You Can’t Tell Them What to Do (Part 1)

As an instructional coach, how often do you find yourself wanting to shake (figuratively) teachers by the shoulders because they won’t do what you coached them to do? I know it can be so frustrating because the answer to their problem is right there, yet they just don’t see it the way you do. Watch this short video to get a sense of what I am talking about.

Often in my coaching journey, I have been tempted to just “take the nail out” of the person’s head. It would make my job SO much easier if I could tell a teacher what to do and they just do it. The problem with that approach is that teachers don’t have to listen to me or do anything I say. That’s why Jim Knight preaches being a partner alongside the teacher and utilizing the seven “Partnership Principles.” 

This article will be the first of a three-part series where we will explore the different partnership principles in a little more detail. First, we will look at equality, choice, and voice.


For an instructional coach, equality means that you must view yourself as a teacher talking to another teacher. It is merely two professionals engaged in conversation together. As with any good partnership, the instructional coach does not tell the teacher what to do because of this equal mindset. It is imperative that the coach not exude an attitude of having a higher status. Teachers will never partner with you or see you as a resource if you have an arrogance about yourself. 

According to Jim Knight, a question you can ask yourself to determine whether you have a stance of equality is “Do I interrupt or judge others?”. I would add an additional question to test your level of equality: “What would be my reaction if a teacher told me what to do?”. 

If you are offended that a teacher would offer you advice or if you think you know better than any advice they could ever give you, then I would suggest reevaluating your mindset. Partners welcome ideas and feedback from each other. There is always room for improvement in your craft as an instructional coach so make sure you are listening to your teachers.


Jim Knight defines choice as honoring the capacity of a teacher to behave professionally. We must acknowledge that teachers have the freedom to choose. At the end of the day, the teacher gets to make the final decision on the instructional strategy, the goal, and the data to be analyzed. You, as the instructional coach, cannot tell them what those choices are. 

Check your stance on choice with this question: “Can I let go of control?”. Are you going to continue the partnership if the teacher chooses a less effective strategy or a less substantive goal?

Another way you can offer choice and exercise equality is to ask your teachers what THEY want to learn about. Take their suggestions and see what kind of professional learning opportunities you can create so that they can continue learning. Offering this type of choice shows that you are listening and that you care about their individual needs and wants. It continues to grow a strong partnership between you and the teachers.


Shut up. For real. Stop talking. 

Let the teacher speak their minds and offer their opinions. As the instructional coach, you must value the voice of the teacher and they must know that their words matter. This is best done by listening to the words that are actually coming out of their mouths. When a strong relationship is built, it will feel more like two friends having candid conversations with each other. However, when first establishing a relationship with a teacher, let them do most of the talking. 

One way you can acknowledge their voice is by taking their words and actually doing something with them. For example, if a teacher comes to me and says, “Hey Kelsey, I really need help with getting students to talk more in class”, I need to act. I need to show them that I want to partner with them to help get students talking more. Here, the teacher has already identified their goal to get students to talk more. Now, we can sit side by side and learn about different strategies to get students talking more in class. But remember, the teacher will choose the strategy; you will not tell them which one to use.


There is such a difference in success when we empower teachers instead of telling them what to do. Take this time to reflect on these first three principles and how you can move the needle closer to obtaining these values fully.

Check out part 2 of this series here.

If you are interested in learning more about Jim Knight’s work, I highly recommend his newest book: The Definitive Guide to Instructional Coaching: Seven Factors for Success. All of us here at the New School Leader absolutely love Jim Knight and all of his work around instructional coaching. If you want to grow as an instructional coach, or if you are thinking about becoming an instructional coach, Jim Knight is the GOAT. You have to check out his stuff.

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