at the Trotter! However, our days do tend to have a rhythm or pattern. Coralie is unusual because she is able and willing to help with day to day work, such as creating data sheets or systems for tracking attendance. But Coralie doesn't stay in the day-to-day.  Rather, she makes sure that we spend time each day thinking about bigger issues that could easily get lost in the hecticness of daily school life. We work on those crucial issues over the course of time because Coralie knows how I think and work. She raises something, we talk about it and then I go and think about it. Coralie brings it up again at her next visit and we begin to form a plan on how to address it. Coralie does actual work on the plan and she keeps these important issues on the front burner.

Q: Can you provide an example of something that is better because of the relationship?

CK: I started at the Trotter in December of 2008. The school climate is noticeably improved and MCAS results are going in the right direction. This is due in large part to Mairead and Romaine's unwavering commitment and dedication to the students of the Trotter School. I only hope that I have played a role in assisting them in reaching some of their goals.

MN: Everything is better because of our relationship! I feel a sense of hope and an enormous amount of support from Coralie. The assistant principal, Romaine MIlls-Teque, and I know that we would never have made it through our first year at the Trotter last year without Coralie. That emotional and moral support is so sustaining. However, one concrete example of something that is better because of our relationship are using student data more effectively to meet students' needs.

Q: How would each of you characterize the relationship and what element(s) is/are key(s) to its success?

CK: When I retired from the Hooks School I advised our staff to laugh every day. I definitely find it to be the best medicine. As Mairead, Romaine and I meet to discuss the challenges of the day and plan for future improvements we are always find time to laugh and keep spirits high. This is possible because we have complete respect for each other's ability and commitment.

MN: I think that our relationship is characterized by mutual respect and a deep sense of passion for children and the work of creating an excellent school. I think that a key to our success in working together is that both Coralie and I have good senses of humor. We laugh and enjoy the work. We both love what we do.

Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

CK: As much as I enjoy working with Mairead and Romaine and the staff at the Trotter School, the real rewards in education always come from the relationships you develop with the children. It is also heartwarming to see how the children interact with Mairead and Romaine.

MN: Seeing growth and change is absolutely the most rewarding aspect of the job. We focused on creating a peaceful school climate last year and we can see, feel and hear the changes in our school. We made gains on our MCAS scores- which means that students are learning- and there's no better feeling than knowing you are making a difference for children.

Q: Any other comments you'd like to add?

MN: I mentioned above that Romaine and I say often that we would never make it without Coralie. We really mean that. Coralie goes above and beyond. She not only works hard while she's with us, she goes home and does extra work- analyzing test results, creating data sheets, etc. Teachers and students know her and trust her. We owe a great deal to Coralie and are so grateful to her- and to BU- for her support.