Getting Engagement: The Job of Principal, Coach, and Teacher

I have recently worked with new instructional coaches in the Salem Keizer School District in OR and with the principals in Sumner County Schools in TN.

Salem Keizer will be beginning its third year of instructional coaching and has expanded the number of coaches in difficult budget times. The district coaches have their own website at www.coachingtogether.net.

Two coordinators from Sumner (TN) traveled to study coaching with the OR team. Sumner will be implementing instructional coaching for the first time this fall. My initial session with principals was designed to begin the planning for how to work effectively with coaches and teachers. (I’ll be providing training for coaches in Aug.)

In both systems we examined how coaching and Professional Learning Communities combine to increase teacher collegiality and engagement in a continuous improvement process.

In a June 4th, 2009 posting at TRAINING’s Manage Smarter, Ken Thomas’ Employee Engagement in Hard Times: Focus on Intrinsic Rewards rings true for business leaders in tough economic times as well as for school based leaders.

If you ask people what keeps them engaged and energized at work, they talk more about their work than money. Research has shown “intrinsic” rewards—those positive emotional charges we get from excelling at work we find meaningful—are more powerful influences on day-to-day engagement than money.

Thomas identifies four basic intrinsic rewards people receive from work, all of which flow directly from the steps of self management. It is these rewards that energize us to stay engaged.

*Sense of meaningfulness: The feeling that your work contributes to an important purpose—something that makes a positive difference and is worth your time and energy.


*Sense of choice: The feeling that you are free to choose how to best accomplish your work—you can apply your intelligence, try out new ideas, and perform in ways that make sense to you.

*Sense of competence: The feeling that you are performing your work activities in a competent, high-quality manner you can take pride in.

*Sense of progress: The feeling that you are accomplishing your work purpose—things are on track and moving forward.

Thomas suggest that much of leaders’ work is to create the climate for each of these intrinsic motivators to emerge…let me see if I can show that in some specific strategies connected to coaching and professional learning communities:

Sense of meaningfulness: Principals help establish along with staff, parents and students a strong vision of learning for the school. This common vision which reaches way beyond “test scores” drives the hard work of teaching and learning. Vertical and cross curricular teams of teachers (PLCs) focus on the whole education of students rather than an isolated part (7th grade math).

Sense of choice: Coaches work from agendas established by and with the teachers they coach. PLC’s become powerful and committed when they know that together they are making critical decisions about best approaches to student learning. Effective principals convince teachers that these PLC decisions will be supported. Convinced, teachers take on increase responsibility for student success.

Sense of competence: Effective teachers can’t wait for state test results to reinforce their work and their students’ work. Coaches are often asked to collect classroom data that illustrates the initial payoff (change in student activity) from teachers’ initial efforts at change. PLC’s design common short term assessments that provide the feedback that reinforces effort or encourages a modification of the initial change.

Sense of progress: collaborative relationships; milestones; celebrations; access to customers; measurement of improvement (Thomas). Coaches often provide the feedback that shows progress and motivates continued effort on the part of teachers. PLC celebrations of individual and group progress is critical to maintaining the momentum of hard work.

How about student engagement? All four of the above indicators appear in Tapping Student Effort.. Increasing Student Achievement . Meaningfulness is found in live event learning where students’ decisions (choices) have real consequences. (See Ike: A Documentary- labor of love for Galveston high schoolers-Houston Chronicle) Students setting goals and identifying their progress toward those goals creates a confidence of competence.

My continual suggestion to leaders is ”model the model”. In many ways coaching and professional learning communities model the engagement strategies that leaders hope to see teachers implementing with students.

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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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