Peg is the head of school at Brandeis Marin, a K-8 Jewish day school in the San Francisco Bay Area. Prior to arriving at Brandeis Marin in 2014, Peg served as the dean of Jewish studies and Hebrew at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay, where she also taught Jewish thought and philosophy for 10 years. She was a lecturer in Jewish studies at San Francisco State University and has taught adult education around the Bay Area for more than 25 years.

Susie has been a coach for the past six years, working with heads of school, “number twos” and boards. She has most often worked with heads beginning their tenure in schools. Most of her clients are both new to the school and new to the position.

Adam is currently the head of school at the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach (HALB) in Woodmere, New York. He previously served at the Katz Hillel Day School of Boca Raton for 12 years as a principal and head of school, and as a rebbe and student activities director at HAFTR High School. Some of his topics of expertise are student and teacher motivation and coaching others to achieve their personal best.


 

Rafi is the head of school at Netivot HaTorah Day School in Toronto. He has a doctorate in education from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto, as part of which he was a Wexner/Davidson Graduate Fellow, and has private smichah.


 

The Whys of Coaching: Four Prizmah Coaches Explore Their Work

Making Time to Reflect

by Susie Tanchel

“Coaching enables heads of school to step out of the pressures of the day-to-day running of a school and to take some time to think more deeply about how they want to show up and do their work,” says Tanchel. “In the ‘run school run’ mode, people don’t get many opportunities in the week to step back and to reflect. Coaching also gives a person space to understand how a given situation is impacting them as an individual and in their role. It’s a gift to have a place to process emotions that don’t get processed elsewhere and to have someone listen deeply to you.”

Tanchel generally meets weekly with her clients, and in her experience the coaching relationship has covered the first three years of a head’s tenure. “New leaders are establishing their leadership style, building their team, and working on a work-life balance in a job that is all-encompassing.” A coach is someone who is deeply invested in the head’s success, and not otherwise intimately connect to the school. Moreover, a coach can look at multiple perspectives with no specific desired outcome other than the head’s learning and growth.

Many new heads of school have coaching built in to their contracts, and often one of the first tasks of a new head is to find a coach. Tanchel says that having a good fit between head of school and coach is most important. She recommends interviewing two to three coaches before making a decision. “Who asked the kind of questions that made you think?” Tanchel thinks is a helpful lens through which to evaluate the match. “Did you learn something? Were you comfortable? Did you feel you could confide in this person?”

For Tanchel, coaching is sacred work. “In the coaching space or ‘container,’ heads can step back and really think more broadly about themselves as leaders. The concern about constantly being ‘on’ or thinking about who else is in the room falls away in the coaching relationship.” Importantly, coaching is not about asking a consultant for advice on a specific challenge or about avoiding mistakes. Coaching, to Tanchel, is about the client reflecting, learning and growing.

Ezer Kenegdo: Support with Opposing Perspectives

by Rafi Cashman

“Coaching is not a passive activity,” says Cashman. “It is an active mode of self-learning.”

Drawing on transformational experiences with three coaches in his career and his first years as a coach himself, Cashman believes that coaching can influence how a leader “behaves, makes choices, interacts with others, prioritizes, and does his/her work.” These so-called “soft-skills” areas can have tremendous impact.

“Leadership and change-making is most profoundly about who you are as a human being—your personality, the way you relate to others,” says Cashman. “The best prerequisites for entering into a successful coaching relationship are self-awareness and self-reflection.” Additionally, says Cashman, having a really powerful question or problem to solve is a great motivator and a great way to ensure productive growth and impact over time.

A coach understands you, comforts you, pushes you. Cashman compares the partnership to the concept of ezer kenegdo, the Biblical “helpmeet” who literally helps by offering an opposing perspective. The most productive coaching relationships are ones where people are self-reflective and vulnerable, where each side trusts each other’s best intentions.

In contrast to therapy, there is no diagnosis; in contrast to mentoring, there is no inherent power structure. “Coaching starts from a positive stance that is about rallying internal strengths to address challenges,” says Cashman. “There is an expectation of openness in a coaching relationship and a belief that individuals have within them the ability to understand and change dynamics.”

“The first two coaches I worked with were when I was in new positions. They helped me make sense of what I did not know and helped me understand how to respond to new challenges.” In his third coaching experience, Cashman came with a particular goal based on challenges he had been facing. The coach helped him identify, articulate and reframe the problem.

“Coaching starts from the mindset that there is nothing ‘wrong,’ and that individuals have within themselves the capacity to address whatever problems or challenges they are facing,” says Cashman. “The coach is there to help make sense of the challenges and bring out those inherent capacities.”

Elevating Talent

by Peg Sandel

Sandel’s idea of coaching starts with professional sports. A coach begins by looking at the strengths that a person already possesses. Coaching doesn’t really teach a new skill; it brings out the talent and expertise of the athlete in the service of driving toward a goal.

As head of school at Brandeis Marin in Northern California, Sandel is an avid consumer, promoter and provider of coaching. “Coaching can help people imagine who they might become in ways they couldn’t achieve on their own,” says Sandel. “That’s where leadership comes from.”

"Coaches help us peer into our blind spots,” says Sandel. “A coach offers perspective that can allow us to see things that haven’t yet come into view. Additionally, a coach may have been there before and can say ‘You can do this’ in a way that builds confidence in new leaders. In this way, coaching leads to growth, and that helps a leader achieve goals.”

“Sometimes, working with a coach helps someone see themselves the way others see them,” says Sandel. This is especially helpful for people embarking on new headships. “Developing an awareness of your personal leadership presence, how you hold your body, recognizing when or how you choose to speak—these are all part of knowing how you come across to others.” It is important for leaders (and teachers) to develop an awareness of their own presence. Does it make people feel uneasy and exacerbate power differentials? Or does it invite partnership?

When leaders work with a coach, they come to embrace a mindset of reflective conversation, of recognizing interpersonal dynamics and exploring how those dynamics serve shared goals (or not).

In Sandel’s experience, schools can build and develop a culture of coaching across their teams. “Even though a lot of coaching relationships are 1:1, the stance of a coach can be a great tool to build strong teams. Coaches understand that we work within a network or a system of relationships. Within school teams, it is helpful to cultivate a mindset of working collaboratively toward shared goals with a shared purpose. We may each have a different area of responsibility, but when we collaborate, we create a more cohesive experience overall.” When the leadership team embraces a coaching mindset, they see the talent and potential in others and help draw that out. They also emphasize a sense that each person is part of a whole and that the school is at its best when people support each other.

“The coaching mindset is not punitive or judgmental,” says Sandel. “It is ’How can we grow from here? Let’s get curious, and be open and honest.’” That frame of mind can be enormously helpful throughout a school community, because it creates space to reflect on successes and failures, strengths and weaknesses.

At its core, coaching is about creating a safe space where it is okay to be vulnerable about the challenges one faces at work and share concerns. In a coaching culture, mistakes are opportunities for learning. “This doesn’t mean that a coach might not share hard feedback,” says Sandel, “but the coach is there to find the teachable moment and offer support. It is a stance of partnership in facing challenges, rather than an adversarial mode.”

Hitting the Sweet Spot

by Adam Englander

Having worked with his coach for nearly eight years, Englander believes deeply in the power of coaching, which made it easy for him to decide to become one himself. “Coaching is the most important way to help a new head of school, the smartest money a school can invest in a leader. Even the most experienced head of school can find coaching enormously valuable.”

Englander describes four primary benefits of coaching for leaders at any stage of their career:

  1. Coaching affords a leader a safe place in which to talk about the most challenging issues, which almost always involve highly complex interpersonal relationships. “The best leaders are not those with extraordinary fundraising or administrative skills,” says Englander, “but the people who know how to make things work with the people on their team.” Honest conversation and role-playing can help get to the heart of challenges.
  2. Working with a coach means having a true confidante. Many senior leaders feel “lonely at the top,” and the coaching relationship relieves that sense of isolation.
  3. Coaching focuses on a sweet spot for most leaders, what Stephen Covey calls the “important but not urgent” quadrant of the Time Management Matrix. “Most leaders spend time putting out a lot of fires and often fall behind on critical things,” says Englander. “Coaching helps leaders be more proactive and own their agenda instead of solving problems all the time and inadvertently avoiding their own long-term goals.”
  4. Nothing beats the care and attention of a coach who is truly invested in a leader’s success. “When my coach knew I was having a tough week, she sent me a text just to let me know she was thinking of me,” recalls Englander. That personal relationship has sustained him throughout his years in school leadership.

In the past ten years, coaching has really become a given for heads of school, says Englander, and the effects are improving leadership at all levels of schools. “Senior leaders very often need to coach their direct reports,” says Englander. “When you have experienced coaching yourself, you can engage the same techniques.”

Getting the most out of a coaching relationship begins with a deep-rooted belief in the ability that anyone can grow and do better. Making a good match, asking the right questions and a healthy dose of humility empower a head to create an environment at school where people can perform their best.

“Coaching has been the single most impactful ingredient in my growth as a leader,” says Englander. “I hope that all senior leaders have the opportunity to experience the benefits.”