Many schools are developing instructional coaching programs with the intention of improving the quality of instruction in the classroom. One effect of this growing phenomenon is that improving K-12 teaching and learning is no longer solely the responsibility of the principal, but is distributed across a host of leaders (Neumerski, 2013). The purpose of this blog post is to provide analysis of some of the literature that exists on instructional coaching in order to identify the three “super factors” of effective instructional coaching programs. Enjoy!
– Zach Groshell @mrzachg
While the idea of instructional coaching may be well intended, it needs to be done right. Failing to develop a coaching program that includes specific success factors can lead to poor transfer of skills and knowledge, and even outright resistance to the coaching model (Knight, 2016). Here are three main factors that lead to higher rates of effectiveness in an instructional coaching program.
1. Adopt a Coaching Model
The most effective instructional coaching programs have embraced a coaching model, or “cycle”. It only makes sense that implementing a detailed and well-defined structure that everyone understands will increase the effectiveness of an instructional coaching program.
I wasn’t able to find much research regarding which coaching model leads to the highest learning outcomes for students; As Knight (2016) acknowledges, “if student learning is not improving, instructional coaching isn’t working.” Hopefully, there will be a continued and concerted effort among researchers to identify not only which coaching models work, but which work best. In the meantime, schools should choose a cycle that makes sense to them.
2. Hire Skilled Coaches
An important factor of an effective instructional coaching program includes hiring and retaining highly skilled coaches that fit a very specific profile.
The importance of communication skills and strategies is at the forefront of the literature (Knight, 2016; Denton, 2009; Simons, 2006). As teaching is so closely tied to personal identity (Knight, 2016), teachers can be highly defensive about their abilities, and resistant to change (Simons, 2006). For this reason, coaches must possess exemplary communication skills that exceed those expected by a classroom teacher (Simons, 2006). A trusted instructional coach that has strong communication strategies can bridge the gap between principals and change-resistant teachers when it comes achieving school-wide initiatives (Simons, 2006). Schools and districts must hire instructional coaches that communicate with teachers in ways that are respectful and responsive, and who adjust their approach depending on the personality and needs of each teacher and their classroom (Knight, 2016).
As most coaching models include lesson demonstrations, co-teaching, and lesson observation, instructional coaches must be trained with a foundation in sound pedagogical principles (Shidler, 2009). In addition, because instructional coaching programs tend to extend across multiple grade levels, instructional coaches must be armed with a variety of appropriate teaching and learning strategies for all of the various developmental levels that they work with. As the coach/coachee relationship is generally considered to be most effective when it is built on collaboration (Wang, 2017), coaches must bring a wealth of best practice teaching techniques to collaborative meetings and teacher study sessions. As teachers often fail to independently seek research on pedagogical techniques (Simons, 2006), instructional coaches need to come into the job with a deep and research-based “instructional playbook” (Knight, 2016) so as to bring best practice pedagogy into the schools that they serve.
Successful reform of instructional practices within an organization, as well as change within the classroom are more likely to occur under strong instructional leadership (Mangin, 2015). Neumerski (2013) points to research that indicates that effective schools almost always have leaders that focus on instruction. While the principal is traditionally in charge of instruction, when schools introduce an instructional coaching program, the structure of leadership becomes distributed, and must include coaches that demonstrate leadership capacity (Neumerski, 2013). The instructional coach must be assertive and disciplined, leading change in an organized and ambitious manner (Knight, 2016). Coaches should avoid authoritarian “command and control” instructional coaching, and also avoid a laissez-faire approach. Instead, coaches must push to support teachers with clear goals, expectations, and a sense of accountability (Knight 2016; Wang, 2017).
Understanding Adult Learners
In order to bring success to an instructional coaching program, instructional coaches should be hired with a proven track record of working with adult learners. Helping adults is different than helping children, and is more complex than simply giving expert advice (Knight, 2016). Adults want to make decisions for themselves and be recognized with the status they feel they deserve. Adults take it personally when others criticize their work, and their motivation increases when they see the process of coaching as personally relevant (Knight, 2016). While some instructional coaching programs require coaches to evaluate teachers, coaches should position themselves as best they can as partners with their mentees (Wang, 2017). Coaching can be much more effective if instructional coaches honor adult learners’ professional autonomy, treat mentee teachers as equals, give teachers choices in their decisions, and provide opportunities for teachers to express their thoughts throughout the process (Knight, 2016; Wang, 2017).
Guiding teachers to set and achieve goals is a primary responsibility in most coaching programs, thus it is important that instructional coaches are skilled in progress monitoring and data collection (Knight, 2016). As schools and districts set priorities for instruction, instructional coaches must find ways to interpret not only student achievement data, but the data they have gathered during walk-throughs and observations of their mentees. In addition, when surveyed about which instructional coaching activities were most useful to their practice, teachers indicated that they appreciated a coach’s assistance interpreting data, along with lesson demonstrations and focusing on classroom needs (Neumerski, 2013). As coaching activities are wide ranging (i.e. modeling teaching techniques, co-teaching lessons, observing teacher practices, consulting for reflection), each coaching activity is greatly enhanced when data is collected, interpreted and shared, and the progress of the coachee and/or students is effectively monitored (Shidler, 2009).
3. Provide Leadership Support
Instructional coaches must be supported by their leaders and districts in order to be effective (Knight, 2016). As the literature emphasizes that coaching tends to be interpreted and defined differently depending on who you talk to (Denton, 2009; Simons, 2006; Knight, 2016), principals housing an instructional coach must be trained to understand the possibilities of the role within the chosen coaching model (Simons, 2006, Knight, 2016). The leadership of an organization must define the role of instructional coach through a detailed job description that clearly outlines the expectations for all relevant stakeholders associated with the coaching program (Denton, 2009; Simons, 2006). Perhaps most importantly, principals must frequently speak positively and publically about the value of instructional coaching (Knight,, 2016).
One key responsibility of a principal includes providing ongoing training to coaches and teachers alike. Administrators must lead or facilitate learning sessions for their coaches so that there is continued education on research-based instructional practices and adult learning theory (Simons, 2006). Administrators must train teachers about the purpose and vision of instructional coaching, and guide coaches to personalize the program for the various instructional levels and career stages that exist within their organizations (Simons, 2006). Although there are often time constraints that limit a principal’s ability to observe instruction in the classroom, principals that themselves show instructional leadership in the form of mentoring and coaching can contribute to the effectiveness of an instructional coaching program, and to improvements in teaching and learning (Mangin, 2015).
When schools and districts adopt a well-defined and well-structured coaching framework, hire coaches that fit a specific skill profile, and provide the necessary and ongoing leadership support to coaches and teachers alike, truly positive improvements in instruction can occur. However, such potential is squandered if coaching programs are thrown together carelessly. Coaching can be an amazing thing for teachers and students, but it must be done well!
Stephanie and I hope you liked this article on instructional coaching. Feel free to share this blog around with your friends, and join our Facebook group, Over-Posting Educators!
Wang, S. (2017). “Teacher centered coaching”: An instructional coaching model. Mid-Western Educational Researcher, 29(1), 20-39.
Denton, C. A., & Hasbrouck, J. (2009). A description of instructional coaching and its relationship to consultation. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 19(2), 150-175. 10.1080/10474410802463296
Mangin, Melinda (2015). “How the Framing of Instructional Coaching as a Lever for Systemic or Individual Reform Influences the Enactment of Coaching”. Educational administration quarterly (0013-161X), 51 (2), p. 179.
Neumerski, Christine (2013). “Rethinking Instructional Leadership, a Review: What Do We Know About Principal, Teacher, and Coach Instructional Leadership, and Where Should We Go From Here?”. Educational administration quarterly (0013-161X), 49 (2), p. 310.
Knight, Jim (01/01/2016). “Teach to win: seven success factors for instructional coaching programs”. The Education digest (0013-127X), 81 (5), p. 27.
Simons, M. H. (2006). The influence of instructional coaches on improving teaching and student performance (Ph.D.). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (305311885).
Shidler, L. (2009). The impact of time spent coaching for teacher efficacy on student achievement. Early Childhood Education Journal, 36(5), 453-460. doi:10.1007/s10643-008-0298-4