Many districts nationally, especially urban centers, have hired instructional coaches to work side by side with teachers in improving the teaching and learning process. The results have been mixed nationally and the role is under fire in many districts. Districts that are spending a lot of money on these positions have placed their bets on this position to improve student achievement.

Stop the presses, we missed something along the way that has placed these key roles in jeopardy. We assumed that the best teachers make the best coaches. We never looked at other fields that have tried this premise with generally poor results. The best doctors often do not make the best chiefs of staff or Hospital CEO’s, the best scientist does not necessarily make the best lab manager, and the best professional athletes often fail as managers and coaches.

What is missing?

The assumption that smart talented people know how to coach is erroneous. The fact that colleagues are comfortable providing direct feedback to each other on how to improve performance is also a flawed assumption. The premise that excellent specialists can set high expectations for their colleagues and adjust their coaching to help them succeed is also ill advised.
Some coaches feel that they have no authority to evaluate and therefore cannot direct other teachers to change bad habits or change instructional strategies and practices.

What we (FMS) have discovered

Based on our extensive research on the profiles of high performing leaders in education and the best approaches to building high performing teams we have discovered significant data on instructional coaches.

Using one of our highly validated and reliable inventories for leadership, The Workplace Personality Inventory (WPI), we have assembled data on these instructional coaches. The four highly significant areas of our WPI inventory necessary for leadership are:

1. Achievement – the behavior to set and convey the highest standards for results and improvement
2. Persistence – The behavior to persevere through obstacles to get results
3. Initiative – To take action to get the results without waiting for permission
4. Leadership – Being comfortable and confident in assuming a leadership role

Our research has shown that high performing educational leaders receive high scores in most of these four areas. Instructional coaches tended to score low in all four areas.

As we have gathered this data nationally and discussed the findings with districts and the instructional coaches themselves the following has been discovered:

1. Their role has not been defined as playing a leadership role in improving student achievement. In fact coaches are often told that they are a resource
for teachers to use if they desire.
2. They believe they cannot provide direct feedback on improvement to their colleagues.
3. They are often not part of school leadership teams.
4. The assumption is that the principal is in charge of improving results.

What is the problem and the solution?

The problem is that to improve student achievement, especially in urban schools, we cannot rely on only the principal to drive results. In addition, our data has shown that most principals do not exhibit the behaviors that will produce results. The instructional coach role is positioned poorly as part of the leadership in a district and school to obtain sustainable improvement.

The coaches are not trained to coach others for success. They are seen as subject matter/content experts not coaches. The hiring process and coaching of the coaches is almost non-existent on how to improve the performance of colleagues. The final area we have discovered is that many coaches are hesitant to work with teachers they believe are difficult and resistant. Therefore, they spend time with the cooperative and interested teachers.

The solution involves the following
– Re-position this role as a leadership role.
– Realize that strong instructional coaches who know how to provide direct feedback are often more successful than principals at helping teachers change and improve.
– Provide training on coaching for results.
– Hire people that have the profile that will get results.

This change of approach for instructional coaching will get better and faster results in student achievement. We at FMS have begun to help districts with this change with immediate results.