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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

Defining the Work of the Coach

Authored By:

Thinking Collaborative


November 03, 2014

This month, we will explore some of the variables that should be considered in implementing coaching positions in schools. Some districts have instituted coaching programs without careful consideration of variables that can ensure success and have had less than productive returns on the investment. By being thoughtful about what is fundamental to successful implementation, this valuable resource can result in greater student learning.

Finding 1.The work of the instructional coach must be explicitly defined and all should know expected outcomes. One of the greatest obstacles to success of coaching programs is a misunderstanding of the expectations of the position. Stakeholders served by the coach must be educated as to the scope and intention of the new role. Principals sometimes see the position as extra help with administrative tasks such as assessment. Teachers might perceive the coach as another person coming into the classroom to evaluate their performance and correct them. Parents might see the coach as a person to work individually with their child. These potential misunderstandings can be alleviated through careful implementation practices. A system must take time to clearly define and document the targeted outcomes of a coaching program and the roles of the coach in a job description. Stakeholders being served by the coach must be educated as to the scope and intention of the new role. Costa and Garmston (2003) assist us by defining three support functions that coaches might use:

Cognitive CoachingSM – a reflective process that invites self-directedness through increased efficacy, flexibility, craftsmanship, consciousness, and interdependence.

Collaboration – a shared thought process where the coach and the teacher work together (co-labor) regarding an issue.

Consulting – the coach serves as an expert and provides knowledge to support the teacher’s learning.

Time should be spent helping principals, teachers, and coaches understand the job description of the coach. Few have a clear understanding of this role as it is relatively new to the education landscape ­-– it is NOT a classroom teacher and is NOT and administrator(roles that are familiar to most). It cannot be assumed that because the job focus is shared once, that it is internalized by those who have been taught. One guideline, that is useful in clarifying the role of the coach is: “Does your action support the growth and development of a teacher or team in improving student learning?” This question, when applied to requests, becomes a guideline for decision-making by all players. So when asked to take playground duty, cover for a doctor’s appointment, or do bureaucratic tasks, the answer is clear and assists educators in decision-making.

How clear is your system on the purposes and goals of your coaching program?

What are some ways you have ensured an understanding of these for all stakeholders?


Costa, A. & Garmston, R. (2003). Cognitive coaching: A foundation for renaissance schools. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon.

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