3 Psychological Needs for Coaches to Flourish

Header - Shields - 3 Psychological Needs

Coaches can't truly flourish when they're feeling overwhelmed, restricted, or their psychological needs aren't being met. Samantha Shields, an early literacy specialist in Round Rock, Texas believes that ICs have three key needs that organizations must respect in order for a coach to be successful.


here are both intrinsic and extrinsic factors that bring about motivation and determination. In the workplace we have psychological needs which, when they're met, help improve engagement, motivation, and performance. When these needs are not met—or are unsupported—it can lead to diminished health and well-being.

Starting out as an instructional coach, I was eager to coach wholeheartedly. I was ready to align my values, learning, and beliefs with a campus to impact teacher practice and student learning. Unfortunately, my first year as a coach was devastating. My administrators told me I wouldn't have autonomy to coach, and they expected me to work in the same way as the IC before me. I was also limited in the choices I could make when supporting teachers.

Working in this challenging environment meant that many of my psychological needs were either not met or taken away. Speaking from personal experience, I can say that having my autonomy, choice, and ability to be authentic taken from me lowered my sense of confidence and self-worth. Reflecting on my experience, I’ve been able to pinpoint these three foundational needs as the ones all ICs need to have met in order to thrive in their role.

1) Autonomy

According to the Self-Determination Theory, autonomy is the need to be in charge or in control of our experiences and actions. This is different from the idea of autonomy as the independence to do whatever you want.

When I think back to when that administrator told me I wouldn't have autonomy to coach, I now see that each of us had different ideas about autonomy. To them, I was asking for freedom to do whatever I wanted, whereas I was simply asking for some choice in how I coached. Knowing this, it's important for coaches to establish a common vision with school leaders of what it means for a coach to have autonomy.

A coach with autonomy can become the coach they seek to be, in a way which is authentic to their beliefs, values, and potential. Coaches have lots of theories, research, and beliefs to put into practice as they become a more competent coach. Being offered the autonomy to coach by an administrator can alleviate the pressures a coach faces as they learn and adapt through trial and error.

2) Flexibility

A coach should have the trust of their admins to respond to the needs of the campus, within the guidelines of the district, state, and stakeholder directives. This could simply be a coach having a voice and choice in what coaching models to use based on their teachers, coaching goals, and the unique situations that arise. When a coach's ability to have choice is taken away, it can lead to a decrease in work productivity, motivation, level of competence, and even work satisfaction.

Other examples of choices coaches can make might include:

  • Choice in the style of coaching to pursue,
  • Choice in how teachers determine their emotionally-compelling goals during coaching, or
  • Choice in how to set up coaching cycles.

3) Personality

When a coach is expected to follow in the footsteps of previous coaches, their motivation fades. If a coach doesn't have adequate support or an authentic relationship with their stakeholders and administrators, they're unlikely to feel that they can be authentic with their teachers.

A coach should be able to create an environment that is conducive to their coaching style and beliefs, within the guidelines of their stakeholders.

Coaches can flourish in an environment that welcomes and invites us to be honest, open, and vulnerable. This begins when we can share our history, experiences, and raw emotions without fear of being judged. It's so important because teachers strive to work with a coach who is honest with them, who is not afraid to admit when they don't know something, and who isn't afraid to use their past experiences and knowledge to teach and learn alongside other educators.

Final note

Autonomy, flexibility, and personal style are foundational coaching needs that must be met for a culture of coaching to excel. It's important to remember that without them a coach's level of competence—that is, their knowledge and ability to do something—erodes, leading to a breakdown in their effectiveness or a coaching program as a whole.

About our Guest Blogger

Samantha Shields is an Early Literacy Specialist in Round Rock, Texas who coaches and supports teachers through the learning of The Texas HB3 Reading Academies and Early Literacy Skills.

She has a skill base for coaching and supporting teachers in authentic ways that help them meet their goals for student success and professional growth. Samantha has a passion for coaching teachers in Literacy, with an emphasis on Early Literacy Skills, to help every teacher feel equipped and knowledgeable with the learning and experience they need in order to help every child become a successful reader and writer.

Outside of the workplace, she is in the process of establishing a professional blog for instructional coaches and classroom teachers to grow and learn in their practice together called Confessions of a Coachaholic. Also, Samantha is in the process of writing a book for ICs!

Be sure to connect with Samantha on Twitter @SamShieldsCoach!

Continue reading more great posts!