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Desert Highway
Thoughtful writing authored and shared by members of of the Thinking Collaborative community to support others on the journey.

Sustaining the Journey

Coach as Choreographer and Catalytic Leader

Authored By:

Thinking Collaborative


August 13, 2018

A qualitative case study of three coaches uses metaphors to capture their lived identities. The author deeply explores the relationships with a principal who was a partner to the coach (engaged and collaborative with the coach), one who is interfering (engaged with the coach and not the staff), and one who is neglectful (disengaged with the coach). She analyzes the thinking and actions of the coach in each scenario and provides great insight to assist coaches who may be working in similar contexts. The overall conclusion of her research is, “The environment shapes what each coach does and the coach influences the environment.” Wheat Townsend explicates the complexity of the coaching position and assists those studying the position in ways to think and act in order to do authentic context-specific coaching. This week, we will briefly explore Wheat Townsend’s findings for the first case study of Taylor.

The context in which Taylor, an instructional coach, worked is described by Wheat Townsend as a productive elementary school culture where the principal saw the coaches as a part of the leadership team. There was strong collaboration with the principal and high trust in the coach’s abilities. Leadership team meetings were synergistic and focused on the work of PLCs, professional development, and student outcomes. The metaphors for Taylor’s work developed by the author is that of choreographer and catalytic leader.


In choosing this metaphor, Wheat Townsend explores the unique relationships between a director, choreographer, and dancers.

“Ultimately, the choreographer works as someone who communicates and creates the dance based on the vision of the director, while being responsive to the dancers. She has to facilitate the dance in order to transform the overall performance from good to great.”

Given the high trust of the principal in the coach and vice versa, Taylor was able to efficaciously choose thoughtful and strategic choreographic moves which impacted how the school moved forward. They are described below:

The Work

Coach was entrusted with leadership responsibilities

Coaching Moves

Uses principal trust to lead professional development

Leads the schools PLC processes

The Work

Provides direction to teachers based on school vision

Coaching Moves

Conducts purposeful planning and modeling with teachers to enact vision

Works with all teachers

Catalytic Leader

Because Taylor and her principal were philosophically aligned, shared a vision, and had a trusting and collaborative relationship, they were working from the same page. That context allowed Taylor to work as a catalytic leader, one who works from a strong sense of purpose to share leadership and develop the individuals and the organization. She knew she was empowered to make decisions based on the needs she identified in the staff and that her decisions would be supported by the principal. Wheat Townsend describes the work and moves of Taylor as a catalytic leader:

The Work

Influences teacher instructional decisions

Coaching Moves

Recognizes the power of data to promote change in teacher beliefs about students

Develops a sense of urgency for teachers to make student learning a priority

Creates conditions for teacher self-empowerment

Provides feedback to teachers on instruction through use of a rubric

Uses questions to promoter personal and teacher thinking

The Work

Navigates pivotal conversations

Coaching Moves

Gives teachers a varied perspective in approach to instruction of students

Taylor was able to maximize her effectiveness because she was working in collaboration with a principal who shared her viewpoints, valued her expertise, and trusted her work. What might we learn from this case study? Consider some of the following:

How important is the relationship of the principal to the coach?

How does the climate of the school impact the work of the coach?

How can a coach maximize effectiveness given the context of the school?

How does the identity of the coach impact his/her work?


Wheat Townsend, J.D. (2016). Context-Specific Coaching: Discovering the Complexities of Using Coaching with Teachers and Principals (Doctoral dissertation).

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