Selecting Coaches

I have been asked by a new district client to make some suggestions regarding what to “look for” as they begin interviewing candidates for instructional coaching positions for their elementary schools next year.

Here are the first elements/characteristics I suggested:

A Growth Mindset: Defined by Carol Dweck (earlier blog) Coaches need to believe that ALL students are capable of increasing their achievement with effort. They must have the same belief in the teachers they coach and in their own growth potential.

A Desire to Learn about Teaching and Learning: Candidates, who see a job as an instructional coach creating an awesome opportunity to learn, rise to the top of my list. These coaches will be partners learning aside of the teachers and administrators they serve. A caution flag goes up when candidates are anxious to “share” all that they have learned.

Strong Communication Skills: Effective coaches are listeners. They ask questions and paraphrase teachers who become increasingly reflective from their conversations with coaches. Coaches’ language is positive and future focused.

Optimist: Alan Loy McGinnis in the Power of Optimism describes behaviors of optimist.


  1. Are never surprised by trouble
  2. Value partial solutions
  3. Believe they have control over the future
  4. Plan for regular renewal
  5. Have heightened powers of admiration
  6. Interrupt their negative trains of thought
  7. Are cheerful even when they can’t be happy
  8. Have an almost unlimited capacity for stretching
  9. Build plenty of love into their lives
  10. Share good news
  11. Use their imaginations to rehearse success
  12. Accept what cannot be changed


In Unmistakable Impact, Jim Knight lists the following attributes of effective coaches: (122-129)

  • Knowledge of Teaching Practices
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Growth Mindset
  • Humility and Ambition
  • Trustworthiness
  • Informed and Adaptive Thinking

Carla Cushman and Nina Morel organized the start up of an instructional coaching program in Sumner County, TN. In a soon to be released book about their experiences, How to Build An Instructional Coaching Program for Maximum Capacity, they assist educators charged with initiating and supporting coaching start-ups. In an email they shared the following thoughts on selection:

When thinking about the qualities and skill sets potential instructional coaches should have, we think it is important to remember the soft skills that coaches are so often called upon to use. While candidates for an instructional coaching position must present themselves as highly effective teachers, deeply knowledgeable in content and pedagogy, and well-versed in analyzing and interpreting data to inform planning and instructional decisions, applicants should also present evidence of creating and maintaining positive working relationships with peers, supervisors, students, paraprofessionals, parents, and other stakeholders. Perhaps harder to define, but readily recognizable, is the quality of with-it-ness—that keen awareness of what is happening in the moment, knowing (intuitively, perhaps) just how to respond, and responding accordingly. Additionally, applicants should possess excellent communication skills, particularly listening skills. Desirable candidates are those who, as Stephen Covey would say, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Any thoughts on what’s been overlooked? I still have time to share your additions with the system.

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6 Responses to “ Selecting Coaches ”

  1. Kathi Says:

    Hi Steve,
    This is a very encouraging post this week! I have been a coach for 7 years now, I think successfully, and what rang truest for me was the desire to continually learn with a colleague. I’m sure I started out “eager to share what I learned” but quickly noted that that “knowledge” became only side conversations when teachers became stuck or blatantly asked for an idea that I had found to be successful. Asking good questions and guiding teachers to what they wish to discover is far more exciting for both sides. I’m particularly glad that you emphasized that characteristic when seeking new candidates.

    In addition, this post was poignant for another reason as well as we learned in our district just this week, that our coaching initiative may be disbanded due to state budgetary cuts. We know that the positions are effective and strongly believe in this professional model, but the times are such that our governor sees some educational programs as non-essential and need to make decisions in order to balance a fiscal budget. Sad for so many reasons. Maybe I could apply to this new district who is looking to hire!
    Keep on coaching…

  2. Stephen G. Barkley Says:


    Thanks for the reinforcement on the coaching elements…. I hope you get to keep the coaching position…. if not do know that you can use the skills you have developed in informal peer coaching with colleagues or in any administration or supervisory position.
    Good Luck!

  3. Beth Says:

    Hi Steve,
    As always, your comments are poignant and right on target. My question for you is this… How do we hope to change education if there are still administrators that don’t know what instructional coaching is all about?

  4. Stephen G. Barkley Says:


    The principal coach partnership is critical to bringing about change… increase in teacher capacity

    Central office needs to add “effectiveness of coaching” to principal assessment.

  5. thomas Says:

    I believe that facilitation skills and responsive agenda-setting are the missing pieces for educational leaders.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    We haven’t had our coaching program going very long, but I know and value the partnership with my principals. I’ve watched and experienced it both with and without that partnership. The difference is like night and day. So much more happens when the principal understands what a coach can and should do.

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