The coach/school principal relationship has to be one built on trust. Each party should feel at ease when discussing difficult topics and should keep a “solution-oriented mindset.” Each shares a common goal, and together they bring different strengths to a school’s development. Both parties must be flexible and open to new ideas, constructive criticism and general feedback. Mutual and demonstrable respect is necessary to foster a positive working relationship. Mutual respect is grounded, logically, in an understanding of one another’s talents, strengths, and weaknesses.
Clarity of roles is a key component in an effective coach/principal relationship. Specific expectations of the job description should be discussed and documented. That documentation should serve as the catalyst for discussion and evaluation of the coach. By defining roles clearly, the team establishes ownership and accountability; work can be monitored closely to assess the effectiveness of the team. The principal is the instructional leader of the school, while the coach is the support for implementing appropriate strategies for academic growth. The principal and/or other administrators evaluate, direct, and enforce policies when enforcement is necessary. Enforcement should never be the duty of a coach. It is imperative that the principal protect coaching relationships – and refrain from tasking the coach with duties that would undermine his or her coaching relationships.
Leaders can support coaches in multiple ways. One very important principal-support is the setting of clear goals and expectations at the outset of any coaching endeavor. Periodic meetings must be held to assess the school’s progress. These meetings must be collaborative – and never “top-down.”
Another means by which leaders can support coaches is to serve as the coaches’ mentor. Leaders begin to mentor their coaches by providing ongoing feedback, and keeping focused on the “big picture.” And since coaches can easily get bogged down with the minutia of data-collection inherent in coaching, focus is of paramount importance. When leaders truly mentor coaches in a constructive way, it benefits the individuals, team and school at large.
Leaders support their coaches by allowing coaches to make sound curriculum decisions for their school. Obviously, this point is premised on the assumption that communication is open and ongoing between the coach and school leader. Leaders should facilitate, or at minimum be actively involved in major instructional decisions (curriculum, school goals, data analysis, staffing, and professional development, for example). The leader’s active role should not stop at the beginning of the school year when goals are set, but continue throughout the year. Coaches – and teachers – appreciate leaders who participate in school professional development with staff.
Coaches also want their leaders to value what they do to help the teaching staff improve. This means that the leaders have to help to keep the coach’s time focused on school and student improvement, not on administrative duties.