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Making Principal Coaching Work: 5 Tips

By Denisa R. Superville & Laura Baker — November 02, 2021 2 min read
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Research shows that coaches can play an integral role in supporting school leaders. What are the elements of a successful coach-principal relationship? Read on for some key advice from veteran coaches. (Scroll down to access this in a downloadable PDF.)

1. Support, don’t evaluate

Coaches’ main roles should be supporting principals and helping them to improve; they should have no involvement in a principal’s evaluation. Clear district messaging on the distinction between evaluation and support is integral to getting principals to buy into the program and to be vulnerable about weaknesses.

2. Guide, don’t direct

Do not micro-manage. The coach is not there to do the principal’s job, but to use their experience to develop their charge’s leadership skills, solve problems, consider different perspectives, and lead their school on a continuous improvement path.

3. Establish trust

Without this essential ingredient, any principal-coach relationship is destined to fail. Principals will not engage in the necessary frank and open conversations that lead to breakthrough moments. The coach bears a large responsibility in forging that trusting bond. Frequent meetings at the beginning of that relations can help lay the foundation, but coaches must also let principals know that they are in a safe, judgment-free zone and that their conversations won’t leave the room.

4. Build a district-level infrastructure

Districts have to know what they’re trying to accomplish—is it stemming principal turnover, is it increasing tenure, for example?—and the problem they’re trying to solve. Having a clear vision for the program and intended outcomes ensures that districts set up long-term planning, funding streams to pay coaches, and consistent procedures for all coaches to follow. It also ensures that the idea of coaching is embedded into the district’s culture. It’s also important that coaches are paid and are not volunteers.

5. Carefully hire and train coaches

Leading a successful school doesn’t necessarily mean that a principal will be a successful coach. Coaches must be carefully selected, know how to lead adults—a different set of skills from leading children—and have excellent communication skills. They should also have a record of developing leaders during their tenure as principals. Districts must also invest in training coaches and providing continuous professional development if they want these programs to succeed.

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Coverage of principals and school leadership is supported in part by a grant from the Joyce Foundation, at www.joycefdn.org/programs/education-economic. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
A version of this article appeared in the November 03, 2021 edition of Education Week as 5 Key Takeaways: Making Principal Coaching Work

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