The One Thing Coaches Should Do to Improve

In the early part of this decade, I partnered with a great group of instructional coaches from Beaverton, Oregon. What my research colleagues and I learned with Michelle, Susan, Jenny, and Lea, laid the foundation for what eventually became my book The Impact Cycle.

Each year, as part of our research, the coaches met with me to discuss what coaches should do and how they should do it. At the end of the project, after we’d spent 30 days together, I asked the team, “what is the one thing that you think is most important for coaches to do if they want to improve?”, and their answer was “video recording coaching conversations”.

In this 2-minute video, I explain why I think they were right and why I believe everyone can learn from video recordings of themselves.

We Can’t Do Better Than Our Best

How did your weekend go? If you’re like me, the events we experienced this weekend may have prompted you to be in some tough conversations either face to face or online, and—again—if you are like me, you may not be happy with how you handled each interaction. What I urge you to do today, in this last video in this series, is to make sure you are not too hard on yourself. You can’t do better than your best, and none of us is perfect. Healthy relationships usually require forgiveness at times. To foster better conversations, we can start by forgiving ourselves.


Reflection is a big part of learning. When we reflect, we can look back at something, such as a behavior, assess how we did, and then think about how we can do better based on what we’ve learned through reflection. In today’s video, I talk about how we can use reflection to get better at the way we control emotions, build connections, and listen.


Is listening the most important communication strategy for coaches? Maybe. Listening certainly is essential for effective coaching, but it is also essential for almost any meaningful communication. And, when we asked people from nine countries around the world to video record and watch their conversations, listening was the one strategy they identified that they most needed to improve. In today’s video, I talk about listening, why it is important, and I share one simple strategy that will help anyone become a better listener.

You can download free forms to help you improve as a listener (and improve at demonstrating empathy) here:


Instructional Coaching: A Brief Overview

How is an instructional coach different from any other kind of coach? There are multiple approaches to coaching that can provide varying benefits, but they generally fall into two categories:

  • Facilitative coaching
    Works from the assumption that the teacher already knows what to do, but needs a sounding board to facilitate their existing knowledge into practice
  • Directive coaching
    Works from the assumption that the teacher does not know what to do, and the coach needs to direct the teacher’s actions

Instructional coaching uses a partnership approach to bridge the gap between these two categories and create a new category:

  • Dialogical coaching
    Teachers and coaches work together as partners

In this short video, Jim Knight clarifies what sets instructional coaching apart and makes it effective. He provides an overview of the Partnership Principles and core practices used by Instructional Coaching Group, such as the Impact Cycle, to illustrate how this distinctive approach is used to help teachers best serve students.

The Easiest Way to Triple the Impact of Coaching: Principal Support

Yesterday, I led a workshop on What Principals Need to Know About Coaching with a group of principals and coaches in a wonderful school district in Texas.  On their evaluation forms, respondents were very clear that bringing coaches and principals together was exactly what they needed to do as a district.  As one person wrote on the evaluation form, “principal support is the single most important thing a campus can do to create the greatest impact of an instructional coach.”

Our research leads me to agree with that participant.  In the past decade, I have worked with more than 100,000 instructional coaches from six different continents. One of the most important things I’ve learned from them is that a principal’s support or lack of support can make or break a coaching program. Below, I identify seven ways principals can and should support coaches.

Time.The most important action a principal can take to support a coach might also be the easiest—ensuring he or she has sufficient time. Consider whether you’re overloading this person with extraneous tasks: If coaches are asked to write reports, develop school improvement plans, oversee assessments, deal with student behavior, do bus and cafeteria duty, and substitute teach, they’ll have little time left to partner with teachers.

 An Instructional Playbook.Instructional coaches partner with teachers to increase learning by improving teaching, so coaches need to deeply understand a set of high-impact teaching strategies that will help teachers achieve their goals. I suggest coaches adopt teaching strategies that address the “big four” areas: content planning, formative assessment, instruction, and community building. Principals can support coaches by (a) ensuring coaches have adequate opportunities to learn the playbook; (b) learn the playbook themselves so that they can guide professional learning in support of it; and (c) filter district directives to maintain focus on a small number of teaching strategies.

Partnership.An idea at the heart of instructional coaching as we describe it at the Kansas Coaching Project is that teachers are professionals and should be treated as such. What this means specifically is that teachers’ opinions should be encouraged, and teachers should make many of the decisions about what happens in their classrooms. During coaching, we position teachers as decision makers who identify goals, choose teaching strategies, and monitor progress toward the goal with the coach.

If coaches take a partnership approach, they can provide teachers with many choices, encouraging teacher voice and taking a dialogical approach. It is crucial the coach and principal agree on this approach, which is essentially learning that takes place through dialogue. Principals can demonstrate their support by allowing teachers to choose whether they will be coached. When instructional coaching is compulsory, teachers often perceive it as a punishment; when it’s presented as a choice, they can see it as a lifeline.

Role Clarity.Coaches should be positioned as peers, not supervisors; when this is the case, they shouldn’t be assigned administrative tasks such as walk-throughs and teacher evaluations. If coaches aregiven administrative roles, they need to have the same qualifications, training and pay as any other administrator, and everyone in the school (most especially the coach) needs to know they are in that role.

Confidentiality.Instructional coaching will be most successful in schools where there is widespread trust and transparency. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. In settings where teachers do not feel psychologically safe, they will not be forthcoming with their thoughts and concerns if they feel their conversations with their coach are not confidential. What is most important with regard to confidentiality is that principal and coach clarify what they will and will not talk about, and that the principal clearly communicates that agreement to everyone involved.

Meetings.There are few principals who want to have more meetings. However, one of the most important ways principals can support coaches is by meeting with them frequently. Meetings don’t need to be long—a lot can be accomplished in a 20-minute conversation—but they need to be frequent so that principal and coach are on the same page.

Walking the Talk.Principals who want to foster a culture of learning and growth need to do what they expect their teachers to do. If they want teachers to video-record their lessons and watch and learn from them, they should record their own meetings and presentations and watch and learn from them. Principals who proclaim that professional learning is important should attend and even lead professional learning sessions.

Coaching is powerful because instructional coaches work shoulder to shoulder with teachers, helping them achieve their goals in the classroom. Coaching moves schools away from cultures of talking to cultures of doing. When principals support coaches using the seven factors described here, they greatly increase the impact coaches have on how teachers teach and students learn.

How You Can Support Your Principals

One of our most popular and important workshops is What Principals Need to Know About Coaching. During the workshop, we explore and answer the following questions:

  • What are coaches’ roles and responsibilities?
  • How should coaches use their time?
  • What coaching cycle do coaches use?
  • Is coaching confidential?
  • What teaching practices should be in an instructional playbook?
  • What simple actions can principals take to best support coaches?

You can learn more about all our workshops here: ICG Workshops

You can also contact us directly for a free coaching call here:

If you’re not ready for a workshop, feel free to share this column or the video included below.

What does it take to create a great coaching program?

As a researcher, I’ve had the pleasure of studying coaching for more than two decades. That work has, over time, surfaced 7 factors that are essential for coaching programs to succeed.  In today’s video, I offer a quick summary of those factors.  If you’re interested, you can also read more about them in the descriptions of the workshops we offer addressing all 7 of those factors at the link I’ve included below:

Professional Development >

Why Principals Must Support Coaches

One of the most important factors shaping a coach’s effectiveness is the support or lack of support provided by the coach’s principals. When principals support coaches, the coaches usually have a very significant impact on teaching and learning. When principals don’t support coaches, the coaches usually struggle to have any impact at all.  In today’s video, I explain what principals need to do to support coaches, and why it is important.

Also, if you’re interested, ICG offers workshops that go into much more detail about what principals should do to support coaches.  You can read about that workshop and others on our new website at this link:  ICG Workshops