Why Coaching Shouldn’t Be Kept Confidential

At a recent PD session, an instructional coach raised her hand and asked an innocent enough question. We had been talking about the importance of principals and coaches discussing how their coaching cycles were impacting student and teacher learning. She asked, “I’m confused. Aren’t our coaching cycles supposed to be kept confidential?” She went on to explain that confidentiality had been discussed at length in the early stages of their coaching initiative. It was an ironclad rule. One that everyone agreed was essential if coaches had any chance of building trust with teachers.

Coaching Cycles are…

  • 4-6 weeks in duration
  • Focused on a standards-based goal
  • Include at least one weekly planning session
  • Include 1-3 co-teaching sessions each week
  • Can occur with individuals, groups, or pairs

The idea of confidentiality comes from a good place. It’s about ensuring that coaching does not feel evaluative. We don’t want teachers to feel threatened by coaching, so we keep it quiet.

What bothers me is that this theory is based on the assumption that coaching is somehow bad. That it’s something to hide. It feels like a holdover to the days of using coaches to fix teachers. Sure, if we assign coaching to teachers who are novice or struggling, then some folks might want to keep it quiet. But if we frame coaching as being intrinsic to the learning community, and something everyone does, then confidentiality no longer becomes necessary.

Let’s Bring Coaching Out of the Shadows
We are better served if we build learning communities that take coaching for granted. Learning communities where it is assumed that teachers will engage. In their book School Culture Rewired, Gruenert and Whitaker (2015) identify this as a ‘collaborative school culture’ and describe the following features:

  • Teachers spend time discussing student achievement
  • Teachers seek out opportunities to observe and discuss teaching
  • Teachers are expected to participate in discussions concerning students
  • Teachers are constantly looking for new ideas
  • There is strong interdependence among teachers
  • Teachers are interested in their colleagues ideas concerning instruction
  • Teachers talk to one another about teaching practice
  • Teachers understand that school improvement is a continuous process

You can see that the list is long. But the thing is, there are no shortcuts when it comes to creating a collaborative school culture. We can’t call coaching confidential and hope that everything else will work itself out.

Trust and Respect Still Matters
Moving coaching out of the shadows requires trust and respect for teachers. We can achieve this by assuming positive intent regarding the teachers in our schools. Recognizing that we are all on continuous path of learning is the first step. It’s cliché (but true) to say that nobody is perfect. So why are we surprised when our teachers need support. What if we started the school year assuming that every teacher will need support in meeting their students’ needs? This is quite different than thinking that some teachers are okay and others need help. Teaching is hard. Expect that there will be challenges. This is where respect begins.

It’s also important to encourage teachers to engage in coaching cycles on their own terms. Allow them to choose when and with whom they’d like to engage. Listen to and build on their ideas. Celebrate their growth each and every day. This is how we build trust and respect. We don’t do it by keeping coaching in the shadows.

Other blogs on this topic:
Three Moves for Leading a Coaching Effort
How we can Avoid Coaching that Feels Evaluative
Not all Pressure is Positive Pressure

Greunert, S. and Whitaker, &. (2015). School Culture Rewired: How to Define, Assess, and Transform It. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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