The Principal as a Coach

Last year I wrote a post titled “Getting Started with Student-Centered Coaching”. It was a reflection after sitting down with each one of my teachers for 1/2 hour twice during the year. The interventionists and principals in my district had recently received training from Diane Sweeney, author of Student-Centered Coaching. Me being the go-getter, I had to dive right in and try it out. During these sessions, I focused on asking predetermined questions to a) get to know my teachers better (I was new to the building), and b) provide some reflective guidance for staff to help them consider their own practices.

I remember feeling exhausted after two full days of concurrent coaching sessions. Don’t get me wrong; I did enjoy listening to each teacher’s plan for the year with their students. I think I felt this way because I may have been doing a bit more of the mental work, in terms of preparing for the sessions and directing the conversations.

(Image retrieved from

This year, I made a few changes. First, I finished reading Student-Centered Coaching. There was some good information about how coaches can vary the way they work with staff based on a variety of factors, such as gender or what generation they came from. For example, females prefer to face who they are talking to, while males prefer to sit side-by-side. Having an almost all female staff, I made the switch. Also, I attempted to differentiate the way I listened and complemented the baby boomers, who prefer recognition, and the millennials, who seek meaning in their work. Just making a few environmental shifts in my approach seemed to improve our conversations.

Another noted change is the way the coaching sessions were facilitated. I still had my list of four to five questions to use. The difference was I only used them to keep conversation going as needed. Last year, I read the list as a script, which was helpful as I was new to coaching. This year, I still had the questions to the side but gave the teacher more control over the conversation. In fact, my first question I asked most of my staff was, “Is there anything in particular you would like to focus on?”. The majority of the time, the teacher eagerly accepted this invitation. And before we knew it, our 1/2 hour was up.

One additional change from last year to this year is approaching my role as a coach as more of a learner. My questions were not rhetorical or prescribed; very often I asked teachers to tell me more about what they were sharing because I truly did not have the answer and wanted to learn more. One of the sessions ended with the teacher showing me how to use a behavior management tool on the iPad. Who’s coaching who?

With this year’s coaching sessions completed and time to reflect, I am impressed with how independent my staff is with regard to their instructional focus and how they are innovating in the classroom. They are willing to set the bar high for the expected student outcomes. If their students don’t hit the mark, it won’t be for lack of effort or not implementing best practices. That we developed these goals and plans together puts us on the same team: a group focused on helping students achieve their learning goals and experience success.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District ( Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD ( and Lead Literacy (

2 thoughts on “The Principal as a Coach”

  1. Matt,
    Your blog post is a very nice transparent view of the learning (and sources) that changed your coaching sessions from last year to this year. You mentioned the high level of independence of your staff in relationship to their focus. How did you feel after these sessions? Less exhausted?


    1. I actually felt like I had more energy after the coaching sessions. Kind of like teaching after a day of lessons that go really well in the classroom. I wanted to keep going, listening to how the teachers were addressing their students’ needs. I think the difference was allowing the teachers to drive the discussion more and less of me controlling the conversation. And as Dr. Marcia Tate states, whoever is doing the talking is doing the learning. Wise words!

      Great question Fran, thanks for asking.


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