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10 commandments for instructional coaches

Instructional coaches have relational influence rather than positional authority and focus on collaboration, empowerment and support.

6 min read

EducationVoice of the Educator

A mature woman discusses her work with her colleague; they are both carrying digital tablets and paper work. This is a school in Hexham, Northumberland in north eastern England. for article on instructional coaching


In education, the collaborative efforts between building administrators and instructional coaches support teacher growth and enhance student learning outcomes. Despite sharing a common goal of improving educator effectiveness and student achievement, the roles of building administrators and instructional coaches differ significantly.

Drawing a parallel to sports, where games like football and basketball share the objective of winning but differ vastly in rules, equipment and strategies, instructional coaching and administrative leadership exhibit similar disparities despite their shared goal of educational improvement. 

Yet, people often overlook the depth of these differences, leading to misconceptions and blurred lines between the roles of instructional coaches and administrators.

Central to understanding these disparities is the distinction between positional authority and relational influence, which serve as the foundational principles guiding the roles of administrators and instructional coaches, respectively.

Positional authority vs. relational influence

While positional authority and relational influence are essential for driving educational improvement, they operate from different sources and approaches within the school leadership framework.

Positional authority

  • Source of influence. The organizational structure bestows positional authority through formal titles and roles within the hierarchy.
  • Decision-making power. Building administrators have the authority to make decisions that impact school operations, policies and procedures. 
  • Enforcement. Administrators often focus on enforcing policies and ensuring compliance with regulations. 
  • Top-down. Positional authority may be exercised top-down, with administrators providing directives and expecting adherence. 
  • Scope of influence. Building administrators have a broader scope of influence that extends across the entire school community. 

Relational Influence

  • Source of influence. Relational influence is earned through interpersonal connections.
  • Decision-making power. Instructional coaches do not have decision-making authority but influence teaching practices and professional growth through collaboration and support.
  • Empowerment. Instructional coaches empower teachers by providing support, guidance and opportunities for professional development.
  • Collaborative approach. Collaborative partnerships build relational influence by coaches working alongside teachers to co-create goals and strategies for improvement.
  • Scope of influence. Instructional coaches have a more focused influence on teachers and instructional practices within specific classrooms or grade levels.

Since instructional coaches must ensure they don’t unintentionally overstep their role into positional authority, what are some guiding principles to remember?

Detail closeup of New Testament Scripture quote Thou Shalt Not for article on instructional coaching
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10 commandments of instructional coaches

  1. Build relationships.
    • Thou shall establish trust and rapport with teachers through ongoing, collaborative interactions by scheduling one-on-one meetings, actively listening to concerns and ideas during professional development sessions and providing ongoing support to each teacher’s unique circumstances and professional journey. 
    • Thou shall not prioritize administrative tasks and responsibilities over building individual relationships with teachers.
  2. Promote teacher autonomy.
    • Thou shall promote teacher autonomy by respecting their professional judgment and decision-making authority by involving them in collaborative decision-making processes regarding curriculum design, classroom management and instruction and by respecting their expertise and interests.
    • Thou shall not create and enforce top-down accountability structures that do not align with established school and district goals.
  3. Focus on teacher empowerment.
    • Thou shall empower teachers and foster a sense of ownership by providing opportunities for self-directed professional learning, setting personalized goals and fostering an environment where teachers take instructional risks and innovate their practice.
    • Thou shall not issue directives about how teachers should professionally grow or act as a decision-making authority over teacher practice.
  4. Engage in personalized goal-setting.
    • Thou shall help teachers assess their current strengths and areas for growth, set personalized goals that align with their professional growth needs and interests and provide ongoing support.
    • Thou shall not set goals for improvement that do not align with individual teacher goals.
  5. Tailor individualized support.
    • Thou shall provide support tailored to each teacher’s unique needs and preferences by conducting needs assessments, co-designing personalized professional development plans and offering differentiated coaching strategies and resources to address unique needs and preferences.
    • Thou shall not only offer support based on your coaching strengths and initiatives that may not always align with individual needs.
  6. Act as a mirror.
    • Thou shall provide reflective feedback through collaborative discussions, focusing on strengths and areas for growth and guiding teachers in self-reflection during regular coaching conversations.
    • Thou shall not provide directive feedback or judgmental critiques with expectations for implementation that undermine teacher autonomy and empowerment.
  7. Deliver non-evaluative feedback.
    • Thou shall deliver feedback in a non-evaluative manner, focusing on professional growth and improvement by asking open-ended questions, providing specific examples of effective teaching practices and offering resources and strategies to support teachers in collaboratively identified improvement.
    • Thou shall not deliver feedback in a judgmental way or as part of a performance appraisal with accountability implications.
  8. Guide problem-solving. 
    • Thou shall guide teachers through reflective problem-solving by facilitating collaborative discussions and providing frameworks and tools for structured problem-solving processes where teachers analyze challenges, brainstorm solutions and develop action plans. 
    • Thou shall not direct problem-solving processes or provide solutions and directives based on positional authority.
  9. Facilitate collaboration among teachers.
    • Thou shall encourage and facilitate teacher collaboration through peer observations, lesson studies and professional learning communities where teachers engage in collaborative discussions, share best practices and support each other’s professional growth.
    • Thou shall not direct collaborative efforts among teachers by imposing directions or assigning roles and responsibilities.
  10. Visit classrooms. 
    • Thou shall visit teachers’ classrooms to provide supportive, personalized and non-evaluative feedback to foster teacher growth, model effective instructional practices and/or co-plan lessons to support teachers in improving their teaching skills.
    • Thou shall not visit teachers’ classrooms to evaluate teacher performance, judge compliance to standards and initiatives, or collect information to report to an administrator.

To ensure clarity, instructional coaches and administrators must understand their unique roles. With their positional authority, administrators offer insights into school-wide goals, and instructional coaches, operating from relational influence, provide tailored support to teachers. While both roles operate from different sources and approaches with school leadership, by working collaboratively, administrators and coaches can leverage the strengths of both roles to create a supportive environment that empowers teachers, fosters continuous improvement and ultimately benefits student learning. 

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own. 


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