The Principal/Coach Partnership - Steve Barkley

The Principal/Coach Partnership

I had another of those weeks where several projects that I am working on run together or overlapped. I am preparing to facilitate a training for the Arkansas Department of Education for principals and coaches. They asked me to include partnership agreements as presented by Killion and Harrison in Taking the Lead: New Roles for Teachers and School-based Coaches published by National Staff Development Council. I conducted two sessions at the National Reading First Conference in Nashville for participants in an advanced coaching strand. I spent two days in Rochester, NY training teacher and administrator mentors. The importance of the agreements/understandings between coaches/mentors and principals continually arose in each of these settings.

“Partnership agreements are a form of contract or mutual agreement between a coach and his or her principal, teacher clients, or others with whom the coach may be working.” The principal/coach partnership might included the following:” (Killion and Harrison)

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. Often 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.

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

At the Reading First Conference I shared my belief that the strongest professionals on 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.” Many coaches suggested their principals saw the coaches’ time best spent with a few struggling teachers. In Rochester, I suggested that mentors invite the reading coach to observe them and let the new teacher observe the process. Who to work with is a big question for coaches. Should they spend more time working with teams of 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.

Support and Resources Needed for Success—What space, technology, and materials are needed to support the coach’s work?

Some commitment to the coaches’ needs helps communicate to teachers that the program is important.

Expected Results- when coaches and principals agree about expected outcomes, coaches can have a greater focus on their work.

I often find that reading coaches are informed that the expected outcome is increased reading scores. I suggest that coaches get principals to define observable changes in teachers and students that they would see as predictors (precursors) to students’ success.
These initial results can provide important feedback and encouragement.
Example—seeing more “focused reading” occurring when students are at centers. – finding teachers asking more higher order thinking questions

Timelines– can help measure progress toward goals

My thought is that, at least initially, these changes (progress/goals) should be stated in terms of teacher behavior. Ex: Teachers’ plans will show that___________. Or, in classrooms you will notice that____________. Administrators noting their observation of the change in teachers will provide reinforcement and encouragement to the coach.

Communications– When and how and what will coaches and principals communicate?

The elementary reading-coach program in Hillsborough County, FL has scheduled a half day principal/reading coach session in each of the past several years. Every time that I have been involved, I have heard both principal and coach comment how valuable setting aside that time together has been.

Processes-How will the coach work to achieve the desired results?

One of the issues that we discussed substantially in my Rochester group was the importance of teacher collegiality on student achievement and the degree to which people felt that teacher collegiality was a desired/expected outcome of the coaching program. If it is, that influences the process of how the coach goes about her work. Creating teacher’s sharing and observing each other with a common focus becomes a critical activity to promote.

Confidentiality— Coaches and principals need to clarify their agreement and expectations to others concerning confidentiality.

In Quality Teaching and a Culture of Coaching , I describe 4 models for defining the communication and confidentiality agreements between coaches and teachers and principals:

#1- In the first model, there is two way communication between teachers and administrator and two way between teachers and coach. There is no communication between coach and principal regarding their observations of the 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 the classroom and saw students off task when they were at centers, the principal would report that to the coach and expect the coach 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 then they might without the coaches’ reporting.

Model #4- Has full communications 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 for maximum teacher growth:
*history of the administrator in the building
*history of past administration with teachers
* previous coach
* history of present coach with teachers
* individual teachers confidence

Ongoing conversation among teachers, coach, and administrator is critical for creating the environment where teachers are comfortable making themselves vulnerable for growth. Coaches and principals becoming vulnerable is important. Trust built through partnership agreements will be helpful.

Send me thoughts or questions these partnership conversation possibilities raise for you.

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One Response to “ The Principal/Coach Partnership ”

  1. Jim Knight Says:

    Hi Steve,

    This is very helpful. I’ll be sharing it with the coaches on my team. Thanks,

    Jim K

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