What I’ve learned about setting coaching partnerships up for success

For me, coaching is about collaborative problem-solving. In order for those efforts to be successful, we need to establish a baseline of psychological safety and trust for the educators we’re collaborating with. And to do that, we need to build a fuller understanding of who they are. Thinking about my collaborations with educators deepened my interest in substantive personality tests. I’m a big proponent of the Enneagram, but for something introductory and still quite powerful, I recommend the True Colours Test here. Whether you take these tests yourself or invite your team to do them and share their results with you, the most important takeaway is this: Developing an awareness of each educator’s priorities, how they interact with the world and how they see themselves lays the groundwork for powerfully effective observations and feedback.

When I visit a classroom, I make sure to communicate that I’m never observing a lesson with the purpose of evaluating the teacher. Providing an evaluation is very different from providing specific, personalized and growth-oriented feedback. I count it as a win when teachers feel comfortable enough to invite me into their classroom while they’re actively working on a challenge. There’s real vulnerability there, whether that educator is trying something totally new, looking for solutions to a specific challenge, or simply looking to make a few refinements. So when I’m invited, I want to honor that opportunity by gathering the most helpful information possible. Here are a few tools I’ve created to help make the most of each observation opportunity:

When giving feedback I want to be able to provide teachers with focused feedback based on success criteria. So, because of that I use the coaching observations that have our district goals and high-impact strategies.

The wonderwall adds clarity to professional learning. Before a session, we go over the Why, What, When and How. Then having the minute-by-minute agenda helps teachers ease anxiety. 

After an observation, I adjust how I deliver feedback to set our continued partnership up for success. For some colleagues, having a clear and specific rubric will feel more accessible and affirming than leading with open-ended questions. Some might feel more engaged if I incorporate small standout details I notice throughout their lessons, to show that I’ve really been paying attention to them as an individual. With others, I can help strengthen our relationship by sandwiching challenging feedback with positive feedback. It all depends on who they are and the experiences they’re bringing to our collaboration. The part that’s up to me is taking the interest and the initiative to find out – so I can be a more effective partner to educators as they explore, strategize and continually improve. 

Gaining those insights allows me to personalize the coaching cycle as a whole, from our initial conversations to the strategies we select and the reflections we carry forward to the next challenge. For me, the power of instructional coaching is not about having an immediate “fix” but about responsiveness, creativity and collaboration. Everyone wants to be seen, heard and valued for who they are and what they most naturally bring to the classroom. If you’re interested in stepping into a coaching role or helping your team get the most out of instructional coaching, try bringing more of who they are into the coaching process.