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Desert Highway
Thoughtful writing authored and shared by members of of the Thinking Collaborative community to support others on the journey.

Sustaining the Journey

Revisiting Public Coaching

Authored By:

Carolee Hayes


September 1, 2023

Many of you who read these entries are leaders of a group and some of you may be entering a new role, school, department or location. With that in mind, we want to share a strategy developed by Jane Ellison and Carolee Hayes to aid in helping leaders increase holonomy, trust, and understanding in their communities. We discovered, somewhat by accident, that coaching a significant leader in front of their colleagues and community is a means to develop the leaders thinking while simultaneously giving others access to understanding the leader’s thinking that is often invisible to the followers. We coined the term, public coaching, to represent this process. We defined it as,

one-on-one coaching with a significant individual, in a setting observed by others in the organization, for the purpose of giving the audience access to the thinking of the person being coached, as well as the opportunity to consider how the individual’s thinking can assist the organization’s development process.

Over our careers, we have observed many instances when leaders make decisions alone or with a small group of people. Often trust is eroded with other members of the community who may not understand the values and beliefs that led to the decision. Using public coaching with a leader can reverse the erosion and create stronger connections because everyone has access to the leaders thinking.

Here are some times we have successfully used public coaching:

  • with a superintendent after staff was trained in Adaptive Schools to share their thoughts about future implementation

  • with a principal entering a new school who wants to have a planning conversation in front of the staff

  • with a principal who was going to lead implementation of year-round school

  • with a candidate for a teaching position where the principal held a reflecting conversation after they had taught a lesson in front of the hiring committee

  • with a team of leaders reflecting on their Covid response

Of course, this type of public conversation invites some vulnerability and should be considered carefully before implementing it. Some things to consider are:

  • the skill of the coach and their ability to manage mediating thinking of the coachee while also attending to the group

  • the trust between the coach and coachee

  • the culture of the organization; does it value reflection, learning, and diverse thinking?

  • the coachee’s understanding that this is unrehearsed and not a platform to preach a stance

  • adequate time for the group to process the experience afterward

  • is the coachee a person who is comfortable being vulnerable and able to think spontaneously in front of a group?

Public coaching is a strategy that supports the individual and the organization. The quality of professional conversations in schools is critical to the success of individuals and teams. This strategy is one means for increasing communication and mediating thinking in a meaningful manner.

For more information read:

Cognitive Coaching: Weaving Threads of Learning and Change into the Culture of an Organization or contact Carolee Hayes at

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