When a group of new coaches met during a small group professional learning conference, I asked for some burning questions that they needed answered as they began their new role as instructional coaches. Hands down, the most frequently asked question revolved around the issue of confidentiality and how to answer an administrator who had good intentions but was asking the wrong question. Instead of asking what the administrator could do to support teachers, the administrator asked what happened between the coach and teacher during their planning consultation and subsequent classroom visit.
Administrators need to know what is going on in their building but must balance that with the sensitivity about confidentiality. They need to collect first-hand information about instructional delivery, classroom management, teacher needs, and student learning. This can be accomplished as they walk around the building and engage in classroom observations, teacher talks, and student focus group conversations. This data cannot be collected through conversations with the coach, even if the conversation boasts a positive description of what happened in an individual’s classroom.
So, how does a coach finesse this kind of conversation? First of all, building awareness of the coaching role as a confidential conversation between professionals is critical. The coaching model needs to be rolled out to the faculty with the coach and administrator side-by-side, each giving the other support and lending credibility about how coaching works. Next, the coach must reiterate to the teachers that the work between the coach and teacher will not be shared unless the teacher shares the conversation with the administrator absent the coach. Thirdly, the administrator must not ask the coach questions about any individual teacher’s performance, knowledge base, skill set, or instructional needs. Instead, the administrator should co-plan with the coach the kinds of professional development offered to all teachers and then make time to walk around the building to observe the level of implementation without involving the coach in the conversation.
When coaches do not directly answer administrators, they are not being insubordinate; they are being discreet, confidential, and respectful of their teaching colleagues. And, they are diplomatically reminding administrators to be visible and walk around their building.
Have you ever been asked to reveal some confidential information? How did you handle it?