By Ellen Eisenberg

By Ellen Eisenberg, Executive Director of The Professional Institute for Instructional Coaching (TPIIC)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

I don’t know if I worry more about confidentiality or accountability when thinking and talking about instructional coaching. It seems those two terms are intertwined yet they maintain their own individuality at the same time. For instance, it’s clear to me that a conversation between a coach and teacher is private; only the teacher can share the details with another person. But, what if the administrator asks about the coaching support? Shouldn’t that conversation be between the coach and teacher as well? Should administrators ask teachers to discuss or assess how the coach is supporting them? Where is the confidentiality there?

If the coach is held accountable and “responsible for growth” around the work s/he does with the teacher, what is confidential and who is accountable for changes in practice…the coach who maintains confidentiality and works to share effective practices with teachers or the teachers who need to integrate new learnings into their repertoire and then must demonstrate their understanding of their work with the coach so the administrators can evaluate effective instructional practices?

So accountability is troublesome… we are all accountable, individually and collectively, for student growth and school wide improvement but are we really responsible for growth or the lack of growth when there are so many variables for which we cannot claim responsibility? What if a student has been out of school for personal and family challenges and misses a tremendous amount of time? Are we responsible for that student’s performance when we cannot control his/her attendance? Teachers can give make-up work but how can the actual missed time be replaced? Can we expect a teacher to provide the work, time, and critical classroom conversations that a student misses? (Homebound instruction is not always available and doesn’t include the valuable classroom collaboration.)

The coach and teacher work together to share effective instructional practices, model and co-teach the content, reflect on the strengths of the lesson, and make changes for future instruction. Where does the accountability for student attendance and its impact on student performance enter this equation? If the student is out of school and his/her performance suffers, are the teacher and coach responsible? (Of course, there are school policies that must be followed with student attendance.) Tough call…

What are your thoughts about confidentiality and accountability?


  1. The line between confidentiality and accountability in coaching is indeed a tough call and a conversation I just had with a coach. In coaching we are often asked by administrators to work with a teacher whose data may not indicate students are showing improvement or the recent observation he/she had indicated deficits in instructional practice. Even though the PIIC model is not a deficit model, how can a coach navigate the request of the administrator or ignore the teacher in need with supporting student achievement improvement? How is confidentiality maintained or trust not compromised? The premise held is that we all want to be effective in our teaching practices and accountability measures are a reality in education, so the line is drawn thin for coaches in balancing confidentiality and accountability. Discussion and plans for the role of coaches in a district needs to be transparent and understood by administrator, coach and teachers. One thing is sure, the minute an instructional coach crosses the line into evaluative practices, it is a long, long road to return to being the trusted and confidant coach.

  2. Hi. One of the ways to control this kind of situation is to remind the principal that s/he should not make evaluative comments about teachers to you, the coach. Instead, the principal should remind the teacher to seek out the coach so that the teacher asks the coach to work with him/her rather than the coach being "assigned" to work with a teacher who has been placed on an improvement plan.
    The coach should not ignore either the principal or teacher but reminding both of the coach's roles is very important. Again, the key to confidentiality is how the coaching model is rolled out to the staff. Effective coaching practice includes the coach working with teachers with whom a relationship has been established. When a principal, however, "assigns" coaches to work with certain teachers, the coach needs to discuss effective instructional coaching with the administrator and suggest that the teachers be given opportunities to interact with the coaches first; ALL teachers should be offered the opportunity, not only those who have been identified as needing support.