Getting Buy In for New Teaching Strategies
Tips for School & District Administrators

Principal as Instructional Coach: When Your Teacher Leaders Don’t See What You See

By Terry Wilhelm

What do you do when you know that instructional practices in your school do not reflect current research on learning? Student outcomes may not be reflecting high levels of learning, but some of the teachers may blame the students or their families. I often hear principals complain of resistance, but what can you do when you encounter teacher complacency or outright resistance to changes you know are desperately needed?

To build ownership, teachers must understand the research

“A picture is worth a thousand words” holds true here. Teachers work within the confines of their individual classrooms. Even those implementing strong instructional practices may assume that everyone else is, too.

You visit every classroom, and your walk-throughs, coupled with student data, present — for you — compelling evidence of the need for change. But what if your teachers understood the research as you do, and also had your bird’s-eye view of instruction school-wide? It could make a big difference.

Shared knowledge (and frustration) increases the desire to improve

Building shared knowledge about the practices is an important first step. With your leadership team, acknowledge staff frustrations about poor student performance, and together (briefly) examine the student data, including grades, test scores, and any related indicators. Instead of presenting the research on best practices to the staff yourself, survey your leadership team for volunteers who would be willing to read the research you provide, add to it with their own research, and develop a presentation for the rest of the staff.

If possible, seek out data from schools already implementing the desired practices to be included in the presentation. More than one presentation may be needed to create demand for the changes that are needed, but you should not wait for everyone to get on board before proceeding; it is highly likely that some will continue to lag behind.

Learning Walks allow leadership teams to see new teaching strategies in action

After the initial presentation, consider instituting Learning Walks. Learning Walks are simply informal classroom walk-throughs where teachers on the leadership team — a few at a time, with the principal — gather targeted data on one or more specific strategies that the staff is attempting to implement more strongly. The data is then shared with the rest of the leadership team and the staff without mentioning specific classrooms or teachers.

For example, “In 10 out of 28 classrooms, we saw examples of __________.” Be sure to time the Learning Walks during a period of the day that the strategies are most likely to be used, and determine in advance how long members should stay in a classroom in order to optimize the chances of seeing them.

Once Learning Walks have become institutionalized, it is ideal to expand them to include other teachers on staff. In this way, as one teacher put it, “Everybody gets to see everything.”

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