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

I’m an English major who married a business major. Given all of the troubles of the world today, this may not sound like a huge problem. But in the day-to-day struggle of how people who love each other learn to live with each other, it’s sometimes a thing.

My husband and I have differing skill sets, and that’s helpful. He knows how to use spreadsheets like nobody’s business, and I often need his tech support. I know how to edit things, and he asks me for help with that. We complement each other well. But our work worlds divide on an issue that will surely hound us until retirement: our choice of vocabulary. Here are some examples:

  • He says “utilize.” I say “use.”
  • He says “dialoguing.” I say, “having a conversation.”
  • He says, “We need to be proactive about impacting synergy across our silos.” I say, “What on earth are you talking about? Stop saying things like that!”

It can get tense. That said, I have learned a couple of business-speak phrases over the years that I truly enjoy, like this one about the hard choices involved in managing successful projects: “Time. Quality. Money. Pick two.” That phrase is succinct, helpful, and true. I also like this term, one that influences so much of my own work: “scope creep.”

According to the Project Management Institute, scope creep occurs when we add “features and functionality [to a project’s scope] without addressing the effects on time, costs, and resources, or without customer approval.”



In other words, we start a project (or role) with one set of expectations, but over time, more and more is added to that list such that the original intent of the project (or role) becomes lost in the vortex of what that project (or role) has become. The scope of the project (or role) has begun to creep into other things.

Scope creep means that people are now unsure of what the project or role is, unsure about who is responsible for it, and definitely unsure about how to measure whether it’s successful because no one is sure what “success” is anymore. Things have spun out of control.


Book cover for For those of us who live in the world of instructional coaching, scope creep is a daily reminder of perhaps the biggest problem coaches face: a lack of role clarity. In our upcoming book, Evaluating Instructional Coaching: People, Programs, and Partnership, Jim Knight, Ann Hoffman, Michelle Harris, and I examine not only evaluating the effectiveness of coaching but also provide recommendations regarding the hiring process as well. The fact that instructional coaches often don’t have role clarity in their daily work starts at the beginning, long before they’re even hired. It starts with the job description.

Most coaching positions start with the best of intentions but without much of a focus on coaching research. Most districts believe that, if they hire great teachers who know their district-sanctioned programs and instructional strategies, then those great teachers will be great coaches. That thinking makes a great deal of logical sense except for one thing: a great teacher will not necessarily be a great coach.

In our research, ICG has found that the most important factor for a great coach is the way that they approach adults in supporting them and how well they establish a partnership relationship with adults. Yes, a deep knowledge of strategies and pedagogy is terrific (and on the list of things to consider), but those “teacher-y” qualities should not be the primary driver in coach hiring decisions.

The job descriptions we see for most instructional coaching roles prioritize teaching and strategies first and working well with adults much farther down on the list. We also rarely see specific elements of research-based instructional coaching cycles specifically prioritized on the job description as well. When those research-based elements of coaching are not directly stated, then other, more vague statements take their place:

  • “Support teachers on new strategy implementation,”
  • “Manage building-level professional development,”
  • “Provide student interventions as needed,” and
  • scope creep’s best friend, “Other duties as assigned.”

Once the coach is hired, these hazy job descriptions result in the coach having so many different tasks that they can’t spend most of their work time on the coaching tasks that help to move student growth, and they have no idea whether what they’re doing is helping students. That feeling leaves coaches frustrated and overwhelmed. Scope creep is as pervasive in coaching as good intentions, and only a concerted focus on role clarity can solve the problem.

My husband and I may differ on workplace vocabulary, but we agree that some things in life warn you to stay away from them just based on their names, things like “junk bonds” or “easy money.” “Scope creep” is just such a problem. No one likes a creep.

For instructional coaches to do their best work, they need to be supported from the start with a job description that follows the research and honors their role in bringing about change for schools.


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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.