Strategies for Inviting Shifts in Practice

This example provides sample questions to guide a coaching conversation that supports a candidate thinking through a challenge.

One positive outcome of coaching is for the candidate to learn to examine his/her thinking and possibly change or redevelop ideas about a topic or situation through a conversation with the coach. Through coaching techniques and questioning, a coach can facilitate this type of meta-cognition and shifts in thinking.

  • Pose a data search question (How could you find out more about that?)
  • Pose a question that invites analysis (Why do you think they responded that way?)
  • Encourage the making of new connections (How might you use what you learned today in your next meeting?)
  • Invite a shift in perceptual position (If you were that teacher, what would you be thinking?)
  • Invite creation or imagination (Imagine that you could create it from scratch - what would it look like?)
  • Seek an expression of values (Why is this important to you?)
  • Elicit a choice from among alternatives (If you could change the meeting setting or the number of participants, which might you do?) (Costa & Garmston, 1994)

High School Coaching Skills

In this scenario, a middle school "teacher of the year" becomes a high school principal, and faces early challenges, including new, local gang activity and on-going site remodeling.

  • What coaching support might be most helpful to Marcia
  • What coaching processes her coach might employ in helping Marcia understand how her own prior experience may influence her current practice

Marcia has been recently selected as the new principal for Youngtown High School (grades 9-12) which is the only high school in a diverse rural community of 17,453 inhabitants. The school district has a total enrollment of 5,281 students with one middle school (grades 7-8) that feeds Youngtown High. There are eight elementary schools of varying demographics feeding the middle school.

Youngtown High School (YHS) has a long history and has just celebrated its "centennial year" of existence. The majority of faculty at YHS have expressed a desire to adapt new practices that are part of the latest movement for making high schools more relevant and student-centered. The previous principal has been a longtime fixture at the campus, having been a teacher, coach and leader at the same campus over the past two decades. He has stepped aside from his role as principal, and now serves as the district's Director of Child Welfare and Attendance.

Marcia received accolades as a teacher leader for the past five years at Sunnyside Middle School on the opposite end of the county and in another rural community. Her middle school is considered very innovative in its approach to learning and curriculum and has served as a model for the region. The school contains grades 6-8 with 327 students and is part of a school district in a diverse farming community serving a total of 1,476 students. Numerous awards and grants have been earned for the best practices implemented at the school, and Marcia received recognition as County School Leader of the Year for her leadership at her middle school in the year prior to departing for Youngtown High School.

During the summer between Marcia's departure from Sunnyside Middle School and her arrival at Youngtown High School, the community where YHS is located has experienced a great deal of gang activity and violence. As the new principal for the high school, Marcia is participating in a number of community meetings during the summer that includes city government, local law enforcement, community services, the school district, local churches and interested community members. A plan is developed for how the increase in gang activity will be addressed throughout the community, and procedures are created that will be implemented before the start of the new school year to help address the problems experienced.

In addition to the daily challenges of managing and leading a high school, Marcia is faced with Youngtown High School undergoing a modernization of its facilities with two-thirds of the campus displaced into portable classrooms for the entire academic year. The administrative offices and most student services are all being housed in the campus library that is not part of the modernization project.

Reflection Questions:

  • What are some anticipated challenges for Marcia as she begins her new position as high school principal?
  • How might the (CASC induction coach) use the CPSEL (and Descriptions of Practice) to help Marcia identify areas of strength and need that are important for her to be successful in her job?
  • What type(s) of coaching and/or coaching "best practices" might be most helpful to Marcia?
  • What knowledge and skills might Marcia's coach need in order to be most effective in helping Marcia adjust to her new school and complete her CASC induction program?

Coach and Candidate: My new job at River Canyon High School

In In this scenario, the coach prepares to meet with the candidate and demonstrates letting the candidate lead the conversation to discuss an upcoming transition in her role.


  • How the coach prepared for the planned topic as well as anticipating other possible topics the candidate might need to discuss.
  • The coaching skills and processes employed during the conversation.

Sarah Cunningham arrives in the parking lot of River Canyon High School about 10 minutes early for her appointment with Assistant Principal, Janet Hernandez. Today is their third meeting since Sarah became Janet's coach as part of the Induction/Clear Credential Program. Janet has been an assistant principal for 3 years but had not completed her Clear Credential under previous California requirements. Now, Sarah will serve as Janet's coach in the new two- year Clear Credential Program. Sarah and Janet have established a trusting relationship and are well into planning and implementing Janet's Individualized Induction Plan goals, as required by the CASC Program. A few months after Janet entered the induction program, she was appointed to be the new principal at this high school, following the announcement of the promotion of the current principal to a district office position. Janet will assume her new responsibilities in six weeks.

Although the topic for today's conversation was going to be "engaging others in end-of-year activities", Sarah is feeling Janet may want to talk about her new appointment and her transition period. Sarah uses her early arrival time in the parking lot to review the questions she has written in preparation for the session. She has also anticipated additional questions, based on Janet's gender, primary language, ethnicity, and upcoming transition period. Sarah's reflection for herself is:

  • In what ways will the upcoming transition period be impacted by Janet's being Latina, and first-time female principal in the district?
  • What insights and experiences will she bring to the position?
  • Will her insights and experiences be viewed as assets or deficits by her peers and supervisor's including her superintendent?
  • In what ways will this impact her induction process and the CPSEL goals in her IIP?
  • Of what do I need to be mindful about myself as I coach her?



Good morning, Dr. Cunningham. So good to see you. Sorry you had to wait a few minutes. Come on in to my office.



Great to see you too, Janet. Waiting was not a problem for me. I know how busy you are.



Let's get started if you don't mind. I'm really excited to talk about our topic today. The end-of-year activities are coming up so quickly. I'm trying to get as many faculty and staff on board as possible. So far, several new folks have volunteered to lead the graduation dance activities. A long time faculty member and parent in the community are going to help too. The other activities are coming together really well. Our coaching conversations have helped me look at "who else?" can join me in shared leadership and collaboration. I'm finding some folks are just waiting to be asked to help. Others have never been asked to take a leadership role. The faculty are talking about how more inclusive things are feeling. Now, I'm beginning to think about how I can become an "inclusive leader" when I am principal in a few weeks. I find myself thinking a lot about my future.



So, as you reflect on how well things are going for the end-of-year planning, you are also looking ahead at how you want to lead the school in an inclusive and collaborative way.



Well, yeah, that's it. I guess I am looking ahead more than I really realized. Everything is in good shape for the end of the year. I mean, I still have lots of little details under my leadership to take care of, but I have great staff members and faculty stepping up to lead and make sure those things happen. SO, now I find myself thinking more about my goals that I established for my IIP and what I want to accomplish my first year as a principal. You recall.I'll be the first female principal this district has ever had---even though this is the 21st Century! That's a lot of pressure on me. My superintendent said, "No pressure, Janet, just because you are female and Latina. Just get the scores up for all kids, and you will be successful." I am always aware that I am Latina and the "first" and that they are aware that I am Latina and the "first". Otherwise, he would not have mentioned it at all.



So, your cultural identity is important and clear to you. You are also aware of the implications of being the "first" has on you and your superintendent.



Yes! Very.



Janet, let's talk about "success" and how your superintendent and you might describe it. One of your areas of concentration for your induction program is assessment. We know there are various kinds of assessments: formative, performance based, summative, self-assessment, and so on. When you think of assessing your own growth over time, what will be some indicators of your success in reaching the goals you set for yourself in your IIP?



Well, let me look at the goals a bit closer. [Janet takes time to read each goal aloud]. Each goal is important to me.



As you think of improving your skills as an instructional leader, in what ways might your ideas of success indicators compare to the success indicators that your superintendent uses?



The superintendent is the immediate supervisor for all principals in this district. He evaluates all principals. The asistant. superintendent evaluates the assistant principals. So, the superintendent uses a performance-based assessment tool. He says that he triangulates the data he collects from our self-assessment, standardized school data, and a faculty-staff survey. I'd like for you to have a copy of all these. Our school-wide data comes out in the spring. The faculty-staff survey is conducted in the spring also. I will complete my self-assessment twice during the year-once in the winter and again in the spring. The tough one will be the faculty-staff survey. We have a strong union representation here at this school. I'm not sure how it will go.

So, back to your question, though, my indicators of success are the school-wide data, including suspensions, expulsions, and graduation rate, scheduled classroom observations, unannounced walkthroughs, campus-wide observations, school events, and parent and community wide engagement and feedback. The superintendent's self-assessment tool has several questions on these areas, so I can express my growth on that instrument. I wish the tools were better aligned.



Janet, you are ..

The coaching conversation continues as Sarah paraphrases Janet's response to her question.

Reflection Questions:

  • What coaching strategies has Sarah employed in this scenario? What are 2-3 observations you have about how she worked?
  • In what ways might Sarah help Janet connect the CPSEL to her Induction Plan goals?
  • How might the Descriptions of Practice (DOP) be useful to Janet in her reflection about success and her conversation with the Superintendent?
  • What "next steps" might Janet have in mind for her next coaching session

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Updated August 09, 2022