[I am honored to offer my readers this guest post by Jim Knight. If you are not already a subscriber to Jim’s Radical Learners blog, I encourage you to become one. I guarantee that you will be informed and inspired by the ideas he offers there on teaching and instructional coaching, among other subjects. And so with no further ado, here is what Jim has to say on the subject of “6 Ways Principals Can Support Instructional Coaching.”]
Instructional coaching has the potential to dramatically improve teaching practice and consequently student learning. But in most cases, a coach’s success is directly connected to how effectively she or he is supported (or not supported) by his or her principal. After working with hundreds of schools where coaches have succeeded and struggled, I’ve found that there are six actions principals can do that will make or break instructional coaching success.
1. Support the coach. In any organization, people are keen to do what their boss wants them to do. If principals make it clear that they consider instructional coaching a vital part of their school’s plan for improvement, then teachers will be more inclined to work with the coach. If the principal is less enthusiastic about instructional coaching, teachers will usually be less enthusiastic.
2. Let the coach coach. I’ve never met a principal who had too much time on his or her hands. Leading a school always requires more time than is available and every principal must be tempted to hand off some of that work to a coach. But if a coach writes reports, develops plans, oversees assessment, deals with student behavior, does bus and cafeteria duty, substitute teaches, and so on… well there’s no time left for instructional coaching. The easiest way to increase a coach’s effectiveness is to let the coach coach.
3. Clarify roles. Usually coaches are positioned as peers and not supervisors. If teachers talk to peers, they will be more forthcoming, usually, than if they talk with a supervisor. If this is the case, then coaches should not do administrative tasks such as walk-throughs, teacher evaluations, and so forth. If coaches are considered to have an administrative role, they should have the same qualifications and training as any other administrator, and everyone in the school, most especially the coach, needs to know that they have that role.
4. Clarify confidentiality. Again, usually instructional coaching is considered confidential. Teachers, the thinking is, will be more forthcoming with their thoughts and concerns if they know that the conversation is just between the coach and teacher. However, what is most important is that principal and coach clarify what will be shared and what won’t be shared. If teachers say something they think is confidential, and find out it was shared, they may consider it a breach of trust—and nothing is more import for a coach’s success than trust.
5. Make instructional coaching a choice. If teachers are told they must work with a coach, they go into instructional coaching seeing it more as a punishment than an opportunity, and instructional coaching is difficult from the start. It is not a good use of a coach’s time for her to spend the entire conversation trying to talk a teacher into instructional coaching. I suggest that principals be firm on standards with teachers, but flexible on how teachers hit a goal. Thus a principal might explain that a teacher needs to increase time on task, but just suggest the coach as one of many options, letting the teacher decide how he might want to change. When instructional coaching is compulsory, teachers often perceive it as a punishment. When instructional coaching is a choice, people often perceive it as a lifeline.
6. Make it easy for people to be coached. Certainly most budget issues are beyond a principal’s control, but to the best of their abilities, principals should strive to find funds for released time to free teachers up for instructional coaching. The more difficult it is for people to find time to meet, the more likely instructional coaching will have limited success. In every way possible, a principal should do everything that can be done to make it easy for coaches and teachers to collaborate.