A Superintendent Writes… Instructional Coaching – Part 1

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In response to the 12/5/2013 post, “A Reader Asks… Instructional Coaching,” a LYS Superintendent writes:

LYS Nation,

It is interesting that today’s blog would be over teacher coaching and evaluations, because I had this same conversation with principals today and commented that I should write up my thoughts and send them to Sean.  

First, I think Lesa is, of course, right on; coaching teachers should be specific and the principal should listen a lot and not say too much.  The coaching session should end with a measurable objective that will be looked for in the weeks that follow.  The more help a teacher needs, the fewer coaching goals should be set, in my opinion.  If you have a teacher who really needs a lot of help, focus on one thing, the deepest hole if you will.  In my opinion you have to channel your inner Schmoker when coaching teachers; if you try to fill in all holes in one coaching session, you fill in nothing.  

When I am coaching my principals, I first observe what they do.  I have noticed a certain confusion among too many principals concerning what is and what is not coaching. Coaching is NOT mentoring.  Having a 45-minute long principal-to-teacher conversation concerning philosophies of education, variations on strategies, and other such things does NOT constitute coaching; that is mentoring.  Now I suppose a principal can mentor a teacher, but I view mentoring something better done from teacher to teacher.  Long meandering conversations can build personal understanding, can build collegiality, and can be down right fun.  But keep in mind that most teachers (and all teachers who are struggling) don’t need that.  A principal who engages in such mentoring practices with a struggling teacher is doing them an injustice, in my opinion.   Back away from that practice and engage in brief, specific, measurable coaching goals based upon solid (frequent) classroom observations.  If the teacher needs a mentor, assign them one.  
Principals, be the Principal.

SC Response Your closing statement reminds me of my first Principals’ meeting with Dr. Rod Paige.  Yes, that Dr. Paige, but at that time he was my Superintendent. He closed the meeting with this:

“What I want you Principals to understand is that we are now operating under the Navy command model. Right now, as we do this Summer work, the ships are all in port.  I am the Admiral and you will follow my orders and protocols.  In September, the ships will all go to sea and as the Captains of your ship, you are responsible for a successful voyage.  I will not second-guess your decisions you make in command of your ship, because you are in command, even if I am visiting you. 

But be successful, because the oldest rule of the Navy is this – If the mission isn’t successful the Captain goes down with his ship.” 

From that point forward, I never worried about what those who I was not responsible for thought about my decisions.  Because they had the luxury of being neither accountable nor responsible. 

Captains, be the Captain. Principals, be the Principal

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