States of Being: The What Why and How of Coaching Urgent School Leaders

Honor Story: Listen

The Why 

Listening with the heart and head is at the core of coaching. Deep listening is how we gather data, notice tone, deepen relationships, and create space for colleagues to be heard, and sometimes talk her* way to understanding

Supporting States of Being:


The How

Step 1

Step 2

  • Before you begin, imagine the person at her best: a moment that you saw her succeeding

  • Inhale 4 counts/exhale 8 counts

  • Breathe in listen/breathe out compassion or love

  • Notice distractions then choose to be present


Step 3

  • Look: Notice unspoken cues and signals; adjust your own listening cues through easy eye contact and natural, responsive gestures and facial expressions. Wait through silences to allow for processing time; place focus entirely on the client.

  • Inquire: Ask non-judgmental questions to build trust, promote a safe environment, and self-reflection: client will be more willing to act on recommendations.

  • Sort: Consider the various issues that arise, then identify the most pressing or salient strand that needs attention.

  • Test suppositions: Reflect back to the person perceived meaning and assumptions.

  • Empathize and Evaluate: Remember or imagine what it feels like to be in a similar situation. This allows us to tap into wisdom, to evaluate by assessing information rather than through judgment.  

  • Note: Ask what's clearer and note next steps. 

Step 4 and ongoing

  • Notice your own feelings and silently name them in order to manage them


End every coaching session with

  • What's clearer to you now?

Potential Traps

  • Allowing judgment and your own emotions to cloud listening

  • Rebutting rather than responding

  • Making assumptions

  • Solving the problem for the colleague

  • Forgetting that everyone has a piece of the Truth including the person(s) cited in your client’s Story

This protocol works with students, too. 

*In each State of Being, I will toggle among pronouns She, They, and He.

Linda Belans, EdD