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When asked to write a few words about the value of coaching for FE News, I was a little hesitant as I am by no means an authority on the subject - all I can draw on is my own experience to date. But what has been particularly interesting about my experience is how it has completely changed my view of coaching and of leadership.

I have always recognised the value of a coaching approach in the context of student empowerment and most specifically in the preparation for competitions. However, until recently I was cynical about the potential benefits that such an approach might bring to me as a college leader or indeed to others in similar leadership positions.

As part of the Principals’ Qualifying Programme which I recently completed, I was required to work with an executive coach, so I became a coachee. To my surprise and excitement I discovered and continue to discover the very powerful and positive impact that this coaching is having on both my leadership and on me as a person!

Significant within this impact has been learning to reflect ... not very easy for someone with a naturally activist approach to everything I do. Learning to find and use space within my leadership of a large college at such an uncertain time for the wider sector has been invaluable. It is like looking in a mirror when driving to get an accurate view of the road to help inform my next move ... so important as I try to position the college in the most sustainable place to take us forwards.

Reflecting with the support of my coach has also taught me more about my own impact and the internal resource that I can bring to situations. This has led to a growth in self confidence and self belief and has enabled me to recognise and trust the resource that exists within my colleagues - both within the management team and in our wider college community.

In order to encourage and enable the development of this wider resource for the benefit of the organisation, we have now introduced coaching as a central feature of our leadership and management. Solutions focussed coaching is our approach of choice to provide a process to resolve the many issues that we face as a college. This practice is being cascaded at team level throughout the organisation and the impact is powerful. More and more staff are actively involved in leadership and development as we move forward and innovative ideas are being offered from colleagues who previously felt unable to contribute. This I believe is the key to continuous improvement, particularly for a college rated by Ofsted as "outstanding".

Involving students in this process is our next step as we constantly strive to extend their influence within the leadership of the college.

Coaching is already a key element within our very successful competitions’ strategy. We have recruited a dedicated competitions squad coach who plays a central role in preparing our students for their competitions work, and the results speak for themselves as we go from success to success. Taking this one step further, our College competitions squad now find themselves in a position to be able to coach the junior team which is made up of pupils at our partner schools.

We continue to embed coaching into our college culture and to be surprised and delighted at the impact it is having on our performance. Most particularly we are learning to look within our own college community for solutions to the many challenges we face. As a result we are growing in confidence and self belief at a time when the sector faces so much uncertainty and when all colleges need to focus with confidence on their core mission and purpose.

Marion Plant, is principal and chief executive of North Warwickshire & Hinckley College 

Read other FE News articles by Marion Plant: 

Colleges must be proactive to reduce soaring NEETs



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