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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 Creative Liaison and Counselor

Authored By:

Thinking Collaborative


August 27, 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 third case study of Laura.

Laura worked in a school that had a series of principals come and go. The current principal was somewhat fearful due to accountability pressure from the district and was authoritative with the staff. Laura was not included in the school leadership team. Although the principal offered verbal understanding of the role of the coach, her actions did not match how she used the coach to enhance teaching and learning. The principal even seemed neglectful of the potential for shared work with the coach. Once again, the coach assessed the context she was working in and made decisions about the identity that would best serve all the stakeholders. She worked as a creative liaison and counselor to the staff.

Creative Liaison

Laura worked behind the scenes setting her own ego aside and seeing the need to “establish and maintain community for mutual understanding and cooperation.” She was determined to be visible, do work that was relevant to the needs of the staff, be a useful servant, and work on things that were most needed and timely. Like Ryan, the nature of the culture of the building drove a great deal of Laura’s practice. Wheat Townsend describes the work and moves of the creative liaison:

The Work

Instructional coach creatively enacts essential components of a liaison

Coaching Moves

Asks the principal reflective questions

Guides conversations with the principal

Makes the invisible visible to the administrator

Laura’s conversations with the principal were based on positive presuppositions. She would strategically “teach” the principal by using language such as, “celebrate,” repeatedly with the hope the principal would pick up the kind of language that would be productive with the staff. She also helped teachers to find ways, e.g., putting labels for literacy practices they were using on their walls, to assist the principal in seeing the work the teachers were doing. Her subtle methods created new ways of seeing in the principal.


A counselor commits to assisting each client clearly analyze a problem and develop resources for solving it in a nonjudgmental manner. While personal counseling is not traditionally seen as part of a coach’s role, Laura clearly saw that the distress of teachers had to be addressed if they were to work productively on instructional issues. She pushed the boundaries of coaching in assuming this role. She was committed to seeing accomplishments for students without taking any personal credit. Her self-awareness of her own values and beliefs allowed her to feel comfortable in the choices she made. Her identity as counselor differed from other coaches.

The Work

Instructional coach supports teachers professionally and personally

Coaches Moves

Uses flexible approaches to build relationships with teachers

Helps teachers coach and resolve problems

The Work

Instructional coach takes a reflective stance

Coaches Moves

Exhibits empathy and understanding with teachers

Uses analogies as a tool to reflect on and understand current reality

Laura’s ability to see counseling as a means to a greater end served her staff. By working as a creative liaison, she was able to stretch both the principal and the staff in order to contribute to the well-being of all. Her identity was driven by her capacity to empathize with the difficulties of teachers and act non-judgmentally to invite reflection by the principal.

Consider these questions as you analyze this case study:

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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