The Long Game: Retaining Coaches and Sustaining Programs

September 28, 2021
Written by
Sharon Thomas

The Long Game: Retaining Coaches and Sustaining Programs

May 19, 2023
September 28, 2021
Written by
Sharon Thomas

This post is Part 5 of a 5-part series. Catch up on Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.

The shortest chapter in our upcoming book, Evaluating Instructional Coaching: People, Programs, and Partnership, is chapter 5: “Retaining Coaches and Sustaining Coaching Programs.” It’s noticeably shorter than the other chapters and has fewer illustrations. This is something that gnaws at writers as we strive for balance and harmony across an entire book. “Chapter 5 is smaller than the others? What should we do? Do we have more stuff for it? What should we add? Does it look odd?” Over the course of the writing process, we have added to it and expanded more on certain elements of it, but it’s still smaller.

I’d been mulling over this problem for weeks when it finally dawned on me. Chapter 5 could actually be so brief that we could turn it into a footnote: “To retain coaches and sustain programs, do everything we recommend in chapter 1-4. That ought to do it.”

Of course, employee retention alone is not that simple, nor is sustaining educational programs. But the truth is this: leaders who invest the time and effort in the following:

  • creating sound hiring practices that include a specific, research-based instructional coach job description (chapter 4),
  • creating sound program evaluation practices tied to specific instructional coaching standards that encourage and act on the voices of all stakeholders (chapter 3),
  • creating sound and humanizing employee evaluations tied to specific instructional coaching standards (chapter 2), and
  • focusing constant attention to the leader’s (and the district’s) role in fostering an aligned, research-based approach to coaching

will end up doing most of the things research recommends for retaining employees and strengthening programs.

In chapter 5, we discuss the fact that part of the problem with retaining employees and sustaining programs is that leaders don’t realize that they have enormous power in those areas. But because the kinds of tasks that go into keeping employees happy and fulfilled aren’t “event based” or typically tied to specific things on a calendar, they are often neglected. Not working actively to continuously improve work environments and programs means that those things decline. That neglect may be understandable, especially in schools (where children are the driving focus), but to ensure that the adults in the building are doing the best possible work for those children, leaders need to have adults as their focus, too.

Two leaders in my professional life showed me the power of paying sustained, daily attention to employees and the work environment. Before I became a teacher, I worked in a small publishing house that produced medical and legal publications. Our division was owned by a larger parent corporation, and the leaders of the parent company made it clear to all of us that a positive workplace and good compensation were not on their priorities list. The president of our division, John, made it clear to us every day that he had a different approach.


He wanted us to love working there. He wanted us to love our jobs, and he wanted us to love the company. He made team-building an ongoing habit, not an occasional “add-on.” He invented new ways for us to socialize during work hours and for us to receive recognition for jobs well done. His door was open to all of us—regardless of job title or tenure—when we wanted to propose a new idea or make a change. He even encouraged the continuation of a humorous, quasi-underground employee newsletter. He wasn’t very chatty himself, so he hired the most amazingly warm and engaging assistants to lend a hand in that area, and we loved them. He aggressively worked on our professional climate, and he was rewarded with high employee retention and a very strong profit margin.

I’ve worked in several different environments since, and that office was one of the happiest I have ever known. We weren’t making a lot of money, and we didn’t have the most engaging job tasks in the world. What we had was a leader who worked to send us all kinds of messages of genuine appreciation and trust (both overt and covert) every day so that we knew that he and the company valued us.

In my time as a teacher, I had another leader like that, too. Our high school was stunned on our new principal’s first day on the job when he told us that he wanted us to take care of our students as best we could, so he was vowing to take care of all of us so that we could do that hard work for kids. Vince made a pledge to listen that year, not to make a bunch of changes, and to learn about us and the school. He kept that promise. He promised to pop into our classrooms often, not to evaluate us but to see what the kids were doing. He kept that promise, too. And he did the little things, like providing us with big, hot meals on parent conference nights, asking about our families, and chatting with us about the latest episode of The Sopranos during bus duty.

John and Vince understood that hard work is good, but being hard on your workers serves no one. Those leaders’ care and attention resulted in benefits not only to employee engagement and happiness (though that would have been enough) but to their results as organizations as well.


Book cover for

To keep good employees and to continuously improve good programs, leaders need to embrace their power and responsibility in creating environments in which their employees can be successful. Developing a plan to stay on top of those issues (as we describe in chapter 5) is crucial for leaders to move schools forward for students.

Chapter 5 of Evaluating Instructional Coaching, may be shorter than the others, but it is not less important. In fact, attention to the environments we create in schools is one of the most far-reaching issues that school leaders need to navigate for the benefit of all of the humans in the building. Chapter 5 is not a footnote; it’s the long game.


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Today’s featured author is Sharon Thomas, Senior Consultant at ICG, National Board Certified English teacher, instructional coach, student advocate, and writer. Along with her work in ICG workshops, Sharon developed the ICG Coaching Certification process and co-authored the book The Instructional Playbook with Jim Knight, Ann Hoffman, and Michelle Harris.

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