Research You Can Use
What principals need from coaches
February 27, 2023
Bryanna Norton, Ed.D., completed her Doctorate of Organizational Leadership from UMass Global in February 2022. The following is a summary of her dissertation titled, “The Essential Characteristics of Coaching that Secondary Principals Perceive Support Effective Leadership at School Sites.”
Vince Lombardi once said, “Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.” This quote parallels certain key developments the United States education system has made in the last decade. During this timeframe, the U.S. has faced myriad changes and developments. In 2010, over 40 states were beginning to adopt the Common Core State Standards. The California Department of Education identified the CCSS as beneficial for all students so that the same standards would be taught across the U.S. However, many of these states faced multiple barriers in executing the application of these standards, including resistance from educators, inadequate funding, lack of time and the understanding that making complex changes can take years (Kober & Rentmer, 2011; Smith, 2017). In addition to the CCSS implementation, during this time educators also wanted their districts and schools to implement various types of new and emerging technology. In 2014, California educators developed and delivered A Blueprint for Great Schools, which included the establishment of an Education Technology Task Force of educators who were skilled in educational technology.
In addition to the aforementioned changes, the pandemic that began in 2020 and continues to the present day has affected society and education on a global scale. COVID-19 shifted the educational model, compelling educational leaders to focus on digital transformation (Korkmaz & Toraman, 2020). In a matter of days and weeks, district and site leaders were faced with transforming education onto a primarily online learning platform. These changes highlight the continued need for secondary principals to receive coaching in order to improve their site leadership.
This qualitative phenomenological research study utilized a data collection process involving semi-structured interviews, observations and artifacts. The data was coded for themes, each of which was assessed closely in connection to predetermined criteria. Key findings were those that were referenced by 18 percent or more of all participants and represented 10 percent or more of the data coded with respect to the four essential characteristics of coaching within the theoretical framework: trusting relationship, inquiry and questioning, feedback, and listening.
Trusting relationship
  1. A trusting relationship was identified by 100 percent of the participants as being an important characteristic of coaching.
  2. The personal growth theme was identified four times across 11 interviews, indicating that 36 percent of the participants felt personal growth was essential within the trusting relationship.
Inquiry and questioning
  1. All interviewed participants (100 percent) stated that inquiry and questioning between them and their coach is an important characteristic in their coaching.
  2. The mindfulness theme of questioning was referenced seven times by the participants and included more than 36 percent of the participants’ responses.
  1. Feedback was also identified by 82 percent (nine) of the participants as an essential characteristic of coaching. Nine percent (one participant) were unsure and 9 percent (one participant) disagreed with this statement.
  2. Twenty-seven percent of the participants identified the consistency theme as an essential theme within the coaching characteristic of feedback. This was a recurring theme because it had connections to multiple elements.
  3. The relationship theme yielded the highest number of references, representing 54 percent of the participants. This was a recurring theme because it had connections to multiple characteristics.
  4. The communication theme was identified four times across 11 interviews; 36 percent of the participants identified it as important.
  5. The reflection theme tied for second place with the communication theme and was also identified four times across 11 interviews or by 36 percent of the participants.
  1. Listening was also identified by 82 percent (nine) of the participants, who affirmed that listening between them and their coach helped them become more effective leaders. In contrast, 18 percent (2) were unsure that listening by their coach helped them become more effective leaders.
  2. The reflective questioning theme was referenced six times by four participants.
In the following section, the implications for action derived from the conclusions of this research study are identified:
  1. Due to the ever-shifting landscape of education and growing responsibilities, high school principals need coaches. Moreover, every school district must identify the resources to hire coaching firms that have the characteristics to support leadership growth.
  2. To ensure efficacy in the coaching process, school districts must hire coaching firms that have a positive reputation for strengthening the characteristics and themes revealed in this study that will support leadership growth for their administrators.
  3. To ensure leadership development of the coachee, high school principals must receive coaching that is intentional; moreover, the coach should have a certificate or training in emotional intelligence.
The researcher also identified multiple conclusions based on the results of this research study, which reflect both the anticipated findings and unexpected findings. Moreover, the conclusions are backed by the literature and grounded in the essential characteristics of coaching based on the theoretical framework and the participating high school principals’ lived experience. The conclusions describe what secondary principals perceive are the essential characteristics of coaching that support effective school site leadership.

  1. Coaching organizations must teach coaches how to build rapport and trusting relationships as an initial characteristic to be mastered in supporting principals in the leadership coaching process.
  2. When districts employ a coaching organization, they need to identify a scheduling cycle of coaching expectations so that communication between coach and coachee is consistent and routine.
  3. Coaching firms must hire individuals of varying background and experience who have done the actual job in which they are being asked to coach the administrator.
  4. Coaching firms and school districts must hire empathic and emotionally intelligent coaches who will meet the coachee’s needs.
  5. School districts must ensure confidentiality during the coaching process to ensure that a trusting relationship develops between the coach and coachee.

The aforementioned conclusions offer evidence that the high school principals who contributed to this study provided insightful feedback, suggestions and transparency regarding their needs from their coach to in turn provide vital leadership at their school sites. Furthermore, each coachee has different needs based on their experience, skillset and personality. However, regardless of these attributes, each administrator requires a coaching process that is grounded in the creation and development of an authentic, transparent and reliable relationship between the two individuals. Moreover, coaching and leadership development continue to be of the highest need due to the unparalleled challenges high school principals face, including the coronavirus pandemic, financial constraints, student academic achievement and the overall political landscape.
Bryanna Norton, Ed.D., has been an educator for the last 19 years and is currently principal at Hidden Valley Middle School in Escondido. Prior to her principal position she worked for the San Diego County Office of Education as a coordinator of Human Resources coaching and mentoring administrators, and was also a coordinator of the Designated Subjects Program that credentialed CTE and Adult Education teachers. She was also a high school assistant principal and high school teacher and coach.
Dissertation Rules
Research You Can Use is a periodic feature of EdCal that provides an opportunity for ACSA members to share their dissertation research. Publication of these summaries does not represent endorsement by ACSA of any specific program, policy or strategy.
Dissertation summaries written by ACSA members in the past five years are welcome, along with a photograph of the researcher and present job title and location.
If you have recent research to share, prepare a two-to-three page summary (750-1,200 words), including vital statistics and conclusions. Email summary and photo to Michelle Carl, EdCal editor.
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