How Coaching Leaders Delivers Instructional Shifts
“We’re taking the stance of every leader as a coach,” explains New Leaders alum Katie Carmany. Carmany provides leadership development and support to the 180 vice (assistant) principals in Fresno Unified School District in northern California. She has been serving Fresno school leaders for the past 10 years as a vice principal on ‘special assignment.’ “I believe that by developing every school leader as a coach, we can remove some of the power struggles in education and truly develop our people to support our kids.”
Recent research shows that assistant principals are “uniquely positioned to promote equitable outcomes for students.” Carmany could not agree more. She is quick to point out that vice principals interact directly with teachers. They engage with students. They support parents. Their work touches every facet of a school, every day. According to Carmany, vice principals in the district asked to develop coaching skills because they want to have conversations with their teachers about what is happening in classrooms—and then deliver stronger learning outcomes.
“I believe that by developing every school leader as a coach, we can remove some of the power struggles in education and truly develop our people to support our kids.”
A former vice principal, Carmany credits a defining moment in her New Leaders training that showed her the impact of coaching on accelerating student achievement. Every week, as part of our Emerging Leaders program, she coached the lead teacher of the English professional learning community (PLC) at her school. Together, the PLC went on to examine and leverage the writing standards, implement common formative writing assessments, collectively analyze the data, and optimize instruction as a result.
In their first six weeks, they saw a 10 percent increase in the number of students achieving proficiency. “What it confirmed for me is that when you get the right people in the room and teachers are discussing best practices for students, student learning improves.”
For Carmany, coaching surfaces and then unpacks the situation that is happening and in doing so, helps to identify how to meet the real need that underlies the situation. Often, she notes, the vice principal or the teacher already has capacity within themselves to overcome the issue. Other times, they may need to learn a particular skill or cultural competency or management strategy. As she explains, “unpacking what is happening through coaching is how we get there.”
Here are three more reasons why Carmany values coaching and is partnering with New Leaders and other national experts to develop the vice principals in her care:
Coaching is strengths-based professional development
Coaching, Carmany explains, “develops perseverance and a reflective nature.” It allows vice principals and teachers to see the capacity within themselves to meet their own needs, to make a change, and ultimately, to see challenges and opportunities through an equity lens. Coaching is also an opportunity for individualized professional development, which she adds, most leaders and teachers rarely get enough of.
Coaching moves leaders beyond operations
Research shows that most vice principals early in their tenure focus on operations rather than instructional leadership. “They’re new to the seat,” offers Carmany, “and all of a sudden, they have to think about a budget, a safety plan, dress code policies. It can be overwhelming.” But coaching, she explains, keeps the conversation on instructional leadership. She sees more and more vice principals in the district realizing that when they focus on implementing systems that address student learning, student engagement rises and dress code issues decline.
“Research shows that good teachers have the greatest impact on students, followed by an effective site leader. An effective leader can increase student learning by three months in one year. This can be done.”
Coaching removes the “blame game”
For Carmany, coaching is about empowering leaders and empowering teachers. Along the way, coaching evens the power dynamics and shifts the conversation to how do we work together more effectively. “Coaching is less about a leader having power over a teacher (‘do what I say’) and more about a leader having power with a teacher to revisit what they already know and advocate for their needs. I’ve seen coaching move leaders and teachers from ‘our kids can’t do this’ to ‘our kids can.’”
"I’ve seen coaching move leaders and teachers from ‘our kids can’t do this’ to ‘our kids can.’” ... Coaching gets to the heart of things."
“The impact is huge,” Carmany adds. “Being able to have an outside coach come in, like New Leaders, and listen to your experiences, ask you great questions, call out what you’re not seeing or what needs to shift, is eye-opening. Coaching gets to the heart of things.” Vice principals, she notes, come early for their PD sessions. They actively participate and then return to implement their new learning at their school sites—and instructional shifts follow.
Her advice to leaders right now
You are doing the right work: the work of supporting our teachers—and our custodians, our librarians, our families—in support of our students. It’s the right work.
I know we all battle with the imposter syndrome as leaders. But when you question whether or not that is true, it’s because you are being stretched and you are growing—and that means you are doing the right work. Storms don’t last forever, but we need our leaders to last.
Remember: you are built to handle whatever happens.