Recently I was giving a talk about instructional coaching at a large school district in the Midwest. I was talking for two days and as is often the case, I presented on the first day to principals and coaches together. Then on the second day, I went into more depth about the coaching cycle with coaches.
Day one was a lot of fun and the audience was filled, as is almost always the case, with caring, dedicated educators. On day two, the principals went back to their schools and I met with the coaches. What I discovered the moment I walked into the room was that the men were no longer there. In this district, the men were the principals and the women were the coaches.
This is the way I see it in most districts, though not all. Most principals are male and most instructional coaches are female (in fact my guess is over 80% of coaches are female). I have presented to over 30,000 coaches from almost all continents and again and again coaches are woman and principals are men.
So, I have been trying to figure out why. I have thought about linguist Deborah Tannen’s somewhat controversial finding that men are more prone to hierarchical conversation where they compete to be one up on colleagues and women are more likely to engage in conversations with the goal of networking to connect with other. Many people have read her theories, which are nicely summarized in her book You Just Don’t Understand. Maybe, I wondered, the coaching position just attracts more women because relationship stands at the heart of coaching.
But Tannen’s research is not enough. The gender difference is too great, and I have to say that the only reason that makes sense is that our educational systems, which are largely made up of women, are not giving women a fair chance to get positions as administrators. This is holding our schools back. Schools that fail to promote women are failing to tap into the largest group in their schools, women.
This discrepancy is also morally wrong. I have been in many districts where woman are given an equal and fair chance at all leadership positions; perhaps the majority of the districts I have visited. When all the leaders are men, I suggest school leaders should think deeply about why that inequity exists.
Our students deserve the best leaders possible and if that leader is a woman we need to make sure she has a fair chance to get the position she deserves. Our schools and our children will be better for it.