Empowering Educators and Students with Coaching for Community Transformation
By Meghan Ondrish
Many of the fundamentals of Pride Academy Charter School in East Orange, NJ align with the foundations of coaching; active listening, restorative justice and unconditional respect are all part of the school’s Mission. In partnership with Sharon Brown, from the Leadership that Works Coaching for Community Transformation team, the school has begun to implement these practices in new settings and is excited about the positive impact they have had on the entire school community.
When Principal Fiona Thomas and the leadership team were working to identify the best way to support students who were dealing with incarcerated family members, they were connected with Sharon Brown as a resource, who shared a lot of sensitive approaches to helping everyone involved. What evolved next was a partnership in which Sharon facilitated a series of coaching skills workshops that supported Pride Academy’s teachers, administrators and support staff in using the skills in their work with colleagues, students and parents. Those skills are also supporting implementation of the school’s restorative justice practices.
“It all came together really seamlessly,” says Mrs. Thomas. “The teachers embraced the coaching skills training. It was very inspirational. They were very engaged and learned how they could use coaching skills not only with students, but also in their co-worker relationships and personal lives.”
Today, the school community uses the active listening process and coaching skills to work out problems and conflict whether it’s between student-student, teacher-student or teacher-teacher. “We’ve always had conversations and ‘talked it out’; we have learned that we need to always be prepared to listen and be open to hearing things that might make us uncomfortable or that we may not agree with. We need to respect perspectives and points of view that may differ from our own. The importance of cultural awareness and our beliefs about others came to light in an even deeper way as well. There is value in deep conversation, because we can then tease out the situation and explore the nature of it, and the potential for understanding solidarity and solutions.”
“It’s important that we’re empowering our students and our community of teachers and staff and that they trust that we’ll listen to whatever they have to say and regard their feelings and contributions to building school culture. This stance has always been present at Pride, however, with Sharon’s guidance we have been able to formalize it in a different and very accessible way, using the vocabulary of coaching to help others see how fundamentally healing it can be,” says Mrs. Thomas.
Deliberately using the approaches and the language that were introduced in the coaching training has made the process more effective and the skills have started to become more commonly utilized protocols. Mrs. Thomas shares, “Just this week, I was meeting with colleagues who had a situation that they needed to work through. We used the format that was modeled in the training and I noticed that the teachers were using language that I heard Sharon use in her workshops. I was very proud of them; I think the teachers were able to use the skills to communicate in an authentic and affirming way.”
The Coaching for Community Transformation partnership has already helped Pride Academy build a conscious community that is allowing the teachers and students to grow in a meaningful way. “The information, the humanity, the leadership and the model that Sharon gave us during our staff orientation and the sharing of her own experience has been so instructive and humbling. It’s been impactful for our entire school community. It helped us set the tone for the year and begin to develop deeper connections and knowledge of each other’s purpose and commitment to our Mission to provide an exceptional education for our students.”
Coaching for Community Transformation was born out of Leadership that Works’ long-time commitment to social justice and a desire to make the benefits of coaching accessible to as many people as possible. Our mission is to be a powerful, heart-centered resource so all people can envision and contribute to the creation of more equitable and just communities. Download the Coaching for Community Transformation brochure.