In time, it could have been so much more

But time is precious I know

In time, it could have been so much more

But time has nothing to show.

–”Time (Clock of the Heart),” by Culture Club

The issue of “leadership” is tricky in a coaching model like ours that emphasizes partnership, equality, and choice. Most people have a top-down view of leadership, one in which an exceptionally skilled and capable person commands less skilled and less capable people to do his or her bidding, hopefully toward a noble end. 

Our view of leadership is more in the vein of servant leadership, in which the leader does not seek power but rather shares it, does not seek to control but rather seeks to serve the people–always for a noble end. Because this service-driven style is contrary to more common views of “leadership” (especially in a traditional institution like education), identifying “leadership” in day-to-day interactions can be challenging. 

Research has shown that, when coaches interact with teachers as partners and equals, schools improve. Students perform better academically and in terms of behavior and engagement. The culture of the school becomes one focused on growth and improvement for students, teachers, and administrators. In that kind of environment, the “needle moves” for everyone. 

The fundamental conflict between a traditional approach to leadership and the servant approach to leadership creates very real, daily problems for coaches, and the villain in that story is the most common antagonist jeopardizing all of our best efforts at reform: time. 

When we present our workshops on coaching, questions about time abound:

  1. How long does it take for coaches to build trust with teachers?
  2. How long does an average Impact Cycle take?
  3. How much time should each phase of the Impact Cycle take?
  4. How long does it take for a teacher to set a PEERS goal? 
  5. How long will it take before we see the impact of coaching on the school? 

Because everything in schools feels like an emergency (and legitimate emergencies occur all the time), we want ideas with speedy implementation and immediate evidence of success, even when we know logically that deep change doesn’t work that way. 

In those workshops, the issue of time rears its head in a way that participants often don’t expect, especially when discussing the issue of role clarity for coaches with principals and system leadership. Eyes widen, teeth clench, and minds are blown during that conversation. Here’s why. 

In the average school, coaches are typically hired because of an identified need in a specified area (usually academic achievement for students or a new program implementation for teachers). The system/school knows that teachers need support, but often no particular approach to coaching is used to create the job description. New coaches begin their work but without knowing exactly what they should be doing. Teachers are often suspicious of new coaches and/or the initiatives they were hired to support, so coaches do not have many coaching requests to start the year. 

Those few requests mean that coaches then become perceived by leadership as having extra time on their hands. Schools have too many tasks to do and not enough people to do them, so administrators begin asking coaches to take on a variety of “other duties as assigned”: standardized test coordination, pull-out student intervention, PLC leadership and organization, technical support for strategy implementations, bus/hall/lunch duties, and on and on. This phenomenon causes real trouble for coaches that no one predicted:

  1. The coach has so many quasi-administrative roles in the building that he or she becomes perceived as a quasi-administrator (and thus evaluative when working with teachers). This makes teachers less likely to want to work with the coach and less likely to be honest and transparent about issues in their classrooms. 
  1. The coach spends so much time on the “other duties as assigned” (none of which has a research base saying it moves students forward) that they have little time to spend working with teachers on Impact Cycles (the facet of their job that does have a strong research base saying it moves students forward). 

Thus, coaches are unknowingly not making a deep impact on students and school culture, and the perception of them as a “top-down” leader makes it less likely that teachers will even want to work on Impact Cycles with them. 

This issue of time can make or break coaching in a school. 

To bring about deep change in instruction for students and in school culture, Jim Knight sets the target for coaches to be working with teachers in classrooms on Impact Cycles at 70% of their overall time on the job. Many coaches work on Impact Cycles only 20%, 30%, or maybe 40% of their time, so this number causes deep anxiety and necessitates a plan to modify those roles over time. Thus, we recommend that coaches and administrators sit down together and decide how much time coaches should allot to each of their roles. Those teams can consider these questions:

  1. How can we give the coach as much time as possible for Impact Cycles (and for building relationships to engage teachers in them)?
  1. Which roles have we given the coach that unintentionally send the message to teachers that the coach is a quasi-administrator? Can we give those roles to other teacher-leaders?

Coaches and administrators can find these conversations agonizing. Administrators often have come to think of the coaches as their “lieutenants” and feel like no one else can perform those other duties. Coaches often enjoy some of those other duties and like feeling valued by their leadership. (Coaches are also typically hardworking and compliant employees who have difficulty saying, “No, I probably shouldn’t take on that role. That’s not the best use of a coach’s time” to their leaders.) But if we want to move students and school cultures forward, a focus on the research-based role of coaches is critical. 

ICG Certification: What Scoring Taught Us This Year about Leadership

The 70% target that we include with directions for Entry 6 has resulted in some of our most frequent questions from new and prospective ICG certification candidates. The questions often take the form of some of these:

  • I spend maybe 30% of my time in cycles with teachers. Can I still certify?
  • My role is a new role, and coaching is only one part of it. Is this certification for me? 
  • Does my time spent leading PLC meetings, mentoring new teachers, and presenting PD count toward the 70%? 

When I respond to those questions in a way that reinforces the importance of the 70% target and of Impact Cycle coaching as the role with the research behind it, I can feel the frustration on the other end of the email. I understand. My time as a coach was not well-defined either. I liked those “other” roles, too. 

The term “instructional coaching” is interpreted in so many ways, and this role clarity problem is one of several reasons why. We often don’t know the research behind coaching when we create coaching positions or take on a coaching role. Those other roles are important in a school building: someone has to do them. We just hope the coach is not the one carrying out most or all of them. 

In the new directions for  certification Entry 6, we included a new element: highlighting the Impact Cycle tasks in a different color than other tasks to ensure clarity on the calendars for scoring. That assists us not only in tallying the time spent in Impact Cycles but also in seeing how the candidate views “Impact Cycle time.” Communication about time is critical for coaches day to day and for certification candidates seeking to show the impact of their work. 

Research-based instructional coaching involves the coach working with teachers in classrooms on Impact Cycle for the vast majority of their time. To make that happen, the coach needs time to work with as many teachers as possible as flexibly as possible. For instructional coaching, time is a villain, a villain that can thwart change that matters for kids and teachers. 

But we can defeat that villain with candor, transparency, dialogue, and servant leadership. We can make time work for kids and school improvement, not against them.