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Professional Opinion

Heeding the voice of school experience

Everyone benefits when leaders coach leaders
Elyse Doti Cohen and Matthew Pearson have both served as teachers, assistant principals and principals in New York city public schools.
Elyse Doti Cohen and Matthew Pearson have both served as teachers, assistant principals and principals in New York city public schools.

Principal retention is a national issue. According to The School Leaders Network, “25,000 principals (one-quarter of all principals) leave their schools each year, leaving millions of children’s lives adversely affected. Fifty percent of new principals quit during their third year in the role.”

In New York City, the nation’s largest school system, addressing principal turnover across more than 1,800 schools is critical to student achievement. In 2014, the New York City Department of Education’s Office of Leadership created the New Principal Support (NPS) program to reduce turnover and help experienced principals grow.

NPS principal coaches enhance their own capacity as leaders through their visits to new principals and their schools. They are energized from the coaching work and their professional learning, while new principals have non-evaluative support in an often lonely and demanding position.

The program impacts retention for both veteran and new principals. Coaching benefits everyone, especially our students.

The model and the coaches

To ensure that our roughly 150 new principals each year receive the best possible support, the Department of Education assigns them either a full-time coach, coaching fellow or master principal. Full-time coaches are principals who leave their schools to join the program and commit to coaching up to new 12 principals across the city.

Coaching fellows leave their schools for one year to coach up to 12 new principals. Then they return to lead their own schools bolstered with new expertise and insight garnered from the coaching experience.

Master principals are sitting principals who coach three newcomers within their districts. Each coach provides 72 hours of support, or eight hours of coaching per month over the course of the first year for each new principal.

The new principals’ perspective

The program is built on the idea that no one knows the job of a principal better than a principal. Coaches are tenured principals in good standing, or have been within the last three years.

One new principal recently wrote: “Having the NPS coach is invaluable. It is important to me to be supported by someone who is also doing the job. My coach has  provided me with all the support necessary to help me continue to grow as a principal and a leader.” 

Coaches’ professional learning

There is job-embedded support for the coaches as well. All coaches get more than 60 hours of professional learning yearly, and additional coaching support as part of small teams. All professional learning is grounded in the International Coaching Federation Core Competencies, with an intention toward building each coach’s racial equity lens.

Blended Coaching: Skills and Strategies, edited by Gary Bloom, and Courageous Conversations About Race, by Glen Singleton, serve as foundational texts. NPS co-directors and full-time coaches develop the curriculum and facilitate team meetings using a variety of techniques: readings, role-playing, discussions and presentations.

Proven results

The NPS coaching model reinvigorates veteran principals while addressing two significant factors impacting new principals’ retention: feeling isolated and feeling overwhelmed. Job-embedded support increases the capacity of both the coach and the principal.

In New York City schools, the program has had great impact. Among new principals in 2014-15, 75 percent are still on the job in their fourth year. Creative conceptualization and implementation of new principal coaching could be an approach where everyone benefits, especially students who are served by strong school leaders.

Elyse Doti Cohen and Matthew Pearson have both served as teachers, assistant principals and principals in New York city public schools.