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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

Context-Specific Coaching

Authored By:

Thinking Collaborative


August 06, 2018

The position of instructional coach is relatively new in public education, first appearing in the early 1990s. Much is misunderstood about the work of an instructional coach due to conflicting messages in the literature, unique interpretations of the work among districts, and conflicting philosophies in the coaching literature.

While much has been written about the roles and functions of instructional coaches, there is little or no published work on the inner thought processes of coaches, the daily work of making meaning of the position, and the relationship with the principal. Jennifer Wheat Townsend’s doctoral dissertation has been shared with Thinking Collaborative. It is an excellent source of insight into many of the questions which have not been addressed regarding coaching. We thank her for her permission to use excerpts from her dissertation.

The qualitative case study of three coaches uses metaphors to capture their lived identities. She 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. In the following weeks, we will briefly explore Wheat Townsend’s findings for each of the three case studies.

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

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