#4 The coachee can get to a better place.

#4 The coachee can get to a better place.

The coachee can get to a better place.

Even school principals, who intuitively are great coaches and mentors, benefit from being coached. In this episode, we listen to Robin Stickland, experienced principal, talk about why she chose to be coached, how she benefited from the experience and her advice to school leaders as to why they shouldn't shy away from the experience.



#4 Robin Stickland

You're listening to Loretta Piazza, experienced school, principal, mentor, and coach, and together we're 'talking out of school'. You will hear from leaders who have lived and breathed so many experiences, agonized over decisions and have tossed and turned through countless sleepless nights. These are the people who will help you stay ahead of the game.


Given a principal's heavy workload and the complexity of some of the things they have to manage on a day to day basis, also the constraints that exist on their time, what is it that can get them over the line? Talking to my next guest Robin has left me in no doubt that there is a powerful support available to our school principals and I’m also left feeling immensely confident that our schools are in good hands.

Interview with Robin Stickland

Loretta: Hello Robin, thank you for joining me in talking out of school.

Robin: Loretta, it's a real pleasure to be here this morning with you and, um, and I'm sure that we're going to have a lovely conversation.

L: I have no doubt that we will. So can we start off by you telling us a little bit about yourself and your background and what it's been like for you in education all these years?

R: Well, I've been a teacher for nearly 50 years, which in itself is amazing. I don't know where that time has gone. It seems like only yesterday I was coming out of teachers’ college. And for 27 years of that, I have been a principal of an eastern suburb school and thoroughly enjoyed my time as a principal. Um, before that I was an AP for three years in another eastern suburb, but I've also worked extensively over in the Dandenong area. So I've done, uh, quite a bit of work over in that area and then come across to the eastern suburbs. I suppose my school is in the, what they call the leafy green belt. We’re close to the Dandenongs and, um, it's a school of 753 students. And we also run a kindergarten. So we have 110 students in our kindergarten. So we're together we're quite a largeish school for the area and over 70 staff in my school altogether.

L: And how many kids in the kindergarten actually end up enrolling at your school?

R: About 98% of them. We don't limit where the enrollments come from, uh, for, from the kindergarten. Um, however, of course, as you know, schools are very heavily zoned and so we can only take those, um, children who live within our zone and they know that when they enter into the kindergarten. We do have some that actually move houses to come to the school because they want that ongoing education for their child from kindergarten to the prep foundation, but, um, the other children go to, um, Catholic schools in the area, private schools in the area.

L: That was my next question. What sort of, uh, competition do you have with the private schools?

R: Well, there's a lot of private schools within our area. And, um, we do lose some of our students at grade four, going into grade five to the private schools around, especially if the children have outstanding naplan results. Um, the private schools tend to look at those sorts of things and children who are very good at sports or science competitions, et cetera.

L: So has anything changed recently in terms of say fewer kids going across to the private schools, given that there's a lot in the, in the media, in the newspaper, how our government schools hold their own and are doing very, very well? So have you noticed any sort of a difference?

R: Yes, I have over the last, maybe five years, um, parents are very wise and very capable in doing their research on schools and looking at naplan results, et cetera. And our school holds its head up very well with the private schools in the area and doing better in lots of ways, uh, in the naplan results than some of the private schools. So we have found with the GFC and also just lately with COVID lots of people have either reduced their hours or lost their jobs. And the private schools are extremely expensive to go to. They offer lots of, of programs outside the normal curriculum. And so parents, some of them have come across to our school because they just can't afford to keep their children in the private school stream.

L: You know, I think this makes for a fascinating topic and maybe at a later stage, I can talk to you again about public versus private. That's one of my favorite topics, I've got to tell you.

R: In fact, uh, I have employed three teachers that have come to me from the local private schools and they're glowing of the education that we are providing and the programs that we're providing for our students in our school. And that is really comforting to hear, very comforting.

L: Well, that actually is the perfect segue to me asking you, what do you stand for as a leader?

R: Oh, well, good question. Uh, I attempt always to model professionalism in everything that I do and the way that I go about my job and my interactions with my staff, with my leadership team and with the ES staff that we have at, at school, I try to…..see I'm using the word try. I don't always achieve, but I try.

L: Well, you're realistic, and then you’re honest.

R: I have great empathy for other people and what they're going through going through sometimes, you know, there are great challenges in teachers and stuff, life outside school. And I always try to understand where people are coming from and accommodate them and their talents. There's so many talented teachers out there at the moment. I attempt to have them be their best. And I try to be my best whenever I'm at school. So I suppose that's my coaching background that, that assists me with that being my best and looking for people's skills and making sure that they're using their skills for the betterment of the school. And I think one of the things that I stand for is not doing things for other people that they can do for themselves. And I have this saying, don't do anything for a child that a child can do for themselves, because that is part of their growth and part of their learning and part of their education. So I really try to model, not problem solving for others, but asking them, how do you think you would go about this? What do you think would be the best pathway going forward? How are we going to keep this future focus? And in some ways, it's really keeping the ship moving in the right direction. I think my role as a principal and what I try to model these looking after my staff, so that my staff look after the children really well.

L: No wonder you're such an advocate for coaching with that sort of a philosophy, but just before we go into coaching where you're an experienced principal and having been a principal for 27 years, you would have done a fair bit of mentoring, whether it be of your staff or, you know, an AP or, or something like that. What are your experiences as a mentor of others?

R: Well, I'm a qualified mentor through the Sage program. And, um, the department has given me many principals, young principals to mentor in my 27 years. The best mentoring I think that I have done has been the mentoring just through conversations and making linkages with, with others, talking to them at, at meetings, at breakfast meetings or even VPA meetings, et cetera. I learned so much from others and I try and always give of myself to those people as well. Whenever I've been on a principal panel, the new principal that has come into either the network or into the, the position I've always offered to mentor them going forward and, um, you know, sharing back in the days when we had newsletters, rather than just posts on, on our website, you know, I would share my, my newsletter with them. I would share policies and procedures with them and talk to them about the breakdown of the senior management team of the school. I've always been confidential. I have kept information that, uh, others have given me about their school to myself. I really feel that you don't know what it's like to be a principal until you're actually sitting in that seat. It's all very well looking at it from, from another vantage point. But until the buck stops with you as a principal sitting in that seat, and you have the responsibility of the staff, the school, the facilities, the financial, um, management, and especially the welfare and the academic gains of students you don't know what that's like. And some people that really hits the mess as, oh my goodness. I didn't realize it would be like this, but you give them six months and they're very seasoned by then. They've had a few challenges, et cetera. And as a mentor, I really love to see that.

L: That's interesting because you are also an internationally accredited coach with Growth Coaching International. And the other aspect of this, which greatly interests me, which I want to talk to you about further, is the fact that you are being coached. Now you're being coached by somebody who is not in education, who is not in our field. How is that going?

R: Well, the coach that I have is just so skilled. And going back to the first question, I try to model what I expect from my staff. And I have been coaching a number of my staff and therefore it's, it's fitting that I am being coached as well. And that they know that I am being coached to bring out the best in me to further the school and to further my acumen as a principal, as a leader and the questioning, et cetera, that is that my coach uses with me is teaching me all the time. These extra questions that I can use in my own coaching or this way of looking at my work. It was one of the best things that I did through Bastow, through the, I think it's called the Institute now.

L: It's actually called The Academy.

R:  The Academy. That's right. Yes, one weekend I thought I really need some assistance during COVID to think clearly and have clarity about how I'm going to get my students and my teachers back onto the school site successfully. And I brainstormed myself and I talked to my senior staff, et cetera. And I thought, I definitely need to bring this all together. And at the moment I need a little bit of help from a coach and there was this coaching and I thought I will sign up for that. And it was the best thing that I did.

L: What are the fundamental differences between mentoring and how you operate as a mentor and the purpose behind mentoring and what you want to achieve and coaching? Maybe there's no difference. I don't know. How do you see, because you're both in, and you can work within that continuum because I know Chris Munro, the CEO of Growth Coaching often talks about that continuum from mentoring to coaching and you can move up and down, which is a, quite an interesting perspective and way of looking at it. So what's your view on this?

R: Well, I am very aware of when I am in coaching mode. And when I am in mentoring mode. At the beginning of my, my coaching, I would slip into mentoring all the time.

L: Is this you as the coach or you as the coachee?

R: Me as the coach. And I see clearly it's this old adage: coaching is teaching someone how to fish so that they can fish for the rest of their life. Mentoring is giving someone a fish that they can eat and have now; a solution to a problem now. And it's my solution, not necessarily their solution and it is adding to their learning. However, it is not adding greatly to their own learning as coaching is. I am a full addict of coaching. I just love coaching because I can see what the outcomes are for my staff and for my coachees and how much they can come in such a short time in increasing their skills to problem solve for themselves. And I've had that experience, you know, when I was, um, actually learning to become a coach and going through the accreditation process, um, I was going through a number of, of issues, both in my private life with, with some, uh, health issues and also continuing with my principalship and it really helped me during that time to find clarity and to move forward. And that's the main thrust of coaching. It's what I can do. What are the next simple little steps that I can do to help me to solve this problem or to achieve the goals that I, that I've set for myself?

L: You were saying that when you were coaching or when you were mentoring, you know, sometimes you would be coaching. Sometimes you would be mentoring. Are you always a hundred percent understanding of what you're in, what mode you're in or do you just do it because you've got an end goal or that's the purpose right at this moment and then maybe reflect on it later.

R: I'm very aware of it. Now, when I was a, uh, inexperienced coach, I would find myself saying, oh, well, that's easy. You could do this and this and this and this which isn't coaching, it's mentoring.

L: Oh, well, you know, we're very good at giving advice because it's hard, isn't it, to sit back and not tell the answer.

R: But it is beautiful to see that aha moment when someone that you're coaching all of a sudden realizes that yes, they've got the skills. Yes. They could do it this way, or they could do it that way. And this way would be a better way of doing it. And my next step is this tiny thing that I can do in the next hour. It is wonderful to actually see that within the people that you are coaching. And I think, I just think that coaching is so much more powerful than mentoring, or you can tell I'm I'm a coaching addict.

L: Yes, I can. Okay, right. Well, let's, let's talk a little bit more about your experiences. You know, as a principal who is being coached, what does the average session look like? So do you, do you start off with goals or what is it that you do?

R: Well, the, the sessions that I'm actually experiencing at the moment go for an hour and they start off normally with just chat. What's going on in your life at the moment? Um, what do you want to do? What are you, what are your skills at that you're sitting, um, looking forward? What are you finding challenging? And then it is that nitty-gritty question. What do you want to work on today? What is the best use of our time here together? And it really brings it down to very specific problems, concerns, issues, or goals that I might have as a principal.

L: Have you ever got to the end of a session and thought, wow, this was a waste of time?

R: No, because I have a very skilled coach. And at the end of each session, she asks me now what was useful Robin? And there are so many things that, that we have gone through that are extremely useful. And sometimes she will send me, uh, articles. Or tell me about Ted talks or, uh, things that are going to assist me in my principalship. And I find that that's after of course our coaching session. And I find that really powerful for my own learning. When I stop learning I may as well not be a principal and I'm learning so much at the moment. That's one thing that, um, with COVID my skills of digital technology, et cetera, have absolutely advanced.

L: Is that because of coaching?

R:  No, not because of coaching because to actually yes, to do my job, to do my job, I need to be skilled in WebEx and zoom. And, and now we're looking at Squadcast. So yes it's, it's really quite interesting. I love learning from other people.

L: So you, you mentioned that in, in some of your coaching sessions that really helped you, you know, transition back to school once the kids went back to school in term four. What are some of the other achievements that you've personally had through coaching. Is there anything that stands out?

R: There is one and it's very, very personal in my personal life, but I will share it with you. At one stage, it looked it, I had an infection that went, um, uh, rampant through my leg. And this was when I was doing my coaching accreditation and it looked at one stage that I would have to have my leg amputated if they could not control the infection.

L: Goodness, me.

R: And, um, it was a very trying time and I spent a lot of time in hospital and two operations, et cetera. And I was being coached all the way through this. And I tell you the, my positive attitude towards everything that was happening to me that I had no control over whatsoever. You know, it was all, you got to have this x-ray, you got to have this MRI, you've gotta have this cat scan. You know, you've got to be on 14, um, doses of, of, of, um antibiotics and you've got to remain in hospital because it's intravenous, et cetera. The way I coped with it was through coaching myself, using the coaching questions over what could I control and what can I do?  Really help me through that period of time? And so when I say I've seen the power of coaching, yes I have.

L: What did, well, I mean, certainly there was a very positive outcome and going through something personal that is so traumatic and to be able to remain positive and to continue to engage in coaching when I think I probably would have said, no I'm not doing that because I've got other things to worry about. So that is a real credit to you. And it actually shows, it demonstrates very clearly what you personally believe about coaching. That's very, very, very obvious.

R: I can give you lots of examples within my school. Like the transition that I'm being that I was being coached for just recently. It was very successful, very successful. Bringing the children back on the site, um, facing the issues that teachers had. The parents had. And still have to a certain degree and ensuring that we had a safe, secure environment for everyone to come back onsite, where we're in our little bubbles and we've got to stay in our bubbles. And that really assisted me in going, right, we need to do this, this and this in this order if we are going to transition back into school successfully.

L: What sort of advice would you give to other principals regarding coaching? I mean, given that you're in a network of over 50 schools, and I imagine there would be all sorts of principals, whether it be gender, experience, age, so leaving all that aside, what would you tell your colleagues?

R: I would tell them to, if you want to be better at something or anything, get a coach. And I think there is a Ted talk from the most wonderful surgeon that the title is ‘if you want to be better at something, get a coach’. And I would advise them to just even do one or two coaching sessions with a coach from Bastow and just try the clarity that it gives you moving forward. And to know that there is somebody there that is confidential, and of course people have people within their networks that are confidential, that they can. Try, you know, um, to talk through their problems, concerns or issues with, but that conversation is normally a mentoring conversation. Oh, well, I'll do it this way. Will you try this? Or you could do it, this, you could access this information, et cetera, rather than coaching and building the skill of the person that is being coached. So my advice to any principal, whether you're a new principal or a very experienced principal, try coaching.

L: Well, Robin you're nearing the end of a long and fabulous career in education. What does the new chapter in your life, what's it going to look like?

R: Oh, yes. Um, I would like to continue with my coaching and I would like to be useful, maybe volunteer work. I do some volunteer work now for Monash Medical Center and for Marine Care. So I'd like to advance that. I think for the first three months though, I'll just sleep. Which is, um, it's just catch up on the sleep that, uh, that sometimes, uh, goes awry when you're a very, very busy principal and, you know, addressing what you need to address on a day to day basis. And we're all busy, busy people in schools now.

L: Well, I've just got to say Robin, thank you very much. You know, your passion for coaching, but not look, not just for coaching, but whether it be mentoring and the leader that you are, it is just so obvious. Now I have the privilege of being able to see you during this interview, which our listeners won't, but I can just see that passion come through your eyes and, you know, through your body language and you voice too. Of course. So thank you very, very much. And I really do wish you all the best as you transition to something perhaps, a little bit more, you know, less focused on, you know, the day to day accountability issues that principals deal with, but being able to do something that you really, really love and have that balance once again, in your life, put your health first.

R: Thank you Loretta. I'm really looking forward to not focusing on the toilets and the leaks in the roof, um, and just really looking at doing a little bit of coaching to assist people in their roles within schools. Lovely. Thank you.

Thanks for listening to this latest episode of talking out of school, where we cover topics and dilemmas associated with the ups and downs, and even the downright curious of the school leader's job. Want to know more? Then visit me at shapingleaders.com.au

But for now, here’s to staying ahead of the game.

Details of the TED Talk Robin mentions

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