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.