A District's Success Using Principal and Coach Partnerships

Collaboration Montage

Pasha Goodman, "coaching champion" from Fort Bend ISD in Texas, shares the benefits of having principal and coach partnership agreements and how they help create a positive school year.


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t's that time of year again: classrooms are buzzing with learning, the sound of students' footsteps fill the hallways, and parents are re-learning how to navigate those tricky carpool lines. For our department at the district office, it's time to hit the road to visit each of our campuses and engage in partnership agreement conversations with principals and their teams of instructional coaches. This is my favorite time of year because the anticipation and excitement of meeting with teams to discuss goals, strategies, and opportunities for support always re-fuels my passion for school improvement.

Dr. Trenae Hill, principal at Lantern Lane Elementary in Fort Bend ISD, looks forward to these partnership agreement meetings as well:

"The meeting sets the tone for the school year and campus. It aligns all expectations and allows laser focus to move the campus forward towards those goals. It also builds trust between the principal, instructional coach, and the coach champion."

My Role as a Coach Champion

I serve as one of the three "coach champions" for my district and our team provides coaching for the instructional coaches at 23 Title I campuses. As a coach champion, I'm responsible for providing job-embedded learning experiences for the coaches I serve. On an average day, you might find me collecting data aligned to a coach's goal for improving her PLC facilitation, co-coaching to support a new teacher, or engaging in a reflective conversation with a coach. Connie Hall, instructional coach at Palmer Elementary, describes the impact of having a coach champion on her work:

"The coaching position can sometimes be daunting. What a relief to know I have a coach champion I can email or call when I need support, clarification, or redirection. Just when I feel like I'm lost and adrift, she throws me a lifeline and reminds me, I know how to swim. At times, she suggests maybe I should just stand up; the water is not as deep as I believe it to be."

The Positive Perception of the Principal and Coach Partnership

Closing the achievement gap for all students is at the heart of all we do. The sense of urgency at our campuses is palpable and the driver for continuous improvement at each campus is the principal. Jim Knight describes the importance of establishing strong partnerships with principals:

"One of the most important factors shaping a coach's effectiveness is the support or lack of support provided by the coach's principals. When principals support coaches, the coaches usually have a very significant impact on teaching and learning. When principals don't support coaches, the coaches usually struggle to have any impact at all."

Principals face critical decisions on how to effectively support student achievement. When Knight describes principals as "not supporting" instructional coaches, I don't believe this is ever done intentionally. Rather, the administrator's day-to-day decisions and actions, with the best intentions at heart, send subtle messages which influence the perception of the instructional coaching program.

Utilizing Partnership Agreements

In their book, "Taking the Lead: New Roles for Teachers and School-Based Coaches," Joellen Killion and Cindy Harrison describe partnership agreements as a type of contract or mutual agreement that builds the relationship between all parties (in our case, district coach champions, principals, and instructional coaches) and sets expectations for the "Three Cs": clarity, communication, and collaboration.

Equipped with the knowledge on the importance of the partnership between the district, principals, and instructional coaches, our district engages each campus in a partnership agreement conversation at the start of each school year. This effort isn't a "one and done"—we also check in multiple times throughout the year to revisit our agreement where we engage in dialogue to align program and campus goals, clearly articulate how and when coachees will engage in the work, and set timelines and desired outcomes.

Asking the Right Questions

Following the work of Killion and Harrison, we make sure to ask questions and engage in careful discussion to create clarity and alignment around agenda items, such as roles and responsibilities, clients, boundaries of work, support, expected timelines, processes, communication, and confidentiality. Instructional coach at Hodges Bend Middle School, Becca Huffine, explained how important it was to have a protocol as a framework for the conversations, saying that since "the topics for discussion were presented ahead of time . . . everyone had time to process the information and think about the discussion. This created the ability for the discussion to be viewed as a true partnership."

If you're looking for examples of questions that support reflection and guide agreement for each agenda item, review our Coach Champion Protocol.

Hodges Bend Middle School principal, Dr. Ashley Causey, describes how partnership agreements—between the district coach champion, principal, and campus instructional coaching team—supports the work of instructional coaches on her campus by saying the partnerships "allow for the common expectations to be established and be reviewed throughout the year." She adds that this "is a time to collaborate on the vision for the coaching program within the outlined guidelines" and that "there should be open lines of communication so that coaches feel supported from both sides (campus and district)." It also "allows the coaches to have an advocate for them to help them navigate those boundaries with the campus."

Final Thought

We've found that the more explicit we are in our partnership agreement, the more likely we are to avoid misunderstandings and surprises throughout the school year. Each year, we tweak and modify our partnership agreement protocol, but the goals and basic framework remains the same. We invest time at the beginning of the year to establish these partnerships and reap the benefits of focus and efficiency throughout the year. The impact of our work hinges on the relationships established during these partnership agreement meetings.


About our Guest Blogger

Pasha Goodman is starting her fifteenth year in education, with eight years of experience in instructional coaching. Currently, Pasha serves as a professional learning specialist in Fort Bend ISD located south of Houston, TX. When not engaged in coaching coaches, she enjoys spending time with her husband and four sons.

Follow Pasha on Twitter @pgoodman529.

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