In most types of coaching, whether life coaching, executive coaching or instructional coaching, the practice of coaching occurs within confidential relationships. There are at least three reasons for this.
First, when coaches deal with what matters to teachers, they are privileged to see and hear information most others will not see and hear. To share that private information with others is a violation of a person’s privacy. Second, coaching is much more productive when collaborating teachers are open about their ideas, thoughts, and fears. For many teachers knowing that coaching conversations are confidential makes it easier for them to talk about what really matters. Third, when we ensure that coaching is confidential, we increase the chances that teachers will choose to work with a coach.
However, not everything a coach does, can or should be confidential. For example, coaches need to keep principals informed of whom they are working with and what they are working on. ICs working with the Kansas Coaching Project discriminate between what should and should not be shared by saying that coaches do not share data or evaluative information. We communicate clearly to teachers that coaching is nonjudgmental. Coaches are partners helping teachers learn new practices, not evaluators. Indeed, in most cases ICs have no administrative training on how to evaluate teachers, so it would not be appropriate for them to evaluate teachers anyway.
In some schools confidentiality is not an issue. In especially positive, safe settings, teachers may be more than comfortable having their coach share any information. Indeed, Michael Fullan (2008) 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).
To create settings where such transparency is possible may require baby steps. In a culture where there is not a great deal of trust, confidential coaching can be the default mode, but over time, if teachers agree, more information can be shared. The greater the lack of trust initially, the more important confidentiality usually is. What is most important is that principals and coaches clearly delineate what they will and will not discuss, communicate that policy across the school, act consistently with the policy. Perceived betrayal of trust can severely damage a coaching relationship. For example, when a teacher says something to a coach that she think will be kept privately by the coach, and then discovers that what she said was shared with others, it may be impossible for the coach to ever win back the teacher’s trust.
This is the first of several weekly excerpts from my new book, Unmistakable Impact: A Partnership Approach for Dramatically Improving Instruction. There will be one post a week up until the book is released in November.