Adapting the Coaching Partnership

Coaching feedback and support have become more critical than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. As schools reopened this fall with various innovative approaches, coaching partnerships assisted teachers in developing confidence and expertise with multiple instructional approaches.

For positive student and teacher outcomes, administrators may need to maximize the use of digital tools, such as remote or real-time livestreamed lessons. Administrators’ instructional leadership practices, therefore, must evolve to meet the realities of an innovative, dynamic learning environment. Coaching feedback should be evidence-based and empower teachers, as teachers and administrators contribute equally to the coaching partnership. We identify five administrator practices that advance coaching effectiveness, remotely or in person.

Administrator Practice 1: Evidence-Based Coaching Partnership

In the evidence-based coaching partnership, team members—administrators and teachers—are reflective and generate evidence-based thinking. Administrators help teachers use evidence—gathered remotely or in person—to reflect on what has and has not worked, and to identify expertise and opportunities for setting and achieving growth goals.

We created the EASY Framework (Evidence, Analysis, Solutions to Explore, and Yes Agreements for next steps) to guide the coaching process as identified in 2019 in The Coaching Partnership: Collaboration for Systemic Change by Rosemarye T. Taylor and Carol Chanter. In this article, we share administrators’ practices through the evidence-based, ongoing written reflection threads of Principal Miller and Assistant Principal Tan.

Based on the questions in Table 1 (above), you will be able to tell in the following written entry that Principal Miller reflects on the evidence before a coaching discussion. Principal Miller identifies specific evidence as she develops her coaching plan and then also engages with a teacher, Ms. Rollins, in evidence analysis.

Principal Miller notes, “While I noticed that there were some imbalances of students receiving and not receiving questions, I also realized students who were receiving questions were more on grade level and in person. Out of 18 students in the class (nine livestreaming and nine in person), Rollins consistently asked questions of six students in person, and none who were livestreaming. I sent the data to Ms. Rollins a day before our conference so she would have time for processing before our conversation.”

Administrator Practice 2: Knowledge and Skills

Administrators establish the value of the coaching partnership by demonstrating their knowledge and skills through modeling within unique learning environments. It’s essential that administrators model professional expectations during meetings and coaching conversations.

In the following situation, notice that Assistant Principal Tan focuses on helping a teacher, Ms. Perez, identify evidence and data to inform her instructional decisions.

In this case, Ms. Perez retrieved student performance data from the three most recent unit assessments. Assistant Principal Tan helped her identify relevant [data] trends. “One class was not performing as well as her others. I asked her to consider her lesson plan, and we agreed on a time I could see her using inquiry with the class of concern. I collected data so I could present her with a reflection opportunity. For question complexity, I recorded the depth of knowledge of each question posed, based on Webb’s Depth of Knowledge Model. For response rates, I recorded the number who volunteered to answer each question (e.g., 15 out of 18 total students), any action Ms. Perez took to increase response rates, and the number of students who volunteered as a result of her actions.”

Assistant Principal Tan’s reflection demonstrates knowledge and modeling of evidence-based coaching as he collaborates with Ms. Perez in analyzing existing evidence and preparing to accumulate additional evidence.

Administrator Practice 3: Relationships

Reciprocal relationships of mutual respect accelerate the vitally important partnership. All are equal in asking for, receiving, and giving feedback. Trust is built through an administrator’s predictability, modeling, communication, and competence. With trust, the risk of engaging in new approaches is reduced and authentic conversations about emerging challenges are more likely. With established rapport, the EASY Framework moves quickly. To illustrate the importance of relationships, let’s examine the conversation between Assistant Principal Tan and Ms. Perez.

Assistant Principal Tan uses respectful inquiry that encourages reflection, which helps to generate potential solutions and next steps. Modeling inquiry, he says to Ms. Perez, “I am curious about areas you would like to explore.”

He says this with the intention of engaging Ms. Perez in self-directed learning, allowing her to set her own evidence-identified goals. “I have found that when teachers identify what they want to learn, not what I think they need to learn, they make changes,” Tan says.

Administrator Practice 4: Generative Thinking for Sustainable Change

Administrator openness to teacher creativity empowers, motivates, and builds teacher confidence. With an open disposition, inquiry, and generative thinking, teachers leverage their expertise and they develop ownership of potential solutions, as noted by Enrique A. Puig and Kathy S. Froelich in 2011 in The Literacy Coach: Guiding in the Right Direction.

As school leaders implement solutions and gather evidence of positive results, teachers develop automaticity of refined practices. Automaticity and ownership are important for sustained change. Assistant Principal Tan continues the coaching process with Ms. Perez by engaging her in generative thinking to support self-identified potential solutions. Notice that Ms. Perez takes ownership of the potential solution she generates.

“When I met with Ms. Perez to discuss feedback from the remote class visit, my primary goal was to facilitate reflection of her teaching practice. I asked her, ‘From the lesson, what did you notice you want to improve?’ She thought a little and responded, ‘I feel like I didn’t ask enough higher-order thinking questions. Also, the electronic exit ticket could have been a little more challenging—to help them think more deeply. I’ll try that tomorrow.’”

Administrator Practice 5: Process, Pedagogy, and Content Expertise

Expertise in the coaching process and feedback are necessary for continued improvement of effectiveness. Without content and pedagogical knowledge, feedback may not be as precise or research-based as is needed. Especially when faced with unique and changing learning environments, teachers want to have confidence in administrators’ content and pedagogical expertise. Principal Miller demonstrates both pedagogical knowledge and expertise of content standards as she continues reflecting. Her advance preparation yields positive results during remote continuity of learning.

“[Ms. Rollins] wants to write out the questions and make sure that they are higher-level questions. We agreed to meet remotely to review and develop questions, scaffolding learning to the target standard,” Principal Miller indicates. “I’d like to go back to her idea of providing think time for students after asking a question. I will email her question stems aligned to the standards to help us develop questions.”

By taking advantage of digital tools, administrators not only coach teachers but also model expectations to help teachers find success.


Marjorie Ceballos is an assistant professor of educational leadership at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, FL. Carol Chanter is the senior vice president of professional learning at Scholastic Inc. in New York. Rosemarye T. Taylor is professor emerita of educational leadership at the University of Central Florida. A special thank you to all UCF Educational Leadership Master’s students for their contributions, especially Megan Sever.


Sidebar: Building Ranks™ Connections

Dimension: Human Capital Management

Retaining staff members and developing their skills.

Ensure that opportunities exist for staff members to develop their skills through efforts that are job-embedded, individualized for their needs, and appropriate for adult learners. By developing systems and protocols, you and your leadership team can provide regular, actionable feedback to drive improvements in staff members’ practice. Staff members should have development plans that help them fulfill their greatest potential in driving student learning, and you should work to ensure that resources are available for those staff development efforts. Just as schools care for the student as a whole child, you, too, can care for your staff members’ well-being and work-life balance.

Human Capital Management is part of the Leading Learning domain of Building Ranks.