What is an Instructional Coach?
An instructional coach is someone whose chief professional responsibility is to bring evidence-based practices into classrooms by working with teachers and other school leaders.
A coach engages teachers in regular, systematic thinking about their teaching practice so they can better meet the diverse needs of their students. It is an established professional practice building teacher expertise, raising student achievement, and advancing school reform.
At its core, coaching is one-on-one and small group professional development. Instructional coaching involves two people: the classroom teacher and the coach. Coaches work one-on-one and in small groups or team with teachers, providing guidance, training, and other resources as needed. Together, they focus on practical strategies for engaging students and improving their learning.
Coaching is a high-quality professional development. It is job-embedded, addressing issues teachers face daily in their classrooms. It is ongoing, not a one-shot workshop and its goal is twofold: improved instructional practice and improved student learning.
But coaching is one piece, and essential piece, of the multilayered approach that will be necessary to change schools. Coaching can build will, skill, knowledge, and capacity because it can go where no other professional development has gone before: into the intellect, behaviors, practices, beliefs, values, and feelings of an educator to access and implement new knowledge, foster conditions for deep reflection and learning, encourage a teacher to take risks to change practices, and engage in powerful conversations where growth is recognized and celebrated.
What are the research findings regarding Instructional Coaching?
To date, one of the most thorough and comprehensive studies on coaching was conducted in 2004 by the Annenberg Foundation for Education Reform. It reports a number of findings that offer powerful validation for coaching.
First, the report concluded that effective coaching encouraged collaborative, reflective practice. Coaching allowed teachers to apply their learning more deeply, frequently, and consistently than teachers working alone.
A second finding was that effective, embedded coaching and professional learning promoted positive cultural change. The conditions, behaviors, and practices required by an effective coaching program can positively affect the culture of a school or system by embedding instructional change within broader efforts to improve school-based culture and conditions.
Thirdly, coaching was also linked to teachers' increased in using data to inform practice. Coaching programs guided by data helped create coherence within a school by focusing on strategic areas of need that were suggested by evidence, rather than by individual and sometimes conflicting opinions.
Another key finding was that coaching promoted the implementation of learning and reciprocal accountability. The likelihood of using new learning and sharing responsibility rose when colleagues, guided by a coach, worked together and held each other accountable for improved teaching and learning.
Finally, coaching supported collective leadership across a school system. A critical feature of coaching is that it uses relationships between coaches, principals, and teachers to create conversations that lead to behavioral, pedagogical, and content knowledge change. Effective coaching distributes leadership and keeps the focus on teaching and learning to improve student outcomes.
Annenberg Foundation for Education Reform. "Instructional Coaching: Professional Development Strategies that Improve Education." Providence, RI: Brown University,
2004. Retrieved from http://annenberginstitute.org/sites/default/files/product/270/files/InstructionalCoaching.pdf
Ravitch, D. The Life and Death of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education. New York: Basic Books, 2010.