Four coaching conversations for school leaders

by Denise Barrows

To be effective, any coaching conversation relies on leaders learning to recognise the underlying needs of their staff members. This article provides some clear and useful ideas on how to do this.

The four types of coaching conversations explored come from analysis of more than 100,000 anonymised coaching conversations with leaders. 

The analysis showed that underlying the different situations and scenarios that were challenging leaders, there were common development needs or professional challenges. 

The four types of coaching conversation explored are:

Be conversations

About the individual’s resourcefulness, confidence, and their ability to stay calm, open, and empathetic in any situation.

  • Has the knowledge and skills but is not using them effectively
  • Help them "find their best self".

Relate conversations

About relationships with other people, trust-building, sharing a difficult message, collaborating and dealing with conflict.

  • The need for empathy, to enter other's worlds
  • Model see-hear-speak.

Inspire conversations

About direction, change, and purpose, including how to proactively respond to situations of uncertainty.

  • Tired, losing energy, direction or belief
  • Help them to discover what is really important to them.

Think conversations

About solving problems in a new way, fostering creativity and innovation, and seeking input from diverse sources.

  • Can't see a way to solve a problem
  • Help them to view through new and different lenses.

The article outlines the principles at the heart of each conversation. 

Reflective questions

  • Are the types of conversations outlined in this article familiar to you? Would you add to these?
  • Are you comfortable in all these types of coaching conversations? What could you improve on?
  • What have you found effective for shifting mindsets and helping people to move forward?


Barrows, D. (2020). Four coaching conversations for school leaders. SecEd, Best practice, 01 July 2020.

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