5 crucial instructional coaching insights for principals

As education landscapes continue to evolve following COVID-19 school closures, the role of instructional coaches has emerged as a pivotal force in fostering teacher development and enhancing student outcomes. Principals, as the leaders of their schools, play a crucial role in understanding and supporting instructional coaching initiatives.

In this blog post, I’ll delve into five essential insights every principal should grasp about the instructional coaching role to ensure its effectiveness in their school community.

1. Clear communication is powerful—and non-negotiable

Communication forms the bedrock of successful educational endeavors, and the instructional coaching role is no exception. Prioritize clear and transparent communication to articulate the purpose and goals of instructional coaching in your school. By providing a comprehensive understanding of how coaching aligns with your school’s broader vision and mission for student success, you set the stage for a unified and purpose-driven approach to teaching and learning.

Clear communication is not just about disseminating information; it’s about fostering a shared understanding among all stakeholders. It is imperative that you clearly emphasize how your coaches contribute to a culture of continuous improvement and professional growth. When everyone is on the same page, the coaching process becomes more effective, and the entire school community can rally behind the shared goal of student achievement.

Here are a few specific things you could use to support clear communication around instructional coaching:

  • Coaching handbook or guide. Provide a comprehensive coaching handbook to all stakeholders. It should include testimonials and success stories and outline coaching principles, roles and responsibilities, expectations, and benefits.
  • Visual roadmaps and infographics. Enhance visibility and understanding by creating visually appealing roadmaps and infographics that represent the coaching journey, objectives, and milestones.
  • Interactive workshops and training sessions. Engage teachers and staff through hands-on workshops, using real examples to illustrate how instructional coaching aligns with your school’s vision and contributes to professional growth.
  • Regular feedback surveys and reflection sessions. Continuously improve coaching communication by implementing regular feedback surveys and hosting reflection sessions to gather insights and suggestions from teachers.

2. Collaborative relationships go a long way

One of the key ingredients for successful instructional coaching is collaborative and trusting relationships. Principals should actively encourage an environment where instructional coaches and teachers work together as partners in the pursuit of educational excellence. This collaborative approach fosters a positive school culture that values continuous improvement and professional growth. Conversely, coaching should not be utilized—or viewed—as a punishment, or the result of inadequate teacher performance. Doing so can create distrust or animosity toward the coach and instructional coaching in general.

To achieve a supportive and positive culture that helps teachers and their coaches build strong relationships, there’s a lot you can do. Some of the things I’ve found to be most useful are facilitating team-building activities, establishing regular communication channels, and encouraging an open dialogue between coaches and teachers.

When teachers feel supported and valued, they are more likely to engage in the coaching process with enthusiasm, leading to a more impactful and meaningful professional development experience. For more on this topic, read my previous article here on Teach. Learn. Grow., “Beyond the bowl of chocolates: How to build trust in instructional coaching relationships,” and “5 grounding tenets for successful instructional coaching relationships” by my colleague Lindsay Deacon.

3. Teacher support should be tailored, with differentiation in mind

Teachers are a diverse group with unique strengths, needs, and teaching styles. Instructional coaches must recognize and respond to this diversity by providing differentiated support. As a principal, you can work with your coaches to ensure that professional development opportunities are tailored to the varied needs of your teaching staff.

By conducting needs assessments or surveys, you can gather valuable insights into the specific areas where your teachers seek support and improvement. This information can guide the instructional coaching process, ensuring that it addresses the individual goals and challenges of each teacher. Differentiation in support not only enhances its relevance but also contributes to a more personalized and impactful professional development experience.

4. Data-informed decision-making must be emphasized

Data is a powerful tool in education, and instructional coaches are well-positioned to leverage it for informed decision-making. Instructional coaches play a vital role in analyzing student achievement data, collaborating with teachers to identify trends, and implementing data-driven instructional strategies. In your role as principal, you can stress the importance of using data to guide instructional strategies and professional development initiatives.

By incorporating data into the coaching process, you’ll ensure decisions are grounded in evidence, leading to more effective teaching practices and improved student outcomes. Additionally, try to encourage a culture where assessment data is viewed not only as a measure of student performance but also as a valuable resource for shaping instructional approaches and fostering continuous improvement.

For more on data and how it can be used to support teachers in their practice, see “4 instructional coaching principles to follow when helping teachers use data” and “7 steps to empowered data coaching.” If your school tests with MAP® Growth™ or MAP® Reading Fluency™, I invite you to also learn about our professional learning workshops on using assessment data in the classroom.

5. Resource allocation and professional development can’t be overlooked

For instructional coaching to thrive, principals must allocate resources effectively. This includes providing coaches with sufficient time, training, and materials to carry out their roles successfully. Do your best to recognize the importance of investing in professional development opportunities for instructional coaches, keeping them abreast of the latest educational research and innovations.

Collaborative discussions between principals and coaches can also identify any barriers or challenges that may hinder the effectiveness of coaching initiatives. Adequate resource allocation demonstrates a commitment to the value of instructional coaching and underscores its significance in your broader educational mission.

Learn more

Instructional coaching is a dynamic and transformative force in education, and as a principal, you play a pivotal role in ensuring its success. By embracing clear communication, fostering collaborative relationships, supporting differentiation, emphasizing data-informed decision-making, and allocating resources effectively, you can unlock the full potential of instructional coaching in your school and champion a culture of continuous improvement, which will benefit both teachers and students alike.

To learn more about instructional coaching services offered through NWEA, visit our website. I also encourage you to read the following Teach. Learn. Grow. blog posts for additional ideas on how to support effective instructional coaching in your school:


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