Coaching and Leadership - Steve Barkley

Coaching and Leadership

I received a request from a new instructional coach and am writing this post as a response:

I was wondering if I could ask you one more question for my paper and presentation. I was hoping you could make some correlations between teacher leadership and instructional coaches.
Do you feel that instructional coaches are teacher leaders? What leadership qualities must an instructional coach possess? What leadership strategies should instructional coaches utilize?
Again, thank you very much for your time!

For instructional coaches to be successful they must be seen as teacher leaders… from my earlier post “natural leaders“… the kind of leaders that teachers would seek out without the coach having an official title.

Teachers will learn the most from coaches when they become vulnerable. Coaches’ leadership skills that communicate trust building will increase teacher vulnerability and therefore teacher growth. For coaches to be most successful, the principal must make him/herself vulnerable to the coach. Principals who model vulnerability for staff will create the greatest amount of risk taking and thus growth among the staff. Principals must therefore trust their coaches. As principal, I need to know that the coach will strengthen not threaten my leadership status with staff. As teacher, I need to know that the coach will strengthen not threaten my leadership with students. At the same time the coach should be strengthening relationships among staff and with staff and administration. Coaches play key leadership roles within the school needing to take a rather egoless role. The coach seen to be “building a powerbase” will be threatening to many, if not all key stakeholders.

I am currently working with two new instructional coach programs where the coaches are hired by the district and serving more than one school. These positions require increased leadership skills from the coach as they are now seen as being connected to central office and may need to work harder to show principals that they are “working for them” while convincing teachers they are “working for them” while getting direction from central office “on the need to implement a program with fidelity”. Quality coaches integrate the agendas of teachers, principals, and central office staff to bring the best learning opportunities to the students.

One of the key leadership skills of coaches is to identify the common vision of student achievement that drives the work of all stakeholders. Since coaches motivate those they work with to change, a common vision of the achievement outcome can greatly decrease the resistance to change. Coaches’ input to teachers and principals does not need to be evaluative, challenging right or wrong, but can instead focus on “is there a way to get closer to the vision of achievement that we have?”

Coaches also need to build the leadership skills of the teachers and principals that they serve. There is insufficient time in a coach’s schedule for enough one-on-one coaching of staff to bring about the desired growth. Effective coaches create partnerships, teams, and professional learning communities that provide coaching to each other in the coach’s absence. I often describe instructional coaches as “plate spinners at the circus”. Tthey start a plate spinning (a group of staff working on a common skill or problem) and then pull back to start another group and then another. From time to time they must return to a group to keep it “spinning”(producing). Sometimes finding a “broken plate”, they start a new learning activity or a new grouping of staff. By building the leadership capacity of teachers in the groups, the groups can be producing longer without the coach’s effort present.

Here are a few strategies I’ve seen coaches utilize:

Use mentors who are working with new teachers to be members of the coach’s team. An early in the year meeting of mentors and mentees with the coach can add building or district goals to the mentor/mentee’s working agenda.

Partner with grade level leaders and department heads. Meet with these leaders individually to identify the needs of their departments. Find connections between their needs and the coach’s agenda. Ask these leaders to request your coaching and to make themselves vulnerable with their members. Doing a coaching session with the leader at a team meeting is a great introduction of coaching to the staff. Getting the department to do some coaching of each other spreads the coach’s impact.

Create opportunities for the principal to model skills that you are looking for staff to practice. One reading coach provides the principal with books to read aloud at each grade level. The books come with suggested questions for the principal to use with the students (model for the teacher). One high school instructional coach provides the principal with articles to send out to staff and discussion questions for a faculty meeting. I started a peer coaching program in a high school by getting the principal to video tape a lesson and then allow me to coach him at a faculty meeting. After discussing a change he could make in the lesson to gain increased student effort, he offered to reteach the lesson and video for the next faculty meeting.

Building the leadership capacity of school based staff should be seen as an important part of a coach’s role. Coaches should keep a mindset that if the coaching program were not available in the future, the coaching culture that they created would live on!



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