Thinking About Principal and Instructional Coach Agreements - Steve Barkley

Thinking About Principal and Instructional Coach Agreements

On Monday September 25 at 10am EST, I will be holding a free webinar on principal /coach partnerships built to maximize student success. (Information and Registration here) This blog outlines some of the key elements that will be explored. I will present my thinking in three sections: Focus and Goals, Expectations, and Long Term Desired Culture.

Focus and Goals:

I have presented to many systems implementing instructional coaching that the bottom line payoff of the investment in coaching needs to be an increase in student achievement. From the start, principal and coach should identify specific student advances that are the focus of the coach’s work. It is very easy for a coach to become extremely busy with a very full schedule only to end the year with no traceable connection to specific student achievement.

A coach can build her plan and make important decisions about where her time is spent when she knows that the principal agrees with her on the prioritization of focus. Here is the backwards process I suggest the coach and principal explore.

Having identified a goal of specific student increased learning, the coach and principal can agree on what student learning production behaviors are required and how teachers can instigate those learning behaviors. Now a coach can consider how his actions can best support teachers in implementing the needed teacher actions.


The Instructional coach should be expected to develop a plan that provides teachers with the needed support to create the desired student learning production behaviors. This may mean devising professional learning experiences. In an earlier blog, I reviewed “what we know” about professional learning that positively impacts student learning and the important role that coaching plays. Teachers can expect that the coach’s work with them will be non-evaluative and that the coach’s success is directly connected to a teacher’s increased success with her students.

The principal should be expected to support the work of the teachers and the coach. First, the increased student learning goal that has been identified in planning with the coach is presented to staff by the administrator or school leadership team as a common schoolwide goal. This decreases the coach’s engagement with teachers being interpreted as supervisory. The coach’s involvement is supporting teachers in meeting goals they own.  An instructional coach can work with the expectation that the principal will maintain the coach’s non-evaluative position. A coach feels comfortable that the administrator will not ask for information about her observations or assessment of a teacher’s practice. She also knows that should she slip and complain about a reluctant teacher, the principal will avoid any sharing of her frustration with the teacher. Administrators with the coach and leadership team should be creating the time for coaching practices to occur.  An administrator who covers a teacher’s class for 15 minutes or picks up a duty assignment so the teacher can conference with the coach sends an important message.

Teachers should be expected to engage with the instructional coach, sharing any concerns regarding insufficient student growth. A teacher meeting with the principal concerning a struggling student can expect that one of the first questions the principal is likely to ask is, “What did you find when you approached the instructional coach about your concerns?” Growth often requires vulnerability. Teachers opening their classroom door to observation, sharing their instructional plans, showing student work and assessment with a coach are being vulnerable. A teacher is vulnerable and takes risks because his students’ success is that important.

When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability. To be alive is to be vulnerable.

Madeleine L’Engle 

Long Term Culture Change

What is the common vision that the principal, leadership team, and instructional coach have for a coaching culture in the school? I found this description of a coaching culture from Ed Parsloe.

“In a coaching culture, most staff use a coaching approach in their daily life – with each another, and with external stakeholders and customers.  A true coaching culture is just ‘part of the way we do things around here’.  But it’s not all motherhood and apple pie.  A coaching culture is about delivering results, improving performance and making the most of people’s potential.  The emphasis is on delivering results and making each other (and the wider organisation) stronger and more capable.  It’s NOT about having coaching conversations for their own sake, or as a diversion from other activities!”

How do the instructional coach and leadership team work together to make their culture vision a reality? I frequently describe the instructional coach as “the coach of coaching.” What I mean with that phrase is that the coach works to increasingly have teachers coaching each other rather than just seeing the instructional coach as the provider of coaching. I believe this supports the building of a coaching culture.

If you’d like to explore more about principal and coach agreements, please join us on the webinar.

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