I was recently asked to answer that question in a 90 minute session for principals. What follows is the direction I took:
I opened with a piece that I thought set a pretty compelling reason for principals to explore their plans for working with coaches.
On average, a principal accounts for 25 percent of a school’s total impact on student achievement—significant for a single individual. Indeed, the difference between having an average and an above-average principal can impact school-level student achievement by as much as 20 percentage points. Principals can have a stronger effect on all students in a school than teachers do because teachers affect only their particular students. Researchers have also documented the actions and practices that differentiate the most effective principals, in particular, the way that they develop great teachers and create school culture and working conditions that keep great teachers in the field.
Coaches can play an important role in creating the school culture and conditions for developing “great“ teachers.
I selected three of the five criteria from the Wallace Foundation study as a focus for principals to explore with instructional coaches.
The principal needs to unite a staff around a common vision of continuous improvements in learning. The first step is having a leadership team that shares that vision and the task of promoting it. The instructional coach should be a member of that leadership team. Principals and coaches should be considering how their daily interactions with teams of teachers and with individual teachers focus on goal setting and planning.
I believe that much of the work that coaches can do to impact student achievement occurs when working in professional learning communities. This generally involves supporting increasing numbers of teachers to step into leadership roles where their skills and knowledge impact students in their colleagues’ classrooms. Principals can plan strategies with coaches to create these leadership possibilities.
I have been encouraging instructional leaders to raise this question with teachers,” What do our students need us to learn?” As teachers examine student work and data they should be identifying changes that need to occur in what students do and experience. Some teacher learning is often necessary to generate those changes for students.
Teacher leaders serving as instructional coaches in an international school where I am consulting recently created their own individual personal growth plans. They detailed specific increases in student achievement they wanted to gain, the changes in student behaviors they believed necessary to get the achievement and the teacher behaviors most likely to gain the student changes.
These leaders distributed their plans to staff with requests for coaching feedback. The coaches shared with colleagues what they needed observers to focus on and the specific feedback they desired.
Example: A coach shared that he wanted to increase the perseverance and stamina of this grade five students in mathematics. He believed that the way he responded to students during problem solving activities was a key to encourage and support the change in their behaviors. Was he helping enough, too little, or too much to keep them working? He requested observations from teachers to collect his responses and note what students did as he moved on to support other students.
As teachers experience conversations with these instructional coaches they will be invited to join any coach whose growth area is of interest to them. Coaches will be available to provide the same observation and feedback processes to teachers that they had the teachers provide to them.
All staff will be encouraged to create future growth plans which can be shared with colleagues and build peer coaching partnerships. The administrators are supporting coaches in this plan which is a great example of coach principal partnerships.