If I am the Boss, Can I Also Be a Coach?

Certainly, a manager has a duty to hold accountable those who report to him or her.  And adding to this mix is the reality that a supervisor may not always be able to protect confidentiality to the extent a non-supervisory coach or mentor can – an undeniable factor in any principal-teacher relationship.

It must be stressed that a principal’s ability to coach teachers – and coach effectively – is not impossible:  it becomes crucial, however, for trust to be first established and ultimately to be built upon.  And the groundwork for all of it compels a principal to fucus on three things: clarity, consistency and objectivity.

Clarity, Consistency and Objectivity

Often, ambiguity relating to expectations – of the teacher and of the principal – creates a “disconnect” that undermines any subsequent effort by the principal to positively affect teaching behaviors.  Management research from multiple fields identifies certain practices particularly helpful in avoiding this fundamental pitfall that tends to occur with frequency in any supervisor-subordinate relationship.

  • Face – to – face discussions at the outset that include purposeful listening; at a minimum, these discussions should (almost universally) delve into the teacher’s precise goals and strategies and the principal’s role in supporting both.  Respectful solicitation of the teacher’s input conveys a powerful message.
  • Establishing – to some extent collaboratively – the rubric by which success should be measured and the data upon which the principal will rely in any review.
  • Periodically and informally reviewing the strategies with one question in mind:  are they working with the specific cohort of students the teacher influences?
  • Offering to the teacher possible alternatives for behaviors about which the principal raises concerns.

Consistency: One of the biggest complaints about supervisors in any field is their (perceived ro actual) failure to remain consistent over time.  Simply put, these complaints do not evidence a higher comfort level with rigidity than with flexibility; instead, they reveal a very human tendency to perceive supervisory decisions as often arbitrary, or as the creation of “moving targets” that can never actually be reached.

Even though the minor “tweaking” of policies and tactics is a natural and warranted process in education, the rationale for those actions often get lost in translation.  Consequently – to minimize or fully eliminate needless angst – any change in goals or strategies, no matter how nuanced, needs to come with both a rationale and a map tying it to existing goals and strategies.  When that can be accomplished, the generalized sense that supervisory behavior is illogical or random is minimized – sometimes to a startling degree.

Objectivity: Behavioral research established that under ordinary circumstances, most humans are capable of accepting criticism and suggestions without defensiveness…if they also perceive that the purpose of the criticism or suggestion is to assist and to not harm.  For that perception to kick in, certain prerequisites are paramount:  emotion has to remain neutral and supportive, the behavior criticized needs to be clearly identified as conduct (as opposed to a personal deficiency), and the rationale for a suggested different course of action must be plainly credible and genuine.  No easy task in every case!  However, there are a few helpful guidelines:

  • Address the issue privately.
  • Map out the issue – and why it’s an issue – in your mind before raising it with the teacher.
  • Describe the issue with impetus on outcomes sought (in lieu of the tempting core focus on deficiencies observed); include any data giving rise to the concern.
  • Be prepared to offer possible corrective measures – but before offering them, seek from the teacher his or her recommendations on the issue.
  • Keep in the back of your mind that, for most, criticism feels personal, regardless of its merit or your intent.

The bottom line is that when a behavioral concern arises, coaching requires more than supervision; it requires us to present teaching behavior issues in a non-judgemental manner – accompanied by an underlying message that the concern being addressed is not borne out of malice, ego or personal feelings.

Regardless of your personal position on the role of a school principal and his or her responsibilities regarding the coaching and managing of people, our reality is undeniable:  we simply do not have the resources to assign individual coaches to assist every teacher we supervise.  Consequently, we – as managers of people – are compelled to serve as coaches if we’re to have a significant influence on teaching behaviors.

One final but critical point:  Purposeful behavioral change requires reflection.  To coach effectively, we need to be mindful of the need educators have, when confronted with effectiveness issues, to consider strategies and deliberate on alternatives.

In examining precisely what is an Instructional Leader, what is an Instructional Coach, and what is a mentor – consider the following.

An Instructional leader is an individual often required to:

  • Supervise the teaching behaviors of individuals
  • Establish accountability for those individuals being supervised
  • Coach and mentor those individuals being supervised
  • Participate in hiring/firing recommendations relating to teachers
  • Ensure fidelity to educational programs, both during initial implementations and ultimate execution
  • Serve as a delegate for the school, region, or school district’s chief leader
  • Remain answerable – at least informally – to teachers on district-wide initiatives

An Instructional Coach is one to whom a coaching assignment has been made; however, this coaching professional has no influence over hiring or firing of the teacher(s) or educator(s).

A Mentor is generally an individual recruited (formally or informally) to serve as a teacher’s thought-partner on matters related to the teacher’s:

  • Assimilation into a new school or education organization
  • Educational strategies
  • Classroom management
  • Methods of communicating with students.

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