Like good teaching, effective coaching is built on trusting relationships between coach and school leader.
This concept guides TLI’s work with fellows from the onset. Nina Fitzerman-Blue, Director of Leader Programs, explains “I am here to make sure you are not failing as a leader. My entire job is to make you better.”
TLI’s School Leader Cohort Fellows feel this deeply. Assistant Principal Staci Brown says that unlike other professional development approaches that offer ready-made programs, TLI coaches listen to your needs and cultivate collaborative relationships. Weekly building visits and in-depth conversations help foster open and honest conversations that lead to real growth and change.
While at first some find it intimidating to meet with coaches weekly, most fellows report that because TLI’s sole focus is growth and development (not evaluation) they can be uniquely open about their professional needs. Through this relationship-centered approach TLI empowers fellows to interrogate their own practices, so they have the tools for growth beyond the fellowship.
Listen to why 2019 School Leader Fellows were ready to be coached.
In many Oklahoma districts, a single principal can lead a 40-member staff in charge of nearly 600 students. With such a demanding job, principals need a team who’s committed to building instructional skills and getting things done even when the principal is pulled away.
Typically, instructional leadership teams include teacher leaders, instructional coaches, additional administrators, and reading specialists. While conventional wisdom usually pulls one representative per grade level, consider selecting leadership for performance, coachability, and influence instead. After all, some grades may easily contribute two strong contributors while others may yield none. The big idea is to build a reliable, get-it-done kind of team so selecting leadership based on grade-level alone risks the efficacy and reputation of the team.
What does an instructional leadership team do?
Denver Public Schools and Leading Educators provide strong models for what instructional leadership teams do. The overall goal is to support change in response to data including roles like these:
Gather and analyze data related to school-wide trends, school culture, student achievement data, and strategic priorities
Develop and monitor strategic plans
Set vision for and maintain school culture
Create curriculum and assessment strategy
Calibrate on tools and protocols (TLE, observation/feedback protocols, data protocols)
Plan and progress monitor professional learning
How to establish a strong instructional leadership team
Building a strong instructional leadership team moves responsibility away from the principal towards distributive leadership. But it takes some work to get there. First, principals need to select and train leaders. Decide what traits matter and what skills you can train.
Distributive leadership is a critical part of a school’s success but it takes consistent work. By establishing clear responsibilities, training the team, and supporting their work, a principal can shift their focus from leading the entire school to developing the capacity of a few.
Although instructional coaching evolved from research on teacher supervision and instructional leadership (Knight, 2009; Neumerski, 2013), most instructional coaches do not have the formal authority to evaluate teachers. In contrast to principals who also coach teachers, instructional coaches are usually positioned in a non-evaluatory, supportive role.
Despite shared teacher and school improvement goals, the difference in evaluatory roles can make it easy to clash over the question of how much to share and with whom.
Coaching guru Elena Aguilar (2013) suggests that coaching must be confidential to maintain a positive and trusting relationship between the coach and teacher. From a teacher’s perspective, it makes sense. With the promise of confidentiality, teachers can share openly and vulnerably with their coach in ways that they might not want to share with a boss or evaluating supervisor.
Unfortunately, coaching confidentiality can lead to mistrust between instructional coach and principal. After all, a principal who is expecting continuous classroom growth may get frustrated to be left out of the loop and unaware of specific classroom issues. It can also lead to frustration for the teacher if instructional coaches and principals are sending conflicting or mis-aligned messages.
To balance the need for trusting coaching relationships and school leader collaboration, we recommend sharing high-level analysis about classroom performance, action steps, and look fors. For example, a coach might share that a teacher is focused on giving consistent consequences and flag that the principal should look for a clear direction followed by narration before a consequence. With that information, the principal can communicate clearly and positively reinforce progress and recognize accomplishments, as Todd Whitaker (2015) recommends.
With this delicate balance, the instructional coach can still maintain a degree of teacher confidentiality too. The instructional coach needn’t share the teacher’s concerns about making class fun if she’s always giving consequences or that the teacher is stressed about the lesson plan requirements.
Regardless of where you fall in the confidentiality spectrum, teachers deserve to know what will be communicated and to whom. We suggest re-visiting the question of confidentiality early and often to make sure everyone knows the expectations.
Aguilar, E. (2013). The art of coaching: effective strategies for school transformation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Knight, J. (2009). Coaching: Approaches and perspectives. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press.
Neumerski, C. (2013). Rethinking Instructional Leadership, a Review: What Do We Know About Principal, Teacher, and Coach Instructional Leadership, and Where Should We Go from Here? Educational Administration Quarterly,49(2), 310-347.
Whitaker, T. (2015). What great principals do differently: eighteen things that matter most. New York, NY: Routledge.
This post is the second of a two-part series by Jennifer Burris, a Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland and Summer Professional Development Specialist at TLI.
If you’re looking for social justice leadership reading or maybe you need more text-heavy resources after reading “What is Social Justice Leadership?,” this list is for you. Below are the books that I grab when I am looking for inspiration, guidance, reaffirmation, and tools to push myself when working towards educational equity.
“These Kids Are Out of Control”: Why We Must Reimagine “Classroom Management” for Equity by Richard Milner IV, Heather Cunningham, Lori Delale-O’Connor, and Erika Kestenberg is an excellent resource for classroom management. This book examines several different factors that influence classroom management: the cradle-to prison pipeline, effective instruction, creating a caring environment, and restorative discipline. Milner also defines three different categories of urban schools: intensive, emergent, and characteristic. Many schools in rural Oklahoma are beginning to fit Milner’s category of urban characteristic. Despite having locations outside big cities, they “may be beginning to experience increases in characteristics and realities that are sometimes associated with urban contexts, such as an increase in English language learners in a community” (Milner, 2019, p.8). This book also includes classroom vignettes and easy-to-follow reflections at the end of each chapter.
The School Leaders Our Children Deserve by George Theoharis follows real principals “who came to their positions with a desire to enact social justice.” (2009, p.18). These principals embody the seven keys to equity, social justice, and school reform through their experiences leading schools. Theoharis also examines barriers to social justice leadership at the school, district, and institutional level.
Culturally Responsive School Leadership by Muhammad Khalifa is a great pick if you like your literature rooted in history. While this book is a deep dive into the life of a culturally responsive principal, it also offers a background to schooling and society providing a more nuanced understanding of educational inequity. Each of the activities throughout the book include tasks for the teachers, principals, and superintendents as they work together in their culturally responsive practices.
Case Studies on Diversity and Social Justice Education by Paul Gorski is the first book I grab when I am leading workshops or classes for educators. Each vignette is a two to three page situation that could happen at any school – but there are no endings. Educators must work together to think through possible short and long term solutions to the problem at hand. They must examine several different points of view as they think through “what would I do?”
Is Everyone Really Equal?: An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education by Ozlem Sensoy, Robin DiAngelo, and James Banks has it all. Bite-sized chapters. Perspective checks. Stop and think activities. Comprehensive glossary. If you are looking for an all-in-one guide to social justice education – this is it. This would be a great resource for professional development, weekly workshops, or training before the school year starts. Make sure to get the second edition with up-to-date data.
This post is the first of a two-part series by Jennifer Burris, a Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland and Summer Professional Development Specialist at TLI.
Social justice leadership is not just for administrators. All stakeholders who strive for educational equity must be committed to continuously evaluating themselves and the systems they work in through a lens of justice for all students. It requires reflection and action from teachers, instructional coaches, administrators, the central office, and preparation programs.
Educators may enact social justice leadership in several different ways. I like to think of social justice leadership as an encapsulation of several of different methods aimed at educational equity like trauma-informed education, anti-racist education, multicultural education, culturally responsive pedagogy, and culturally sustaining pedagogy.
I often rely on Gail Furman’s conceptualization to social justice leadership as praxis model which centers on three concepts: 1) leadership involves both reflectionand action, 2) social justice leadership spans several dimensions, and 3) we must develop the capacities of social justice leadership for reflection and action across all dimensions.
Resources to Develop Social Justice Leadership Reflection and Action
Good Starting Points
Criteria for an Equitable School – Equity Audit– this equity audit from the Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium provides a good starting point for those wondering what social justice inside of a school could look like. There can and never will be a perfect checklist for your school. The needs and resources for your students and community are constantly changing. Use when you are ready to assess equitable access, processes, treatment, and outcomes for all students.
Equity Literacy for Educators – Equity literacy is not equity inside of an English Language Arts classroom. Equity literacy provides a framework all stakeholders in your school to be literate in concepts of educational equity. This handout and the other resources from EdChange explain the basic principles that will help educators commit to social justice for all of their students.
The following websites also offer some great resources for teachers, instructional coaches, principals, and superintendents when developing the capacities for social justice leadership in your school.
In the last decade, school districts have invested a lot of money, time, and energy into building instructional coaching programs. Districts may have reading coaches, math coaches, turnaround coaches, classroom management coaches, gifted specialists, or general instructional coaches. Sometimes coaching positions are tailored to grant-funded priorities, focused on specific implementation efforts, or aimed at student-level needs.
Too often, instructional coaches are used in ways that do not directly support the instructional goals of the school. Sometimes, coaches are tasked with administrative tasks that directly detract from their core duties and, subsequently, their effectiveness. Other times, their schedules are filled with lunch duties and student management crisis instead of teacher coaching cycles. When coaches en up as a dumping ground for unfinished tasks, the work quality often suffers in all areas.
To best meet the needs of a school, leaders must be clear on the instructional coach role and fiercely protect the time of these individuals to squarely focus on their various aspects of their defined role.
How does an instructional coach truly define their job?
As with an instructional leadership team, there are 4 core functions of an instructional coach:
1. Serve as a member of the campus leadership team.
2. Work with content coordinator and campus administration to design and provide professional development focused on improving alignment and delivery of the written, taught, and tested curriculum to increase student success and close performance gaps.
3. Work with teachers and campus administration to analyze student data, diagnose instructional needs and identify research-based instructional strategies to close achievement gaps.
4. Provide job-embedded professional development for teachers through modeling engaging, standards-based teaching as needed.
5. Collaborate with content coordinator, campus administration, and teachers to review and develop aligned curriculum components including assessments.
6. Provide individual and/or group instructional coaching and mentoring to teachers to improve classroom instruction for all learners.
7. Conduct teacher observations and/or walk-throughs and provide feedback that facilitates teacher reflection and growth.
8. Work with content coordinators, campus administration, and team and/or grade level teachers in planning standards-based lessons and assessments aligned to the district curriculum.
9. Manage and distribute instructional resources to teachers and provide training on the use of those resources.
Notice that this job description does not include “other duties as assigned.” The goal is to narrow in on the core work of an instructional coach so the bulk of a coach’s time is spent improving the instructional capacity of the district.
If you’re looking for a few texts to kickstart your instructional leadership practice, we suggest starting with these easy-to-read but information-packed texts. Below we’ve offered a few details to help you decide where to start.