Coaching for Schools: Finding purpose while on furlough

Teacher asking questions

In these challenging times, Lane4 have been delivering ‘pro bono’ leadership development to an often overlooked group of key workers: school leadership teams. The pressure and demands on school leaders are incredibly high right now. Managing the anxieties of pupils, parents and staff is a real challenge. It has been our privilege to work alongside a range of schools, academies and trusts to help them be the best leaders possible in the current context.

In this blog series, three of our consultants explore the lessons, insight and appreciation they have taken from these partnerships. In this blog, Senior Consultant Andrew Gillespie writes about how coaching these leaders has helped him to find a purpose while on furlough leave.

Finding purpose

Not long after I graduated from my MSc around 11 years ago, I found myself unemployed for a few months, trying to restart my career as a business psychologist after a short and unsuccessful stint with a start-up consultancy. Despite my parents’ best advice, I’d been intent on dedicating my unemployment to finding a ‘proper’ job in the field and so had avoided taking my CV around the local bars. However, after around three months I found the situation was financially untenable, so I ‘caved’. Bar work was something I was used to – I had pulled pints in more bars than I care to mention, so finding a job wasn’t difficult. Soon I was invited into one of Manchester’s cool Northern Quarter bars for a trial shift.

The only way I can describe the experience is like having been jolted awake, in a good way. What I hadn’t really recognised was that the lack of structure, direction and ‘ready-made’ social contact had slowly chipped away at my wellbeing over the previous three months and I had actually been feeling quite miserable. I left the trial shift with the job feeling invigorated. Questions like “What am I supposed to do today?” and “What good do I actually do?” evaporated quickly and I suddenly had a sense of belonging, purpose and something that I was good at. And only a couple of months later, I landed myself a ‘proper’ job in London and the rest is history – or so I thought.

Coaching key workers

Fast forward to 2020 and history feels like it is repeating itself a bit. I still have a job, but I’ve been on furlough leave for the last 10 weeks or so and, like many, have struggled again with finding a sense of belonging, purpose and “something that I’m good at” in a working context. Although I’m enormously grateful for the benefits of furlough leave (my garden has never looked better) the limitations of lockdown and being restricted in what I do professionally have left me feeling like my wings have been clipped and I’ve started to wake up and think “What am I supposed to do today?” and “What good do I actually do?”.

This time, the oddly familiar feeling of being jolted awake, in a good way, came from a coaching session. As part of our coaching for schools initiative, I’ve committed a little bit of my time to video-coaching with three assistant heads at a large secondary school in the local area – just an hour every week or two for each of them.

And after my very first call with one of them I realised that this was a good idea. This is a group that have experienced very little leadership development before; who are experiencing enormous amounts of pressure from all sorts of places, and are trying something they’ve never tried before, with very little thanks in the public arena. Their own managers are limited in how much time they can provide to support and they are an incredibly kind and caring group of people – so they take on a lot and don’t make much time for their own needs.


I’m really glad that they’ve all told me the time spent with them so far has been valuable to them and they have been tremendously thankful. But really, it’s me that feels thankful. Dusting off my old coaching toolbox and being there to support people who have a critical role in the community right now has given me a real sense of purpose.

I’ve also been challenged – I have to think hard, to maintain my discipline in helping them solve their own problems and scour my back catalogue of tools to support. And suddenly, I belong to something which is more than just myself. I’m taking part in society, adding value and doing what I do best. We’re living in uncertain times but this coaching has helped to remind me that I can do good and that there is a need for someone with my skills, and this provides me also with a sense of value, self-worth and most importantly, hope.


Enjoyed this blog? The second blog of the series about leading key worker teams is here, and the final blog about appreciating our teachers is here