An Essential for Coaching: A Strong Coach–principal Relationship

Principals are essential to the success of coaches within a school. Principals’ actions as instructional leaders help coaches focus their daily work with teachers on teaching and learning by: creating structures and schedules that allow teachers to interact with coaches individually and in teams . . .”

Joellen Killion

I often think about the impact an instructional literacy coach has on teaching and learning by providing on-site, ongoing professional learning. Throughout my experience in education, I have found that instructional literacy coaches can contribute in many different ways, and that the relationship between the coach and the principal is very important.

The coach–principal relationship is an important aspect of effective literacy coaching. As an instructional literacy coach in an elementary school, I was fortunate to work with an amazing principal/instructional leader. She believed in the coaching framework and the positive impact coaching can have on teaching and learning. She supported me in creating a schedule that maximized my time working alongside teachers (modeling lessons, side-by-side coaching, coaching conversations, and leading professional learning sessions) and limited my time engaging in non-coaching roles (such as monitoring testing, lunchroom and hall duty, and administrative duties). Coaching was part of the school culture and we valued ongoing professional learning, so we made sure to create the time and space for professional learning to occur across each week and throughout the year. My relationship with the principal (as well as my colleagues) strengthened my coaching.

The following factors contributed to the success of our coach–principal relationship:

  • We established clear expectations for the role of the coach and engaged in ongoing discussions about this work, revising as needed.
  • We determined what percentage of time should be spent in each aspect of coaching with the goal of spending the most time where it was most needed. We considered:
    • How much time for professional learning?
    • How much time for data analysis?
    • How much time for planning and facilitating professional learning?
    • How much time in classrooms working alongside teachers?
  • My principal communicated to her teachers her goals, her belief that our school is a professional learning community, and her expectations of the role of coach in supporting that learning community.
  • My principal respected my relationship with the teachers, which allowed me to build trust and be a true partner in learning.
  • I respected my principal’s role as leader, and supported her goals for the professional learning community.

From my experiences, I have found that the coach–principal relationship drives the process of professional learning and creates a culture for coaching, which in turn supports teaching and learning.  To learn more, read: Principal as Instructional Leader: Designing a Coaching Program That Fits.


Joellen Killion, “Chapter 1: Coaches’ Roles, Responsibilities, and Reach,” in Coaching: Approaches and Perspectives, ed. Jim Knight (Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2007), 17.