Key to confidentiality – Relationships
The first step to any coaching cycle is building relationships. In the Google for Edu Certified Coach Curriculum, they share that the knowledge and skills needed by a great coach can be broken into two main categories. 96% of a great coach’s job is focused on building relationships, while only 4% of a coach’s job is based on content and technology knowledge. The power of relationships is HUGE!
To build a positive relationship with teachers, coaches need to ensure that they are visible, accessible, and willing to support without judgment. In addition, the key to a successful relationship is confidentiality. Teachers are putting themselves in a vulnerable situation when they reach out to a coach for support. In order for teachers to feel safe, they need to know that their conversations with their coach will be kept confidential. This includes both positive and negative conversations.
Google for Education recommends that coaches craft a confidentiality agreement to share with teachers at the beginning of each new coaching cycle. Click here to see my example of the coaching contract that I have used with teachers. A signed contract or agreement sets the tone for both the coach and teacher to begin a coaching cycle with clear expectations of one another.
When are we crossing the confidentiality line?
While this may come as a surprise, the answer is simple: any time we share information about a teacher or their classroom without permission we are crossing the confidentiality line. As a coach, we are non-judgemental and non-evaluative because our goal is to support teachers with challenges and needs that they bring to the table. Every teacher is different/has their own unique approach to teaching that may not match our own, but our goal is to support the teachers and meet them where they are (again, this starts with building relationships).
My Confidentiality Surprise:
When I started out my coaching journey a few years ago, I was quick to share out teacher “bright spots” (positive moments) with admin and stakeholders. I never considered asking a teacher for their permission to share out something positive with their administrator and definitely did not consider that sharing a “bright spot” could lead to a negative outcome for any teacher. Unfortunately, this all backfired on me.
I had been working with an upper-elementary teacher for almost eight weeks. The challenge we were working on was time management and finding impactful ways to implement phonics into their classroom. This teacher started out without any time for phonics in their weekly plans and by the end of the eight weeks, her students were getting 2-3 phonics lessons a week. To me, this was a huge win and I was excited to share this victory at my next admin meeting. I didn’t ask the teacher permission to share her “bright spot” with her administrator.
During my admin meeting, I shared the phonics “bright spot” and instantly saw the administrator’s face begin to shift. Instead of celebrating this teacher’s victory, she started questioning how many phonics lessons the students had missed, why phonics wasn’t being prioritized, and what else the teacher was leaving out of her lesson plans.
While my intentions were positive the outcome was unfair to the teacher that I had been working so closely with for eight weeks. Fortunately, I was able to save the relationship, but this was a hard lesson to learn. I knew not to share challenges and conversations with others (including admin), but I now know to always ask permission before sharing positives or “bright spots”!
How to talk to admin without breaking confidentiality
There will be times where you want to share specific events, images, challenges, positives, etc. with administrators. The key to doing this is to ask the teacher’s permission first. Let them know why you want to share this out and make sure that they give you the green light before sharing. If you run into a situation where something needs to be shared with admin regardless of whether or not you get a teacher’s permission, I try to let the teacher know. This would be a rare situation where you would have to share something regardless of whether or not the teacher agrees. Find a way to say something like, “I do need to share this with your admin and don’t want you to be surprised.” You don’t want the teachers you are working with to be surprised by any of your conversations about them.
The best way to talk to admin without breaking confidentiality is to focus on data. Share out general information around total cycles, coaching cycle growth, interaction types, and the impact of coaching cycles. Teacher names and specific details do not need to be shared, but this type of conversation keeps administrators in the loop with the work happening on their campus.
Build trust with both your admin and the teachers you are supporting while also maintaining a positive relationship. When sharing out, make sure that you keep the conversation general or that you ask permission from the teacher prior to sharing. Most importantly, ensure that teachers and administrators know that you are on campus to support teachers and that you take confidentiality seriously!