Every Team Needs a Coach - The Role of the Principal

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In the past it was not uncommon to see sporting teams lead by a playing coach who was also usually the team captain and one of the best players. This model still persists in social leagues in many sports across the globe. However when we look at elite teams, those at the top of their game we never see one person coaching and playing. The team captain plays at the elbows on his team, takes leadership responsibility both at training and on game day. More frequently whether in NRL, NBL, AFL or Premier League when we look at elite sporting teams in these and other elite sporting competitions ‘leadership groups’ are the norm rather than the exception. These groups take responsibility for helping the coach and team management develop game plays, implement agreed strategies. Support and mentor teams members and induct new members to the team culture. In other words they sell the mission and values of the team and work tirelessly in the pursuit of success. The coach works from the sidelines, observing the game, seeing the bigger picture and working to ensure all team members are working together. The coach is not the best hitter, kicker, runner, guard, lock, midfielder or striker. These roles belong to the players, the coaches role is to get the best out of his players to understand the game and to know what needs to be done to improve each individual players skills and then blend these individual skills in to a high performing team. How does the role of a school principal compare to that of the coach of an elite sporting team? Every orchestra needs a conductor, why? I am sure everybody will agree that every orchestra needs a conductor to get the best outcome. The more instruments and musicians in the orchestra the more critical is the role of the conductor. Without a conductor the various individual sounds of the many instruments will never blend into one single performance as envisioned by the composer. The conductor never plays in the orchestra, in actual fact when the conductor leaves the podium the music usually stops. Their role is to see the composition as a whole and bring the individual sounds together. If you have ever been to a performance where one instrument is out of tune or being poorly played then it spoils the whole performance. How does the role of a school principal compare to that of a conductor of an orchestra? Principals need to be the coach and conductor in their schools. They need to be critical observers of the game, know the talents and skills of their individual staff members, be able to bring the best out of their staff, be able to blend them into a team, be able to clearly articulate the bigger picture. They do not need to be the best teacher, they do not need to teach, they need to build leadership teams among staff and assign responsibilities to these teams, they need to hold people to account for their role in the team and for their individual responsibilities. Principals need to be the master strategic who has major responsibility for building a high performing culture. They see the whole game or hear the whole performance not as a collection of individuals but as a team whose outcomes will always surpass the outcomes of the individual team members. They will work with poorer players in the knowledge that this will improve the overall performance of the team. They will identify those with exemplary skills and encourage them to share their knowledge with others to build capacity. The success of professional learning communities in schools relies almost entirely on the leadership skill of the principal and their ability to ensure everybody is playing the same game with common purpose and high levels of group and individual accountability. Principals are keen observers in their schools and work hard as coach/conductor.

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