Coaching: Confidentiality vs Anonymity

A conversation arose in a coaching training I was doing regarding a district designing their coaching around the concept of anonymity. The word didn’t hit me well, as I imagined that the reason for someone wanting to be anonymous would be because they believed that “being coached” would be seen as a negative indicator of their abilities or professional status …the opposite of the goal of any coaching program.

So, I went to check definitions:

 Definition of ANONYMITY 

1. the quality or state of being anonymous

2 one that is anonymous

 anonymous adjective

1 not named or identified

2.made or done by someone unknown

3.not distinct or noticeable : lacking interesting or unusual characteristics

confidential ,adjective

1.spoken, written, acted on, etc., in strict privacy or secrecy; secret: a confidential remark.

2.indicating confidence or intimacy; imparting private matters: a confidential tone of voice.

3.having another’s trust or confidence; entrusted with secrets or private affairs: a confidential secretary.

4.a bearing the classification confidential,  usually being above restricted  and below secret.

  b. limited to persons authorized to use information, documents, etc., so classified.

 Wow! The words in the definitions reinforced my contrast.  Anonymous… not named or identified, someone unknown, not distinct or noticeable. Doesn’t sound very affirming or growth focused to me. Confidential… having another’s trust, persons authorized to use the information. Those terms sound a little more relational and growth oriented.

I know that Jim Knight often touches on the need for confidentiality in coaching so I found these statements in a blog about his book Unmistakable Impact:

feb 23b

“In instructional coaching the practice of coaching occurs within confidential relationships. There are at least three reasons for this. 

First, when coaches deal with what matters to teachers, they are privileged to see and hear information most others will not see and hear.  To share that private information with others is a violation of a person’s privacy. Second, coaching is much more productive when collaborating teachers are open about their ideas, thoughts, and fears. For many teachers, knowing that instructional coaching conversations are confidential makes it easier for them to talk about what really matters.  Third, when we ensure that instructional coaching is confidential, we increase the chances that teachers will choose to work with a coach. However, not everything a coach does, can or should be confidential. For example, instructional coaches need to keep principals informed of whom they are working with and what they are working on.” (Everything being confidential might be called anonymous.)

School leaders want to be building an environment of trust where the issue of confidentiality would become increasingly less important. As teachers and leaders become team members, focused on the common goal of student success, our work and the results of it are increasingly public. My results are OUR results and thus not confidential.

Jim Knight states,” In a culture where there is not a great deal of trust, confidential instructional coaching can be the default mode, but over time, if teachers agree, more information can be shared. The greater the lack of trust initially, the more important confidentiality usually is.  What is most important is that principals and coaches clearly delineate what they will and will not discuss, communicate that policy across the school, and act consistently with the policy. Perceived betrayal of trust can severely damage an instructional coaching relationship. For example, when a teacher says something to a coach that she thinks will be kept privately by the coach, and then discovers that what she said was shared with others, it may be impossible for the coach to ever win back the teacher’s trust.”

 My phrase for building that trust:

Say what you are going to do and then do it!

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Steve Barkley

For the past 30 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…

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