Maximize your instructional coaching program with 3 critical questions

Maximizing your instructional coaching program

In his recent blog post on Education Week, coaching trainer Peter DeWitt laid out 3 Reasons Instructional Coaching May Not Be Working. As findings from the Measures of Effective Teaching Project show, coaching done poorly can actually hurt teachers’ performance, but what has stuck with me in my roles as a teacher and chief academic officer is that coaching “done well” can vastly improve teaching and learning.

Of course, delivering useful coaching is not simple. Many instructional coaching programs fail to yield real improvement in teaching and learning because they aren’t grounded in a strong, shared understanding of what effective coaching is. Too often, instructional coaching programs are implemented haphazardly, without a clear plan. 

Here are three practical questions that all leaders can ask themselves to give coaches the best possible chance of succeeding.

#1. Am I connecting coaching to existing priorities, curricular programs, and instructional expectations to ensure alignment?

Without deliberate attention to the dynamic environment in which it occurs, coaching can’t be effective. Failing to make this connection results in isolated support, at best—and at worst sends conflicting messages to teachers.

#2. How many coaches are in my building and who is managing them?

All too often I see multiple coaches in a school building supporting the same set of teachers. In extreme cases, I’ve seen up to five coaches supporting a single teacher. While the quality of support provided by each coach may be terrific, the sheer quantity of advice and guidance is nearly impossible to synthesize and apply.

Limiting the quantity and type of support provided and ensuring that coaches themselves understand each other’s roles in order to create a cohesive set of support is critical for coaching efforts to be successful and efficient.

This means someone needs to convene coaches and manage them. I recognize this can be tricky given that coaches may be deployed from multiple places (e.g. central office, new teacher support centers, building level) but it’s absolutely worth figuring out how to solve the dilemma of managing multiple coaches in order to ensure overall success.

#3. Are my teachers being coached to be masters of their content?

Instruction cannot truly be improved without regard to the content it covers. College and career readiness requires teachers to provide students with opportunities to apply their knowledge across disciplines and to the real world.

It also demands that we prepare students to be problem-solvers who are reflective enough to know when a strategy is not working. We must teach them to seek information from multiple sources and assess that information for its validity. This approach absolutely requires teachers to be masters of their content.

We have seen the value of content-specific coaching in our own work. In Newton County, Georgia, for example, after just six months of live and video-based coaching, the district's algebra proficiency rates increased five times greater than the state's average growth. 

Closing thoughts

Coaching can have a tremendous impact if done right.  Positioning coaches to maximize their impact is the tricky part.  School leaders play a key role in this and can help propel results from coaching efforts forward by consistently asking themselves the three questions above.  

Technical assistance providers also play a key role here. At Insight, we always ask potential partners these same questions before engaging in new relationships to help ensure that we are not compounding an existing problem—the problem of more —by adding another layer of support to confusing, diffuse efforts by multiple support providers.

For more ideas on how to improve instructional coaching:

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