We're All on the Same Team: A School Leader's Perspective with Tico Oms
In this episode we’re chatting with Tico Oms, Middle School Dean of Students at the International School Bangkok.
Bonus: Watch the video of this episode on YouTube!
Tico shares his experience and perspective as a school leader coming from a background in the fast-moving high tech industry. Tico helps define the power of coaching in an innovative school environment as well as the potential of being a lone “island of trust” if you’re working in a more traditional school structure. His vision for coaching and leading from the middle is inspiring and a fantastic model and resource for both coaches and school leaders alike.
What do you think coaches do?
To support the mission and vision of the school. Help align teachers and the teaching to be consistent with the vision of the school that all the stakeholders have agreed what they want for the school.
Because coaches are freed from the evaluative piece, they are able to be a trusted friend. They need a certain political savvy to help teachers align with the needs of the school – knowing how to work with each individual teacher at the right pace.
Innovation means something different to each teacher, you need the mission and vision to align all this energy. You need coaches to help everyone align with the vision so the school is moving as a unit.
Repositories of research and development, they know what is best practice and need to spend a good portion their time discovering what other schools are doing – super helpful in the emotional piece, can see that other schools are struggling too, and strategies to overcome these challenges.
Mission and vision should be the roadmap – it’s not addressed enough. What does this “aspirational school” look like, feel like, sound like. If it’s just words, everyone is interpreting that differently. What does that mean when it comes to instructional practice, what does learning look like when you have those aspirations.
How do you work with the coaches at your school?
The coaches know what is going on in the classroom so much better than school leaders do. Boots on the ground type experience that coaches have is illuminating for school leaders. The coach’s job is often to identify how leaders can support them. Helps me identify my strategic goals. Innovative schools have a flat leadership and are not directive and top-down. We need coaches that have initiative and are self-starters. The role of coaches is helping the leader create a certain kind of culture.
What are some good opportunities for coaches to work with you?
The coaches are the ones who have the attention to detail, and understand what the vision means for real. The leader says “let’s go to the moon”, the coach says “Ok, let’s build the rocket”. It’s hard for a leader to imagine, I’m going to walk into the math classroom and help that teacher make that lesson better – but a coach can do that. The understanding of process, pacing, personalities is really helpful for leaders to achieve their goals. Turn big lofty ideas of vision into practical action. Great leaders create other leaders.
What do you do when you don’t have the opportunity to work with a coach?
Danger is it can become top-down. You have to look for another way to find middle-leaders. Department heads can become middle leaders, to help with direction of the school and manage the leaders, and support what’s happening at the classroom level.
What are the essential elements for coaching success in a school? What’s needed to build a coaching culture?
Have to have systems and structures and time – but culture is the most important part. The book, The Advantage is about organizational health, and that’s the most important part. You can always put the structures in place, but you have to have a healthy culture first. A healthy culture means that you have trust and it’s ok to fail. The key component is a healthy culture that allows for vulnerability and trust, and that understands that a good professional learns and grows just like they want their students to learn and grow. Even if you don’t have coaches, as long as people are looking for professional growth, you are in a good school environment. If you don’t have that professional growth, it may not be the best environment.
If the overall culture isn’t great, the coach has to build it themselves, they have to be an “island of trust”. To build that island you have to show that you’re competent, you’re worth listening to, you have rapport and relationship with your colleagues, and you have integrity, so you’re safe to work with.
Where do coaches / does coaching fail? And what can we do about it?
When they don’t show themselves to be competent.
You have to be an expert in your fail. Relationships matter, engaging lessons matter. Have to build relationships and have connections with teachers around them. Have to have integrity.
As a leader I lose faith in coaches when they’re not self-starters. If I have to tell them what they’re responsibilities are, I might as well just do it myself. I want someone who knows what the job looks like and knows how to manage themselves and can tell the leader what they’re doing and why.
What makes a coach invaluable to you?
Someone who helps the leader get the school where we want it to be. Are they an invaluable person in helping us move in the direction we want to go. We want people who are making an impact. If we wouldn’t miss them when they’re gone, they’re not having enough impact to make the role valuable. Some of the most important stuff you can’t measure. If the coach is always asked to be in a committee, on a team, in this meeting, you know they’re good. If they’re looking for ways to fill their time, and they’re not in demand they’re probably not that good at their job.
What was your “aha” moment that shifted your perspective from not caring about coaching to being on board?
Innovative schools start to have a faster pace, this means you have to devolve leadership. The power has to move down and coaches are where that power goes.
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