Teacher Leader Partnerships | Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud

Administrator, Coach, Teacher Leader Partnerships

Agreeing on expectations upfront can greatly support the building of trust. This is true in classrooms as students find that they can trust the teacher to uphold expectations around her promises concerning her role and to reinforce with appropriate responses when students meet or do not meet expectations regarding their engagement in learning production behaviors.

The same is true for administrators, instructional coaches, and teacher leaders. Agreeing on the expectations and commitments they have of each other and of the staff, sets the stage for building trust. Sharing these expectations and commitments with the staff can speed up the process.

As an example, instructional coaches should have expectations of administrators and teachers as well as commitments to both. Trust is built when we say what we are going to do and then do it!partnership

In the book, Taking the Lead: New Roles for Teachers and School-Based Coaches, Killion and Harrison identify areas to consider as expectations and commitments are formed.

Roles and Responsibilities

What are the roles and responsibilities of the coach? What will the coach be doing and not doing?

I find that quite often coaches begin working in buildings without this conversation occurring. Sometimes coaches are receiving direction from a central office director which at times may at least appear to conflict with the principal’s expectations. If the role is unclear to the coach and principal, teachers are sure to be unclear and that doubt will impact the coach’s effectiveness.


Which teachers do coaches work with? Individuals or teams? Volunteers or everyone?

“Partnership agreements are a form of a contract or mutual agreement between a coach and his or her principal, teacher clients, or others with whom the coach may be working.”

Killion and Harrison

Some coaches have told me that their principals saw the coach’s time best spent with a few struggling teachers. I’ve frequently shared my belief that the strongest professionals in a staff should receive the most coaching. That practice counters the myth held by many that coaching is a deficit program “just for those who NEED help.” I have encouraged mentors to invite an instructional coach to observe them and let the new teacher observe the process. This is a great way to model “how to work with coaches.” Who to work with is a big question for coaches. Should they spend more time working with teams of teachers or individual teachers? It is critical that a coach knows the principal is supporting his/her prioritization of time?

Boundaries of Work

Defining what coaches will and will not do.

This conversation should allow for the principals’ expectations to be compared to program or “funded” guidelines or rules, thus avoiding pressure on the coach from conflicting requirements. Again, sharing the information with teachers increases understanding and trust.

“To achieve their potential, coaching initiatives must be designed to maximize the time coaches spend working with teachers to improve instruction.”

Kane and Rosenquist

Support and Resources Needed for Success

What space, technology, and materials are needed to support the coach’s work? Commitment to the coaches’ needs helps communicate to teachers that the program is important.

Timelines and Expected Results

When coaches and principals agree about expected outcomes, coaches can have a greater focus on their work. I’ve had reading coaches share that they were informed that the expected outcome is increased reading scores. I suggested that coaches get principals to define observable changes in teachers and students that they would see as predictors (precursors) to increased student success. These initial results can provide important feedback and encouragement. Timelines can help measure progress toward goals. Teacher and student behaviors change before learning increases appear.

confidentialityCommunications and Confidentiality

When, how, and what will coaches and principals communicate? Coaches and principals should clarify their agreement and expectations concerning confidentiality and share that agreement with staff. Keeping the agreement builds trust. In Quality Teaching and a Culture of Coaching, I describe four models for defining the communication and confidentiality agreements between coaches, teachers, and principals:

  • Model 1: There is two-way communication between teachers and administrators and two-way between teachers and coaches. There is no communication between the coach and principal regarding their observations of a teacher. So, if the coach was in my classroom today and on my way out at the end of the day, I see the coach in the principal’s office, I don’t know what they are discussing, but I know it’s not me because we have agreed to model 1.In each of the following models the two-way communication between teacher and administrator and teacher and coach continue:
  • Model 2: Here we add the principal talking to the coach, but the coach not reporting back. So, if the principal observed in a classroom and saw students off task when they were at centers, the principal might share that with the coach and expect the coach to find a way to explore it with the teacher. The coach does not comment on his/her observations.
  • Model 3: Contains all the elements of model 2 and adds that the coach shares “good news” (progress) with the administrator. Some principals like this model as it sets them up to provide positive feedback and encouragement to teachers quicker than they might without the coach sharing the news.
  • Model 4: Has full communication and sharing of data, thoughts, observations, and expectations among teacher, administrator, and coach. Everyone is on the same page focusing on teacher growth for student achievement.

Many issues can influence what model is required initially for maximum teacher growth, such as:

  • History of the administrator in the building
  • History of past administration with teachers
  • Previous coach
  • History of the present coach with teachers
  • Individual teacher’s confidence

Moving toward model 4 creates the coaching culture that will maximize teacher growth for student success. Ongoing conversation among teachers, coach, and administrator is critical for creating an environment where teachers are comfortable making themselves vulnerable for growth. Coaches and principals becoming vulnerable is important. Trust built through partnership agreements is a key element.

You can hear coaches and principals discuss their partnerships here and here.

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