QUINCY -- Sitting across the table from West Prairie Superintendent Carol Kilver, Jody Steinke talks about recent issues at Quincy High School, reflecting on decisions made and the outcomes.
"Here's what's going on in my head. Here's why I did it. Here's how I would change what I just did," Steinke said. "So often decisions are made on the fly. People want an answer right now, and I get it, but it's nice to step back, only once a month and reflect."
An added bonus is the objectivity Kilver offers in her role as a coach.
"Carol doesn't have a dog in the fight, She wants Quincy to do well. I know she does, but a totally impartial observer gets to weigh in and ask the right questions," Steinke said. "It's all about the questions."
Later that same day, Steinke sits around a table with other leaders in Quincy Public Schools learning about a new Illinois State Board of Education tool and preparations to release the latest state report cards.
Both one-on-one coaching and group sessions help principals in QPS and area districts build valuable leadership skills toward enhancing student achievement and growth.
Michaela Fray, LEAD coordinator with Regional Office of Education No. 1, sees one key as building a hub, or consortium, of learners in leadership positions across the districts with help from two federal research grants.
"The principals and superintendents are really the lead learners," Fray said. "They don't have to have all the answers. We don't expect them to have all the answers. The ROE is looking to help broker resources and learning opportunities when they do have questions or they do have needs or do have an area they'd like to partner with another school district."
ROE1 -- serving Adams, Brown, Cass, Morgan, Pike and Scott counties -- is one of four statewide involved in the grants written by the Center for Educational Policy at Illinois State University to focus on developing instructional leadership at the school level.
Each ROE works with a partner university and has a demonstration site -- Western Illinois University and Quincy Public Schools for ROE1, building on work already done in the school district with the Illinois Partnership Advancing Rigorous Training, or Il-PART, program.
The grant also targets the Meredosia-Chambersburg, Triopia, Virginia, Waverly, Brown County, Liberty, Payson and Pleasant Hill districts in ROE1 for funding, training and coaching.
"There's a lot of great opportunities for teachers and principals to engage in training and learning. Some take master's or beyond coursework at universities, but what's unique about this approach is they have this external LEAD coach they're working with once a month and also working with their superintendent, coaching them along the way as well," Fray said.
"What they're learning in training is reinforced on site in real time with autonomy of what their needs are and where their school building is within the large scope of the goals of the grant."
Kilver worked with 10 QPS leaders last year and meets with seven, including Steinke, this year. Interim Franklin Superintendent Curt Simonson and retired QPS Principal Anne Cashman coach principals in area school districts.
Monthly sessions offer opportunities for principals thinking about next steps or things they want to do differently in their buildings, evolving in their thought processes.
"I see their confidence grow. Not that any of them are lacking confidence or lacking skills -- principals in Quincy are highly skilled -- but when in the public arena getting feedback sometimes it's real easy to get into a place where you don't feel as confident you're making an impact," Kilver said. "This really does give people a chance to regroup and go back at issues that are very important to them as a leader and to their school district."
Kilver brings a fresh perspective to the conversation to create new thinking in those she coaches.
"Being a good coach is really about the way you give feedback," QPS director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Kim Dinkheller said.
"She does a really good job of really giving you the tools you need to put it together yourself rather than this is what you should do," Dinkheller said. "Sometimes that coach is the person to listen, to say here's what I hear you saying, tell me more' and you end up coming to a conclusion on your own because you had almost like a thought partner to talk it through with."
Dinkheller uses the same skills in leading the QPS leadership meetings -- and she continues to learn herself by being coached by Kilver.
"Anyone can benefit from a coach or a mentor no matter whether you're a brand-new teacher, an entry level position at a business or a veteran in that company," Dinkheller said. "Everyone can always benefit from having that accountability partner that can talk you through things and give you an objective viewpoint."
Dinkheller said the coaching was especially important last year as she moved from an assistant principal post at Quincy Junior High School to the districtwide leadership post.
"I don't feel I can help those around me grow if I don't continue to feed my knowledge as well," ?Dinkheller said. "You always look at improving yourself and improving your own knowledge that will then expand out into a group of people you're wanting to have a greater impact on."
And it's valuable for the "big picture" to have Kilver working other QPS leaders.
"It helps us as a district with things that we see in common that maybe we don't always notice when we get together," ?Dinkheller said. "Sometimes when you're talking with colleagues who all work in the same organization, it's really easy to be biased and to not see things because you tend to be a little tunnel vision."
Each coaching session builds on the past one to help leaders continue to grow professionally.
"The coach wants you to be successful. They want you to win, to feel like you're winning at what you're doing," Dinkheller said. "It's not any different when you think about an athletic coach. They provide you the tools and resources that you need to be able to execute to get the goal scored or make the touchdown or hit the base hit. In this case, it's feeling like you have tools and resources to be successful at your craft."