Both coaches and administrators work on building teachers' capacities, and while there are similarities in their roles, there are also distinct differences. Both coaches and administrators work with a variety of teachers to promote meaningful change, and as such both need to be good at developing relationships based on trust and respect so that both mentoring and challenging can occur. Both also are engaged in observing teachers, collecting data and analyzing it in order to help teachers identify their strengths and areas that need to be worked on for professional growth. Both can also look at the big picture that data is showing, for example trends and areas of need in the school. Both coaches and administrators also provide resources - albeit different ones. Coaches might work with teachers to identify workshops or online courses that would be most appropriate in helping them to achieve their goals, while administrators might be more involved in the funding of the PD opportunities. Ultimately both administrators and coaches are involved in building the community of learners within the school and promoting collaboration and reflection.
But here is where it ends. In the book Building Teachers' Capacities for Success, Pete Hall and Alisa Simeral write about the distinctions between a coach and an administrator:
- peer -v- supervisor: coaches and teachers are more equal - there is not a power issue going on - whereas administrators are mostly seen as being a "higher rank".
- constructive feedback -v- summative feedback: while both coaches and admins might observe lessons, the job of the coach is to help the teacher reflect on what could make the teaching better. Administration usually give summative feedback, for example if the work/lesson observed was satisfactory or whether it needs improvement.
- modeling lessons -v- evaluating lessons: similar to the point above, a coach is more likely to model a new instructional strategy or tool, and to take part in a classroom activity without judgement. A coach should not be in an evaluative role.
- leadership, goal setting and professional development: Hall and Simeral write that a coach is a "servant leader", putting the needs of others ahead of his own. A coach is a facilitator who works to help teachers achieve their personal goals. An administrator is what Hall and Simeral describe as a "visible leader", more responsible for setting whole school goals that apply to everyone. Both admins and coaches can play a role in goal setting, though the coach is more likely to ask teachers what they want to focus on and what support they will need, whereas the administrator may direct a goal for a teacher based on performance. Coaches provide personal professional development, whereas administrators are more likely to coordinate whole school PD.
- counseling -v- directing: coaches spend a lot of time listening, building empathy and asking questions to provoke thinking. Administrators are less inclined to empathy and are more focused on finding solutions.
- motivating -v- inspiring: I'm not sure I agree with this distinction. I think both coaches and administrators can be motivating and inspiring.
In my role at ASB I take on both hats, and I'm wondering how well I manage to combine them. As Director of Educational Technology I definitely have an administrative role, however I've also taken on the role of tech coach for two grade levels and for all the specialist teachers. I try to shift between the roles as best I can. I have a desk in the tech office and another one in the coaches office, though most of the time I'm not at either but in the learning and collaborative spaces around school. I'm pretty clear about the fact that while I may collect and analyze data, I'm not there to evaluate people - and I think most teachers do know that.
What do you think? Are you a coach or an administrator? Do you think the same person can do both roles?