Principal/Instructional Coach Partnership

I was recently asked to facilitate a 70 minute session at a leadership conference that addressed the following:

The outcome of an effective instructional coaching program needs to be an increase in student achievement. The partnership of the coach and principal is crucial to a program’s effectiveness. Identify elements that should be part of your partnership agreement and relationship.

I thought that as administrators and coaches who read this blog look to the start of a new school year there might be some elements that I shared which would be worthy of a revisit conversation and perhaps review with the staff.

Instructional Coaches’ (IC) time should be focused on increasing student success. So the partnership needs to reach an agreement on how the IC will invest time, in which coaching actions, in order to gain the desired student outcome.



Without focus, an IC can build a very busy schedule doing things with and for people that are not tied to specific student gains. This can lead to disappointment when evidence of progress toward goals doesn’t appear. Principal and IC should identify what evidence will be the first indicator of progress. Example: Most teachers are providing effective feedback on student writing…. this precedes seeing an improvement in student writing.

A clear definition of the role of the instructional coach needs to be presented to staff. While this is important when a new coaching program is instituted, it is important to review when changes occur in administration, coach, and/or new teachers join the school. Is the IC “available” ….only in a classroom when requested by a teacher or is the IC “requesting” teacher participation in continuous teacher learning for increased student achievement?


How does the principal communicate his/her expectations to the staff regarding their connections with the IC? When a teacher comes to the principal with concerns about student behaviors or lack of progress, does the principal ask, “What came from your discussion with the IC?” Would a principal be surprised by the teacher who responds that she hasn’t connected with the IC? Do lead teachers and department heads know that the principal expects them to be modeling for their teams the value of working with the coach? Is there an expectation that teachers build IC input into their personal professional growth plans?

Principal and instructional coach should agree on an assessment of where staff members are in the development of necessary skills and set goals for growth. I recommend using a continuum like this:


If the school improvement plan is focused on increasing the writing success of English Language Learners, which classrooms are close to having the necessary student and teacher behavior in place? Consider them a 10 or 11. Which classrooms need to change the most to reach those behaviors? Consider them a 1 or 2.  With that picture, where on the continuum is each teacher currently in developing the desired behaviors?  What’s the goal for teachers at the 5-6 spot or the goal for the 2-3 folks? Lastly how would you describe teachers in their approach to this growth/change process? What do the teachers need to support them? Who will support and how will it be provided? What role do principal, coach, and others play in achieving these goals?


Teachers who are unaware of their missing skill need “awareness”. This could come from sharing data, observation in other classrooms, examining student work from other classrooms, modeling by the coach.

Teachers who are getting ready (called “fixing to” in some states) may need a polite push- in if they aren’t ready to jump. Setting a date for implementation and then providing support and permission to fail.

Teachers who are started need empathy as things are likely not going well. (See blog on early learning.) They need approval for doing the new behaviors even if it’s not working.

Teachers who are developing need someone to focus their attention on how their progress is impacting students. In other words, observe and report changes in student behavior or outcomes that are occurring as a result of the teacher’s changes.

If the IC is going to work with an unwilling teacher, I believe there are two questions the IC needs to raise at the beginning: “Do you know what the principal wants you to do?” If the unwilling teacher is unsure, clarity needs to be gained. The teacher needs to confer with the principal or teacher and IC can jointly meet with principal. When the teacher is clear on expectations, the second question needs to be, “Are you planning to do it?” A yes here, even grudgingly, and the coach begins working. If the response is no, the coach withdraws. I believe the coach’s time is too valuable to be spent in a situation where the unwilling teacher has no intent to change.

Just as teachers in a PLC need to assess where students are in their learning, set goals for achievement, and develop plans for learning, the principal /coach partnership needs to do the same with setting goals for staff growth.

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