Years of research made the argument that a partnership approach is instrumental to effective coach-teacher collaboration. Teachers learn better in spaces where they can take ownership of their learning and collectively participate in the learning process with peers. The Dynamic Learning Project pilot (DLP)1 teachers who described coaching as a partnership with shared responsibilities reported greater improvement in addressing their classroom challenges. These teachers described joint decision-making in their collaboration with their coach and viewed their coach as a thought partner with whom they collectively found solutions to teaching challenges.
Jim Knight defines seven principles—equality, dialogue, reflection, praxis, choice, voice, and reciprocity—that together describe the attitude that coaches should hold to build a partnership with teachers. Following Knight’s conceptualization, we suggest three strategies that coaches and school/district administrators can put in place to facilitate the development of partnership between coaches and teachers:
It is widely acknowledged that when administrators introduce a coaching program to their staff, providing clear information on coaching and the role of the coach is necessary for the success of that program. That being said, it is also crucial that the role of teachers be clearly defined and communicated up front. When teachers understand from the beginning what they themselves are expected to do in the coaching program, they better understand the concept of coaching, more quickly trust their coach, and are more likely to be active agents in the collaboration. As the coach-teacher collaboration matures, teachers who see themselves as partners feel increasingly empowered to take the lead in initiating ideas and applying next steps, and are better positioned to sustain and extend their progress after their formal collaboration with the coach ends.
Multiple theories of adult learning tell us that adult learners need to be able to choose their own learning opportunities based on their individual needs and interests. DLP teachers who volunteered to work with their coach reported greater improvement in addressing their classroom challenges compared to teachers who were assigned to participate in the program. Coaches and administrators can solicit teachers’ voluntary participation using the following strategies:
Teachers are more willing to volunteer to be coached when coaches and administrators create a safe environment where teachers feel comfortable trying new practices without fear of judgment. As one DLP principal explained, “The reason people engage, I think, and engage as willingly is because of the confidentiality connected to it.” This non-evaluative relationship supports partnership and open collaboration, and results in greater progress in teacher learning. DLP teachers who experienced non-evaluative coaching were more likely to see improvement in their teaching practice as a result of working with their coach.