You Can’t Tell Them What to Do (Part 2)

Last time we looked at equity, voice, and choice as the first three partnership principles laid out by instructional coaching guru, Jim Knight. In this article, we dive into the next two partnership principles: reflection and dialogue. Remember, we can’t tell people what to do, but if we partner alongside them, we can influence massive growth.


When talking about reflection, I think back to my college basketball days. Every game we played was always filmed so our coach could watch it and make improvements to our system. But the real growth came when Coach F decided we would watch the film as a team to reflect on the good and the bad. In that moment, he was slow to speak, letting the players discover areas of strength and weakness. Watching game film helped improve my game immensely. It forced me to make the changes to my craft that were necessary for our team’s success. But more importantly, I had a coach that let me think for myself so I could decide my next steps. He was a true partner in my growth.

Okay, let’s be honest, he 100% yelled at me with explicit directives thousands of times during my career. That was his job as a sports coach, but it is not your job to tell people what to do as an instructional coach. 

Just like I reflected on my basketball skills, teachers are constantly reflecting on their teaching skills. Instructional coaches have a prime opportunity to partner alongside teachers in their reflection. Now hear me loud and clear. Reflecting does not mean you tell the teacher what they did right and wrong, and you don’t get to tell them how to fix it. Reflection means the teacher spends time figuring out what they need to improve, and you are there to support the conversation. 

Ask yourself: Do I avoid the advice trap?

According to Jim Knight, there are three types of reflection that are used in instructional coaching: looking back, looking at, and looking ahead.

Looking Back

Looking back is when you and your coachee look back at how something went. This typically will happen at the beginning of an impact cycle when your client is trying to identify their instructional goal. This is where you can ask questions about what went well, what didn’t, and what the teacher might want to change before the next lesson.

Looking At

Looking at is when you and your client are reflecting in the moment. You might see your coachee experience this in the midst of class when they decide to spend more time on the activity than they originally planned. This is more or less using formative assessment to adjust instruction. 

Looking Ahead

Finally, looking ahead with a coaching client will be a partnership in considering ideas, strategies, or how a tool might be used in the future. Coaches can partner with their clients to think through different strategies that would be most effective for future lessons. 


When speaking to a teacher that you have partnered with, make sure that you aren’t dominating the conversation. There should be knowledge flowing between the both of you. (Remember, you are an equal partner). Jim Knight eloquently states, “The goal is for the best idea to win—not for my idea to win—and the best idea wins most frequently when both partners think their way together through a discussion.” 

Ask yourself: Am I open to being shaped by their opinion? Do I want the best for them or what’s best for me? Do I see their strengths?

Dialogue is a great way to continue building trust with your teaching partner. It is in these moments that you can capitalize on displaying humility. Admitting when you don’t know something allows others to see that we are human. However, this trust can be quickly broken if you try to hide your lack of knowledge or cover up a flaw. Resist the urge to look and sound perfect. Rather, have the courage to be honest and real. 

In Conclusion

To wrap this up, be a good, humble, inquisitive human who listens and admits fault. Your instructional coaching will be wildly successful if you choose humility over arrogance. Try it on for size, and let us know how it goes!

Until next time, New School Leaders.

Check out part 1 of this series here.


Go straight to part 3 of the series.

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.

If you are interested in tips and strategies to help you take the next step in your leadership journey, subscribe to the New School Leader Newsletter right here:

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