Instructional coaching is an excellent way to support teachers in their continuous improvement practices, especially given the speed of change in school policies and environment. Indeed, research shows that job-embedded coaching is the most effective type of professional learning for teachers.
Why, then, do some coaching programs fail to produce desired student learning outcomes?
In this post we will elaborate on the fourth pitfall and recommendation shared in the overview post “Common Pitfalls of Coaching.”
Pitfall #4: Asking the coach for insight on teachers' progress
Not only is a coach an “extra adult” in the building (see Pitfall #3), but that coach presumably has a great eye for effective (and ineffective) teaching. Building principals, having so many to-dos on their list, often find it physically impossible to do well all of the teacher observations required of them. Asking instructional coaches to - or even insinuating to coaches that they should - report on a teacher’s teaching abilities, progress, weaknesses and even strengths might seem practical; however, breaking the trust between teachers and their coaches is a sure way to sink your coaching program.
Learning requires time, teamwork, vulnerability, support, reflection and refinement. For educators, like anyone, meaningful learning is not just cognitively difficult, it can be emotionally difficult as well. Teachers must have a trusting relationship with their coaches in order to feel safe enough to acknowledge that their current methods could be improved, to try new methods, to be vulnerable to struggle and possible failure, and to self-reflect honestly.
If a teacher knows, perceives, or has even an inkling that an instructional coach shares the sacred work of improvement back to that teacher’s supervisor in any way, a coaching program no longer exists. It becomes a remediation program or an evaluation program, but not a coaching program that can lead to the professional learning and growth your students need their teachers to do.
Administrators, therefore, must provide the emotional space for meaningful adult learning by honoring the confidentiality between teachers and their coaches. It may sound redundant, but it can't be emphasized enough: an instructional coach is to have no part in the evaluation of teachers and should not be asked for or offer* any inside information about what is happening in a classroom without the teacher’s express consent.
(*Except in extreme cases where someone is endangered physically or emotionally)
Recommendation #4: Communicate the understanding that real professional learning requires risk-taking by signing a Confidentiality Agreement.