Customized Principal Coaching: Tailored Development Programs to Transform School Leadership

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Principal leadership coaching provides an opportunity for a school leader to build a partnership with an experienced thought partner who can help them think through different challenges or new ideas. 

In this piece, you will gain an understanding of how principal coaching can advance leadership practices and the importance of protecting time for self-development.

I will share what I have learned by having led a portfolio of 11 principals. 

Coaching provides an alternative support that is often in addition to traditional management structures, and can create a more judgment-free, open collaborative environment.

Through coaching, these principals are receptive to brainstorming new ideas based on their learning about effective leadership and instructional practices.

In coaching sessions, I serve as a thought partner and use coaching strategies to guide thinning and support principals to integrate various data sources to identify focus areas and solutions.

As an Ensemble Leadership Coach, I use previous experiences to support principals with setting and accomplishing goals to better meet the needs of their multilingual learners by improving instructional practices. 


What is principal coaching?


Principal coaching typically involves sessions with an experienced coach where principals can work with a skilled thought partner to address challenges or plan for the implementation of new initiatives or ideas.

A coach can provide content or leadership expertise and help the principal with structures to address challenges or manage the change management process.

Ensemble coaching initially focuses on building the coaching relationship to ensure a safe space for principals to share their challenges and areas of improvement without judgment. Coaches will help principals identify strengths to celebrate and maintain and areas of improvement to work on with paced action steps. 

Some of the common obstacles that principals will collaborate with coaches around are:

  • Funding for dedicated staff 
  • Competing agendas and time


Some of the challenges with implementing coaching can be:

  • Closed mindset and perspective tha coaching is only a resource for struggling principals
  • Inconsistent and ineffective coaching strategies that don’t lead to clear progress


What is the role of a principal coach?


A principal coach helps the principal set and achieve goals that better meet the needs of their teachers, students, and school community. The principal coach is often a non-manager leader who creates an open space to transparently discuss data, challenges, and possible solutions.


What is the impact of principal coaching?


The main impact is improved instructional practices and increased student performance due to the improvement of the principal’s skills.

Also, principal confidence and mindset have improved through coaching. Leaders have expressed appreciation when they feel safe and supported to learn how they can improve teaching and learning. 


What does a typical principal coaching session look like?


Most principal coaching happens one-on-one to enable relationship building, transparency, and vulnerability. Within a one-on-one session, a few activities can take place:

  • Discussion and problem-solving: Coaching sessions provide an opportunity to opportunity to design plans for teacher coaching, schedules, staffing, or professional development (PD) sessions. 
  • Data review: A guided opportunity to review data, discuss root causes, and brainstorm next steps.
  • Classroom walkthroughs: A collaborative classroom visit to collect data on implementation of instructional strategies and a discussion of next steps for instructional leadership

At times, coaching can be virtual. These sessions would not include any classroom walkthroughs but still provide the opportunity for data review, discussion, and goal-setting.

The goal of a one-on-one session would be to collaborate and discuss in order to set a clear goal that can be followed-up on in the  next coaching session.

Coaching can also occur in small groups, which enables coaching as well as peer collaboration. For example, in the Texas Dual Language Project, we facilitate four professional learning communities (PLCs) for principals throughout the year. 

Typically, PLCs include learning around common trends we see during walkthroughs across campuses and we provide an opportunity for principals to share their successes and challenges around dual language. 

During the coaching process, the principal and coach identify areas of strengths and improvement based on data, determine action steps they will take to address improvement needs, and the coach will provide the next steps for support and resources. 


What does successful principal coaching look like?


The first sign of success is that the principal protects time to attend coaching sessions as scheduled. 

As a previous principal, when I felt safe, I would share true challenges, admit areas of struggle, and follow through with action plans. 

As a current coach, I view the same as success. 

When principals used our time to plan out professional development or tough conversations, they valued the time and support provided during our sessions. 

At Ensemble Learning, we have qualitative and quantitative ways of measuring the success of principal coaching. Most imporatntly, we gather ongoing feedback from principals to ensure coaching is meeting their needs. We also examine indicators of improving instructional leadership, such as longer term student data.


Want to implement principal coaching?


At this point, you are likely curious about the potential benefits of implementing principal coaching in your school or district.

It is key to remember that principal coaching is best when:

  • Principals are receptive to support
  • Principals protect time for their professional learning
  • Principals feel safe to share challenges and areas of improvement
  • Areas of improvement are rooted in date

Partnering with Ensemble Learning means principals will feel safe acknowledging challenges and receiving support to address areas for improvement.

If you’d like to explore the possibilities of implementing principal coaching, book a call with one of our leaders.

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