Instructional Coaching

Overview of Instructional Coaching as Providing

Effective Professional Development

Instructional Coaching as a Vital Component of an Aligned, Standards-Based System

Coaching has been identified nationally as a strong model of professional development for teachers with potential to enhance instructional practice and raise levels of student achievement. The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of coaching, its research base and effective practices in an effort to develop consistency of coaching initiatives across Pennsylvania.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 set the bar for student achievement at a very high level. All students will reach proficiency, as defined by each state, in reading and math by the year 2014. In Pennsylvania, our accountability system has been built on strong tenets to ensure our success in reaching the goal. The Pennsylvania Department of Education has developed a framework for school improvement planning (Getting Results) and a number of tools and support services to assist districts as they strive to raise the level of student achievement .The next critical need will be in the area of professional development.

Professional development must prepare educators to utilize a process for data analysis, decision-making and effective use of PDE tools and resources to identify proven solutions that will enhance student achievement levels. The Department of Education has developed and is presenting this framework across the state. It guides educators through a step-by-step method to identify critical data through multiple sources and analyze the data through each of the six components of a standards-based system. These components are clear academic standards, aligned curriculum, effective instruction, fair assessments, appropriate resources and materials and successful interventions. When all of these components are considered, data analysis reveals the needs that exist and discovery of solutions becomes possible. Professional development in the area of coaching will prepare coaches to utilize the data framework to effectively support teachers, thus, improving student achievement and enhancing the instructional practices of teachers.

Research into the impact of coaching models (Hopkins, Ainscow and West, 1994; Bodilly, 2001; Murphy and Datnow, 2003) has identified several critical components typically present in successful coaching programs. These components demonstrate that coaching models are more effective when (as summarized by Dr. Robert Slavin from Johns Hopkins University, October, 2006):

  • coaches spend more time IN the classroom as opposed to working with teachers outside of the classroom;
  • modeled teaching strategies are specific rather than generalized teaching practices;
  • modeled teaching strategies are research-validated and evidence based;
  • reasonable goal setting is in place and monitored;
  • timely feedback is provided;
  • coach feedback is clearly defined as formative, collegial and confidential, never summative, evaluative or supervisory;
  • a proper balance exists between being supportive of the teacher and moving forward toward improved instructional practice;
  • strong administrative support exists, providing necessary time, structures, and relationships for coaches to work with teachers;
  • clear roles and responsibilities are defined for all involved;
  • support from teachers' association is established;
  • coach selection is done thoughtfully to have the best possible person in the coaching role;
  • relationships of in-house coaches are renegotiated to fit the new work assignment;
  • coaches are not seen as the data manager, but rather a user of the data to improve instructional practice;
  • coaches have a mentor (or coach of the coach) working with them to define and support the coaches’ activities.

Coaching is one model of professional development that has shown potential to improve the knowledge, skill and practice of teachers, thus, enhancing student achievement. In a 2004 study by the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning, instructional coaching was found to significantly increase the implementation rate of newly learned practices. This study indicated that without support and follow-up, teacher implementation of new instructional methods is about 10%, but with coaching the percentage increases to 85% (Knight, 2004). Coaching as a professional development activity involves a highly skilled professional (the coach) working with other professionals (the teachers) in a collegial manner to raise instructional practice to the highest possible level. Coaching promotes teacher growth and problem solving. It is on-going, classroom based and personalized for each teacher. Coaching should provide consistent support to teachers as they work to improve practice based on collaboration, inquiry and consultative feedback from the coach. It represents sound, job-embedded professional development that has the potential to improve instructional practice, and ultimately student achievement.

Given the potential of coaching as a powerful tool for professional development and the widespread application into all content areas across the Commonwealth, this position paper suggests that there is a need for common understanding of coaching as a practice and consistency in its implementation. The paper suggests qualifications for coaches, summarizes appropriate activities of coaches, explains activities that are not appropriate and why and lists state-level certification as related to coaching. It is understood that each initiative that uses a coaching model may have different objectives, grade level audience or content area focus. However, this paper supports the concept that there are consistent criteria across initiatives for coaching as a model of professional development. These criteria are important for determining the quality of coaching and its ability to improve instruction and improve student achievement.

For coaching to be successful, two factors are important and necessary. One is administrative support, and the second is that coaches be highly skilled. According to Jim Knight (2004) from the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning, when either one or both of these conditions are missing, the effectiveness of coaching efforts is minimized. The district and principal’s roles in supporting the coaches as well as the teachers include, but are not limited to: providing resources; leading school improvement teams to implement the strategies shared by coaches; evaluating teachers based on learned practices; aligning coaching efforts with district and school goals and celebrating teachers’ successes (Knight, 2004).

Effective coaching requires a sophisticated set of skills. The processes a coach uses when working with teachers is just as important as the knowledge a coach brings to the learning experiences. These attributes include, but are not limited to: excellent communication and interpersonal skills; a passion for teaching and learning; empowerment of others; flexibility; respectfulness of all individuals with whom they are working and strong organizational abilities (Characteristics of Effective Coaches).

Coaching has been identified as an effective means of providing job-embedded, professional development with a strong potential to improve both instructional practice of teachers and academic achievement of students. The practice of coaching has been primarily applied to the content areas of reading (literacy) and math. Several other initiatives across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania also focus on coaching as a vehicle to improve instruction, raise student achievement and encourage high school reform. As a result, the need to clarify the role of a coach is critical to the consistent and successful implementation of coaching across the state.

Point of Contact: Teri Everett

Ph: 814-887-5512