Instructional Coaching: Leverage Assistant Principals

Learning is strongest when instructional coaching responsibilities are shared.

By Sandra A. Trach
September 2015, Volume 39, Issue 1

While instructional coaching has proved to be an important factor in developing teacher practice, and principals are key to instructional coaching, principals’ broad spectrum of responsibilities often leave them without enough time to manage the instructional coaching process on their own. This is increasingly true given many states’ new time-intensive teacher evaluation systems. Principals should leverage the support of other school leaders to lead the school through an instructional coaching process.

Assistant Principal
Principals should not overlook assistant principals as partners in the instructional coaching process. The principal and assistant principal must be synchronized in their understanding of effective instruction, including how to recognize it and provide meaningful and strategic feedback in a timely way. These efforts take time and effort on the principal’s part, and must be scheduled into the week as a leadership priority. Here are some strategies for leveraging your assistant principal.


Use common language. Develop a common lexicon that supports instructional coaching and the teacher evaluation system. This common vocabulary, in turn, becomes the common language of the school used among teachers and even students and parents.

Connect the instructional vision to visible examples in practice. Together, engage in shared walkthroughs and discuss classroom observations to recognize the essential elements of effective practice, and provide specific feedback around these in coaching experiences and teacher evaluations.

Make time for reflection and dialogue. Time for the principal and assistant principal to routinely retreat and reflect is critical in helping to synchronize instructional vision and practice. You can be open and honest with one another in a mutually supportive and safe way about what you are observing, while also inviting questions and offering feedback to each another.

Help each other refine feedback. Listening to your colleague talk through anticipated feedback for a teacher, whether coaching or evaluative, is one of the most invaluable professional learning experiences for the principal and assistant principal alike. An administrative colleague provides a much needed safety net with objective listening, constructive questioning, and meaningful feedback.

Provide mutual support and encouragement. Leading instructional change cannot happen in a silo. A principal and assistant principal must serve as a model instructional team that supports one another with the instructional intensity of daily coaching responsibilities, as well as the high volume of teacher evaluations each day.

Instructional Coaches
A principal and instructional coach partnership can help further district, school, and individual student goals, often simultaneously. Principals should maximize the use of instructional coaches—whether they are in formal staff roles within the building, or in the district. These resident experts possess a deep understanding of the curriculum and classroom implementation needs, and can support leadership efforts around curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

A principal can support instructional coaches by bridging desired learning outcomes to the expected proficiencies on the teacher evaluation system. The principal/instructional coach relationship is a major catalyst in supporting teachers within the curriculum, instruction, and assessment cycle—across grades and settings. When principals describe instructional expectations in detail, coaches then have a clear instructional target for which to help all teachers aim, and this helps grow teacher practice accordingly.

Growth and Renewal
Instructional coaching is a highly effective, job-embedded development strategy. It involves reciprocity of ideas, questions, strategies, and experiences that stimulates thinking and results in growth for each educator involved in the process. In turn, this growth positively impacts student learning. Effective coaching is flexible and responsive to the needs of each educator, providing teachers both the autonomy they are seeking to take risks and purpose to make meaningful and lasting changes in their practice. Instructional coaching helps teachers strategize these changes and move forward in a way that also benefits students, themselves, and the entire school.

Coaching will only thrive if teachers feel safe and supported. Principals are responsible for setting the tone and creating the conditions where instructional coaching is supported by leadership, norms, and protocols. By inspiring purpose, adopting instructional change, and sustaining energy for learning, coaching creates positive energy and professional renewal that revitalizes and benefits the school culture in a lasting way.

Sandra A. Trach is principal of Estabrook Elementary School in Lexington, Massachusetts.

*Read the full version of this Principal magazine article, “Inspired Instructional Coaching.”

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