By Ellen Eisenberg

By Ellen Eisenberg, Executive Director of The Pennsylvania Institute for Instructional Coaching (PIIC)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Supervision vs. coaching… how many times has the question emerged… can a coach be a supervisor or principal of the school?

That’s a really important question and deserves some discussion. While it is true that some principals do coach, they still have the responsibility for holding teachers accountable for making changes that the principals suggest.

Cathy Toll has a clear distinction between coaching and supervising. She says that a coach is “One who helps teachers to recognize what they know and can do, assists teachers as they strengthen their ability to make more effective use of what they know and do, and supports teachers as they learn more and do more.”  Her definition of supervisor is also to the point. A supervisor is, “One who ensures that teachers meet the requirements of their positions at a satisfactory level and continue to do so over time.”

Here’s where I disagree with Cathy. She also says that when supervisors move teachers beyond satisfactory demonstration of their work, they are coaching. I’m not convinced… whether they are evaluating the teacher’s work in real time or helping them understand ways to improve their practices for future work, a supervisor “tells” more than “listens” and that differs greatly from how coaches work with teachers.

Yes, I think principals can give sage advice about teaching and learning. However, they still wear the hat of evaluator and know that whatever they suggest to teachers needs to be followed. Coaches are more likely to help teachers make their thinking visible and discuss what worked well in classrooms. The coach’s influence is more subtle and grows over time, helping teachers take ownership of their learning and building confidence, skills, and content knowledge; a principal or supervisor’s influence may be more observable, requiring the teacher to make immediate changes as “suggested” by the principal.

Have you experienced any situations where the coach is also a supervisor as well? How are those two roles kept separate?

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