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The Importance of Confidentiality in Coaching


Dr. Jim Knight is an author, instructional coach, researcher, and education thought leader. He is passionate about education, and increasing the quality of instruction.

In his book Unmistakable Impact, he writes about using a partnership approach to dramatically improve education. He further explains that this partnership requires confidentiality for three reasons:

  1. Confidentiality is important so teachers will openly share with coaches. What coaches see and hear is specific to that teacher, and is private information.
  2. Coaching is much more productive when collaborating teachers are open about their ideas, thoughts, and fears. Knowing that the conversations are being held in confidence allows the teacher to speak openly.
  3. When coaching is confidential and a teacher is sure of that, the chances that a teacher will work with a coach increases.

Confidence, trust, fearless – these elements are necessary for the kind of collaborative partnership Dr. Knight is talking about and they can only exist in a confidential environment.

An important attribute of successful coaching is to partner with the teacher. It is not a judgmental or evaluative approach. In fact, as Dr. Knight states, most instructional coaches have no administrative training to evaluate teachers, so it would not be appropriate for them to evaluate teachers anyway.

We have found that when a teacher is observed, reporting the experience from the school level reveals the most transparent information. Building goals and building initiatives for professional development can be met without having the confidentiality of the instructor violated.

A positive and safe environment can be developed. Michael Fullan identifies transparency as one of his six secrets of change, stating that “when transparency is consistently evident, it creates an aura of ‘positive pressure’ – pressure that is experienced as fair and reasonable, pressure that is actionable in that it points to solutions, and pressure that ultimately is inescapable” (p. 14).

We have seen this in practice with the Leavenworth, KS School District. Walkthrough observation data is used to guide professional development for each building. This has created a safe environment for the teachers. When an instructional coach or administrator is in their classroom, the purpose of them observing is clear. The reports then are discussed with the teachers as a entire team to help each other to improve the quality of education in the classroom.

What do you think? How do you strike the balance between confidentiality and the Principal’s “need to know?”

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