February 22, 2018 by

4 Ways Leaders Can Leverage a Coach to Improve Their Practice

As an instructional coach, much of my time is spent with teachers to improve practice and student learning and to dialogue on ways to support professional development. One often missed opportunity coaches have are engaging with school leaders in a partnership. Leaders can learn from the work of the coach just as much as a coach can learn from a leader. Some of the powerful ways I have interacted with leadership show the many ways coaches can support school principals, curriculum coordinators, assistant principals and the like in their own professional learning.

Improving Facilitation –

The art of facilitation is complex and challenging. It involved setting norms, choosing protocols, having clear outcomes and agendas, and more. As coaches often have expertise in this area, school leaders can learn and gain some tools to better facilitate meetings. School leaders can observe a meeting to learn about the structures and strategies a coach uses to facilitate meetings effectively. They can also co-plan with the coach and have that coach observe and provide feedback on the meeting. Facilitation is always something to improve upon, and coaches can support school leaders in reflecting on their facilitation skills.

Modeling Workshops –

School Leaders often lead professional development sessions that are aligned to school goals. Coaches also present on this work, or are asked to as part of their role. One often lost opportunity is to learn about running effective workshops and presentations. To learn, a coach and school leader can meet to identify objectives related to improve workshop delivery, and then set next steps. These next steps might be the coach watching the school leader lead a session and then debrief with a coaching conversation. Or, it could be the school leader watching the coach lead, and share their insights and learning afterwards. Workshops can not only provide great learning on the specific topic, but also on overall delivery and implementations of workshops and presentations themselves.

Learning Together –

Coaches and School Leaders should be thought partners. They should work in tandem to achieve school goals related to professional learning. Part of this is gaining a deeper understanding together of the work. Coaches and leaders should schedule time to dialogue on questions or ideas related to school initiatives. These are generative conversations not necessarily intended for decisions, but instead to learn together. Text protocols, shared readings or book studies are a great avenue to leverage continuous learning as a team.

Leadership Coaching Conversations –

Just as teachers dialogue with coaches on various topics related to instruction, school leaders can leverage a coach for similar conversations. It’s important to remember that these types of conversations are not for a coach to directly tell a school leader what to do, but instead are a place for a coach to ask questions and prompt a school leader to reflect and deeper their understanding and come to their own decision. Leaders can enter into confidential conversations with coaches to help them think through their ideas and decide upon next steps.

School leaders should seize upon the job-embedded professional learning opportunity of engaging with instructional coach. Coaches facilitate thinking, and can enter into a partnership to support a school leader as a learner. Coaching isn’t just for teachers, it’s for school leaders too!


Andrew Miller is the author of the ASCD Arias publication Freedom to Fail: How do I foster risk-taking and innovation in my classroom? He is currently an instructional coach at Shanghai American School and is on the national faculty for the Buck Institute for Education, an organization specializing in 21st century project-based learning. Miller is also an ASCD Faculty member, providing expertise in a variety of professional development areas, and a regular blogger for Edutopia. Connect with Miller on Twitter @betamiller.