(Originally posted on Once a Bobcat, Always a Bobcat.)

By Dan Butler

A couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation about instructional coaching with an educator outside of my district.  We were talking about the coaching model that we utilize in Western Dubuque, and how we have implemented this in the past seven months.  I was asked how we are able to get teachers engaged and enrolled in the process.  I told her that our instructional coaches wait for teachers to come to them. The look on her face was puzzling, as she asked, “What about the people that really need to improve and others who are struggling?”  She continued to tell me that coaching is mandatory in her district and teacher engagement in the coaching cycle is pretty low.

After I left the conversation I continued to think about a quote that Jim Knight shared with me over the summer, “When you insist, they will resist.” Participating in instructional coaching is 100% teacher choice in Western Dubuque because we believe that if people truly want to improve, they will reach out and become engaged in the coaching cycle.  Do we have all of our teachers involved in the instructional coaching process?  No, absolutely not, but the ones that we do have are highly engaged in the work and have committed to getting better.  Are there some teachers that could benefit and are not currently working with an instructional coach?  Most definitely, and I continue to promote, but do not force anyone to do this.

There is a great deal of compliance work that must be done if you are an educator in 2015.  No Child Left Behind legislation, Special Education documentation, the implementation of Common Core State Standards, and the Early Literacy Initiative in the state of Iowa are just a few examples of improvement efforts that come with heavy compliance checks.  There are many good pieces of all of the things that I have mentioned above, but too many requirements and over the top accountability have compromised the autonomy of educators, and ultimately, students have suffered.  There is no question that educators need to be held to the highest of standards; however, when compliance becomes the norm over commitment, we have a problem.

I have found that compliance regulates itself if people are truly committed to the right work. When a shared vision has been defined by members of the team, and people believe they are contributing to something bigger than themselves, they will naturally hold themselves and their colleagues accountable for high quality work and maximum performance.  I think about some of the best athletic teams that I have been a part of in my lifetime.  We did not need a coach to institute intense rules or compliance checks to keep us moving forward.  We were committed to our ultimate goal of a championship.  My teammates and I knew that additional conditioning after regular practice would benefit our team by getting us in better shape, and ultimately give us the best chance to win.  This is no different in schools.  When educators have a voice, are on the bus, and in the right seat on that bus, amazing things are going to happen.  If there is a culture of commitment within your setting, you will be highly productive, and it will be a great place for students.

I have a couple of thoughts about contributing to a culture of commitment:

Give Your People a Voice and Identify Your Path:
There is an incredible amount of talent within every school staff.  Solicit the ideas and beliefs of your team and carve out your path toward greatness.

Get the Right People on the Bus:
It has often been said that one of the most important jobs of the educational leader is hiring the right people, and I tend to agree.  We are in the people business, and it doesn’t matter what kind of instructional programs, comprehensive assessment systems, or latest technology devices we have if we do not have great people behind these things.  Any time that there is a vacancy in a school, an incredible opportunity has been opened to establish a culture of commitment.  Take the time to find the right people that will help to contribute to what your team would like to accomplish.  Once you have the right people on the bus, it is equally important to get them in the right seats (thank you Jim Collins).  Utilize the talents of your people by placing them in positions where they can excel.  There is genius in all people, and it is the responsibility of the leader to find, develop, and utilize it most effectively.

Create the Conditions:
When you know where you’re going with committed people, you are going to be in really good shape. Make sure that your team has the resources and the support that they need to be successful.

There are many situations within the educational setting where we simply have to be compliant and make sure that the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted.  I firmly believe we must work to create cultures of commitment within our systems if we are going to provide the best opportunities for all students.  When you insist, they will resist, and when they believe, you will achieve.  Are you living in a culture of compliance or commitment?


Dan Butler is the Principal  in the Western Dubuque Community School District. He is the Co-Moderator of He shares his insights on his website, Once a Bobcat, Always a Bobcat. Follow Dan on Twitter at @danpbutler