SMUS Named as Finalist for International Executive Coaching Award

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We are honoured to announce that St. Michaels University School was named a finalist for the prestigious Prism Award from the International Coach Federation (ICF).

“This recognition from the ICF is a testament to the work that our staff has done to make our school an even better place to learn and work,” says Mr. Andy Rodford, Acting Head of School. “And it’s a testament to Bob Snowden and the focus he put on teaching excellence.”

The Prism Award was handed out Friday (August 25). The school was one of just five organizations from around the world named as a finalist for the award. The other finalists were EY (Ernst & Young), Hewlett Packard, Automotive Fuel Cell Cooperation Corp. and The Doerr Institute for New Leaders at Rice University. Automotive Fuel Cell Cooperation Corp. won the 2017 Prism Award.

The Prism Award recognizes organizations worldwide that have implemented unique and creative executive coaching programs. Coaching, in this sense, has nothing to do with sports. This type of coaching relates to professional development for teachers and staff that has been happening quietly at SMUS since 2011.

“Our definition of coaching is about helping leaders raise their game in a way that increases performance, increases learning and increases engagement,” says Ian Chisholm, founder of Roy Group, a leadership development and executive coaching organization. “How can leaders conduct themselves in a way that creates a culture around them and raises other people’s performance, learning and engagement?”

In September 2011, former Head of School Bob Snowden approached Roy Group to grow his own leadership skills. The partnership quickly evolved as Bob asked: How can our entire organization benefit from coaching? Can we create something that lasts and gets staff coaching one another?

Roy Group helped create a tailored-for-SMUS coaching program that allowed members of the school’s Senior Leadership Team to personalize their experience to their individual needs. Twenty-five teachers and staff members each receive two coaching hours per month with a Roy Group coach.

Chisholm says he believes the award judges were particularly intrigued by the uniqueness of the program where coaching hours can be used in a variety of ways: one-to-one coaching, gifted to another SMUS teacher or staff member or stockpiled to create day-long coaching workshops.

“Each leader is totally autonomous in terms of how they use their coaching hours, which makes it creative and adaptable to each of them. That makes it so SMUS gets what it needs in real time,” Chisholm says. “The Prism Award judges had never heard of a system like this before.”

What is coaching?

At its core, coaching is about helping someone else reach their potential: How can a teacher get the most out of their student? How can a Head of School get the most out of their teachers?

It comes down to a shift in language, says Keith Driscoll, Director of Residence and Student Life. Coaches ask questions as opposed to give answers.

“The advising model is one where you tell the student what should happen. ‘What school should I go to?’ ‘Harvard is a great school. You should go there.’ In coaching, the conversation would be, ‘What do you like to do? What’s important to you? What schools have you identified that offer a program you’re interested in?'” Driscoll says. “The analogy I use is being in a room that has a lot of obstacles. Coaching is the process of turning on the lights; it doesn’t remove the obstacles, but it helps show you where the obstacles are and how to get around them.”

SMUS favours the coaching model for student-staff and staff-staff interaction because the process creates ownership and autonomy in actions and decision-making.

“For too long there was this belief that teachers make the student; this idea that a student is an empty vessel that we’re filling. What we practice is a teacher leading the student through a process of self-examination to reveal what’s inside,” Driscoll says. “From a school culture standpoint, it’s inclusive, it’s collaborative, it creates community. It creates a sense of value between coach and student that says, ‘I value you, I believe in you, I trust you and you can figure this out. I’m going to help you do that.'”

In 2015, Driscoll received Roy Group’s MacGregor Cup, awarded to a client leadership practitioner “whose leadership development activities have made a significant impact on organizational practices.”

Coaching at SMUS

Beyond the flexible coaching hours program, other facets of coaching have been implemented across SMUS.

“We’ve embedded it in parts of our student leadership work, made feedback and self-reflection an important part of learning and growing for everyone at SMUS, and we introduce all our new faculty and staff to the coaching approach as part of orientation,” Driscoll says.

Currently 25 teachers and staff in leadership roles receive coaching hours through Roy Group. Since the coaching work began six years ago, more than 200 people have received coaching work, either from the Roy Group or SMUS coaches working with other staff members.

“What it came down to for Bob is collegiality. He really believed in distributed leadership – performing together and engaging together because even though someone is in charge, we’re all in this together,” Chisholm says. “The team has to be tight together and support each other and challenge each other and has to be honest with each other. That affects the students’ experiences at the school when the top team are playing hard for each other. I think the impacts of coaching are a great legacy for Bob.”

The ICF International Prism Award honours businesses and organizations with coaching programs that fulfill rigorous professional standards, address key strategic goals, shape organizational culture, and yield discernible and measurable positive impacts.

(photo courtesy of International Coach Federation)

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Kyle Slavin
Kyle Slavin is the school's storyteller. Through words and photos, he shares with the community all the amazing things that happen on campus.

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