An Often Overlooked Alliance

instructional coach school leader team cohesion Aug 27, 2022

How strong principal-coach relationships tease out teacher efficacy and resilience.


So you’ve got a new instructional coach in your building this year - yay for you! Or maybe your coach is a bit more seasoned. One more high-quality person in your corner to help divide and conquer all of the important tasks of running a school. But which of those tasks should you be delegating to your coach, and how can you make sure that you’re giving proper guidance to get the best outcomes? 


The reality is that it’s not necessarily about how you supervise or manage the coach, but about the relationship you build with that coach. Just like you wouldn’t hop on the field at the football game and tell Coach Johnson how to run his offensive line, you wouldn’t pop into your instructional coach’s office and tell them how to give feedback to the math teachers. That coach was hired because they were trusted to do a good job - so let them! 


Maybe this is a bit unnerving for you. Maybe you’re worried the coach is missing some critical context about the English department’s special quirks. You’ve never seen them in action - how can you know they’re going to just know how to do it? These are normal feelings, but it doesn’t mean it’s okay to not trust them. It means you have to be intentional about building that foundational relationship with the coach so that you can develop natural trust and camaraderie. If you can do that, your teachers - not just your coach - will shine. 


A strong principal-coach relationship is critical to a principal being able to trust their coach, but also a coach being able to trust their principal. Just like a school leader may have to check themselves before micromanaging a coach or delegating them to inappropriate tasks like school discipline, a coach has to know how to tactfully work across two different levels of hierarchy - the principal, and the principal’s teachers. Many teachers may be hesitant to work with a coach if they feel like their privacy will be shared at-large with administration, or that their coaching sessions are an evaluation of the quality of their work. Many principals want to be involved, but struggle to find where the line is drawn. How can the coach gracefully navigate this if they don’t have a strong relationship with their admin? 


The bottom-line is, the coach needs to be comfortable speaking candidly with the principal about their needs - time to conduct observations and debriefs, unbiased context of what is going on with staff, and enthusiastic support of their coaching that will encourage teachers to take advantage of it. On the flip side, the principal needs to be able to trust their coach without interfering or taking a step back too far, where they can’t be supportive. If these two sets of needs can’t balance out, teachers are the ones who get left hanging. They don’t get the individualized instructional support the district is paying for in the form of a coach, which stunts their growth and prevents them from transferring that new knowledge and those new skills to their students.  


So how do principals and coaches build trust with one another to get those great results? They have to be intentional about it. Set up a weekly coffee chat just to catch up on what’s going on in the school - upcoming events, progress towards the strategic goal (see Podcast Episode 10 for a goal-setting structure), themes coming up in staff meetings, etc. It’s not a time to share personal secrets of staff or gossip about the latest events in the classroom, but a time for the two parties to gain clarity about what’s happening in each other’s bubble, and make plans to help one another accomplish their tasks. 


No matter if you are the coach or principal, it is important to start intentionally building this relationship. To support you, our partners at Compass Edvantage have created a Principal-Coach Initial Partnering Conversation editable template.


This won’t happen overnight. But this is time well spent to build a strong foundation.

Looking for additional professional development in creating authentic human connection with your educators? Check out our upcoming free webinar "Happy Secret to Building Teacher Buy In".

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