Written by Gen
A literacy coach will have multiple allegiances: to the teachers, to the other coaches, and to the administrators. It’s a really tough balance to maintain, so coaches have to be extra careful not to cross the lines of confidentiality between the teachers and administrators that they work with.
The purpose behind the 100 Positive Experiences that you see on this blog is to help literacy and instructional coaches foster good relationships with the teachers they work with. A fast way to shut down the lines of communication between a coach and a teacher is to accidentally create the impression that the teacher’s performance is not confidential from other teachers or administrators.
As someone who may be responsible for reporting to administrators, coaches may find themselves in situations where they are asked to share information about teachers. It is imperative that, as a coach, you do not discuss specific information about teachers with your administrators. There are few faster ways to undermine a relationship with a teacher than to have word get out that something they’ve done or said has been communicated to someone else by you. With that said, it might not be unusual to encounter questions similar to these during meetings with your administrators:
- How is Mrs. Smith doing with guided reading?
- Who do you think needs you to help more often?
- Which teachers haven’t signed up to meet with you yet?
- Why do you think Mr. Smith’s data looks like this?
Here are a few tips to answer questions like these without breaching the trust of the teachers you work with:
Avoid any comments about teachers that are judgmental in nature: negative or positive.
That means avoiding saying things like:
“It’s not going well because…” as well as, “Everything is great!”
Both ways imply your judgment, and a teacher will feel just as uncomfortable if an administrator says either, “your coach has some concerns about…” or, “your coach had some nice things to say about…” Even when confronted with a compliment, the teacher may be thinking that if you’re willing to discuss what’s going well, you might be just as willing to discuss what’s not going well and no one wants to feel like that.
Try this type of neutral language, instead:
“It would probably be best for you to visit a lesson yourself to fully understand what the teacher is working on.” Or, “Guided reading is complex. One goal of the grade-level is…”
If you really get backed into a corner, you may need to be explicit:
“As a coach, it is vital for me to have trusting relationships with teachers, so I won’t be able to give specific information about an individual teacher.”
Be prepared with information that you can share with the administrator. Such as:
- Grade-level goals
- Topics you’ve been addressing (without attaching them to specific teachers)
- Grade-level data (again, not attached to individual teachers)
- Overall plans for helping teachers deepen their knowledge about specific areas of teaching (of course, without attaching them to specific teachers)
- Trends among all teachers that you have noticed and are using to inform your coaching decisions.
Communicate with your administrators how you go about maintaining confidentiality. Being transparent with your administrators at the beginning of every year can lead to fewer uncomfortable moments during the school year. Here are a few things to think about sharing:
- Trust between a teacher and coach is crucial to effective coaching
- Specific teacher data and information cannot be shared without the permission of the teacher
- Administrators should follow district procedures for observing classrooms when concerns arise
- Coaches will share general trends and overall plans
Coach-to-Coach and Coach-to-Teachers
It’s important to maintain confidentiality when it comes to administrators, but it’s also equally important to maintain confidentiality among other teachers and coaches as well. It’s very easy to accidentally share information about your cooperating teachers when you are having casual conversations with other teachers and fellow coaches. Here are a few things to be aware of to help:
- If you are seeking support from a fellow coach, be sure to give information about the situation, without giving information that would give away who you are talking about. Avoid mentioning grade level, teacher names, student names, and any other specifics that might make it easy for the other coach to figure out who it is.
- Sharing information about a teacher to other teachers is also a big breach of confidentiality. Be careful not to vent to a teacher, even if it’s your best friend. Most people know not to say bad things about one teacher to another, however, what may not be as clear is that sharing good things about one teacher to another is also a breach of confidentiality. Even though you may have very good intentions, if you want to share something positive that a teacher has done with other teachers, remember that it may feel like you are putting that teacher on a pedestal to the others and damage the relationship between teachers. Instead, you can ask that teacher to share her experiences herself at the next group meeting. It is so important that you not make it seem like you favor one teacher’s approach over another, that you may need to accept the fact that you won’t be able to share the teacher’s idea. Remember, a coach’s role is to deepen teachers’ understanding of teaching. If you are creating networks of collaboration between the teachers, all of the good ideas will be shared eventually, without your help.
Maintaining confidentiality is a tough rule of thumb for a literacy or instructional coach. It may feel isolating, particularly if you have previously been a classroom teacher and can no longer have candid venting sessions with your colleagues. If you are seeking to have trusting relationships with the teachers you work with, however, it is a rule that must be adhered to very strictly.
Want to keep the positive experiences going? Check out previous posts regarding 100 Positive Experiences, including:
- 100 Positive Experiences: How Literacy Coaches can develop strong relationships with teachers
- #1: Be on time. Every time.
- #2: Work harder than the teacher
- #3: No Agendas
- #4: Really listen
- #5: Build relationships
- #6: Spend time in the right places