Coaches and Principals Need Time to Reflect: 4 Reflection Questions for Summer


By Rita Bean and Jacy Ippolito, authors of Cultivating Coaching Mindsets and Unpacking Coaching Mindsets

The students are leaving the building; books are being put away; and you are getting ready to enjoy the summer season. Wait! Before you head on vacation, to your local university to take a few classes, to sit by the pool, or to do some recreational reading, it’s a great time to think back on the school year, both your successes and challenges. What have you learned, and how might it influence what you do this coming year? We think that taking time to reflect on the school year, just after it ends, can serve as a valuable tool for thinking about how you might want to approach the upcoming school year—what you want to continue doing, what you might consider changing, and what you might add to your priority list.

Perhaps most importantly, we recommend that you do this reflection “first alone” and then “with a partner.” Coach-principal pairs will be best served by doing a bit of “looking back” and “thinking ahead” together, at this critical time of year, when past successes and challenges are still fresh in our memories.

Below, we list four questions that we hope can guide your reflections. We also provide some examples as a means of stimulating your thinking. So, reach for some paper and a pen, open your laptop or iPad, and let’s begin!

1) What one or two positive memories do you have about what you did this past year—with students, teachers, families, or school staff? Given this memory (or memories), what might you do to extend this work in ways that will further student learning in the school?

  • Coach Example: As a coach, you started a book club with a 4th grade team about how to improve writing instruction, and teachers became really excited about this. In fact, they began discussing various ideas and then sharing the work of their students. Perhaps next year, you might extend the work to another grade level or transfer leadership of that club to one of the teachers in the group.
  • Principal Example: As a principal, you met with your literacy leadership team on a regular basis about student assessment results and found that the team seemed to value your presence as an indication of support for their work. Perhaps next year, you might attend grade level or academic department meetings once or twice a semester, listening to the discussions, and acknowledging the work of those teams.

Unpacking Coaching Mindsets by Jacy Ippolito and Rita Bean

2) What one or two challenges did you face that you would like to address “head-on” next year? What are some ways that you might address those challenges?

  • Coach Example: As a coach, although you would have liked to have content-area teachers participate in “walk-throughs,” as a means of professional learning, the scheduling became overwhelming and you were never able to get this effort underway. During the summer, you might do some reading about how other schools have scheduled such activities and also think about how you might work with the principal to help solve your scheduling dilemma. Sharing reading materials with your principal, or summarizing key findings, might be useful.
  • Principal Example: As a principal, you were concerned about a coach who did not seem willing or able to have “critical conversations” with teachers. You weren’t quite sure how to approach him/her about this, and then time passed, and the year slipped away. Perhaps you might plan to have a heart-to-heart conversation with the coach over the summer over coffee. What are your collective goals for coaching conversations in the next year? There may be several reasons why this coach hasn’t been able to engage in more “directive” or “heavy coaching” with teachers. As a result of your conversation, the two of you may brainstorm solutions (e.g., a one-on-one coach-teacher conversation guide or protocol; a “goal list” for working with individual teachers; etc.). The coach might want to do some additional reading, attend a workshop or class about coaching, or sit and talk with other district coaches who have been successful in working more intensely with teachers (for references and additional ideas, see Bean & Ippolito, 2016; Ippolito & Bean, 2018).

3) What do you think you can do over the summer to improve your knowledge or skills, in order to improve literacy instruction at your school?

  • Coach & Principal Example: We suggest that coaches and principals take a few minutes to reflect on what they can do over the summer to get ready for the upcoming year. This might be a good time to read that book on leadership that has been sitting on your desk, attend a literacy conference (ILA in Austin), or even meet over lunch with a few friends who have similar positions to talk about ways in which you might address specific dilemmas related to your position.

4) Given student literacy learning results at your school, what two or three priorities do you think are important to address next year?

  • Coach & Principal Example: We suggest that the principal and the coach independently identify 2-3 priorities that they think are important if the school is going to make additional progress in the area of literacy instruction. Then share your lists, look for similarities, and talk about possible ways to begin addressing what is most important next year.
  • Coach & Principal Example: Given the importance of the principal-coach relationship, we suggest that each of you individually complete the questionnaire in our Unpacking Coaching Mindsets book (Ippolito & Bean, 2018, Chapter 9, pp. 53-62) and then discuss the results together—the goal is to create a unified vision for literacy leadership and literacy professional learning in your school.

Now, with some reflection underway, please also make sure to take time to rest and take care of yourself over the summer! And stay tuned for our next blog entry, where we will provide some ideas to help you (as a coach-principal pair) think about setting priorities for the upcoming year. As always, please stay in touch!

Order your copy of Unpacking Coaching Mindsets today.

~Rita Bean ([email protected]) & Jacy Ippolito ([email protected])