Instructional Coaching: A teacher's guide

Paul Main

How can schools utilise an instructional coaching model to support their staff and improve academic attainment?

What is Instructional Coaching?

Instructional coaching indicates job-embedded professional development on basis of day-to-day teaching practice and is created to improve teachers' instructional practices to enhance student learning.

The act of using instructional coaching is relatively new, but it is becoming very popular as teachers and school leaders want to know how they can apply instructional coaching to positively affect their instructional strategies and student learning. As schools begin to move away from traditional CPD which across the UK comes in the form of 'The Inset Day', they are beginning to ask what the alternative is. Many schools have established coherent coaching models and are enjoying the educational improvements that it has brought with it. Like any new professional learning initiative, a bit of research is always essential before embarking on a substantial whole-school project such as coaching.

In this article, we will discuss the definition of instructional coaching, its purpose, its benefits, and its limitations. We will also provide a step-by-step model for creating an instructional coaching plan that will help you implement effective instructional coaching in your classroom or school.

Definition & Purpose of Instructional Coaching

Definition: Instructional coaching means job-embedded professional development on the basis of daily teaching practice. It is designed to improve teachers’ instructional practices to enhance student learning.

Purpose: The purpose of instructional coaching is to improve teachers’ instructional practices to create more effective lessons and increase students’ achievement.

Benefits: Instructional coaching has several benefits including:

• Improving instruction by helping teachers develop better lesson plans;

• Helping teachers reflect on their own teaching to make changes;

• Helping them learn about different approaches to teaching;

• Providing feedback on teaching so that they can improve their instructional skills; and

• Increasing teacher effectiveness.

Limitations: There are some limitations associated with instructional coaching. For example, instructional coaches cannot be used to change curriculum, grade level, or subject area. They should not be used to evaluate teachers or schools.

Steps to Implement Instructional Coaching

1. Define Your Goals

It is important to define your goals before beginning any instructional coaching process. This helps ensure that you have clear objectives when implementing instructional coaching.

2. Identify Your Target Audience

It is essential to identify who you are going to coach. Who do you want to work with? Are there specific groups of teachers that need to be coached? Do you want to focus on one particular group of teachers? Or would you like to work with all teachers at your school?

3. Determine Your Approach

Once you have identified your target audience, determine what approach you will take to working with them. Will you use a traditional formative assessment approach? Or will you utilize a summative evaluation approach?

4. Develop Your Plan

Once you have determined your approach, you must decide which instructional coaching method(s) you will use. These methods include:

a. Observation

b. Feedback

c. Reflection

d. Action planning

e. Direct observation

f. Self-assessment

g. Classroom visits


5. Create Your Implementation Plan

After determining your instructional coaching approach, you must now determine how you will implement it. How often will you meet with each teacher? What type of meetings will you hold? When will you conduct observations? How long will you spend observing each teacher?

6. Evaluate Your Results

Once you have implemented your instructional coaching plan, you must assess whether it was successful. Were your goals met? If not, why not? Did your approach work for you? Why or why not? Was it too time-consuming?

7. Adjust Your Plan

If your initial plan did not produce the results you expected, then you may need to adjust your plan. You may need to:

a. Increase the amount of time spent meeting with each teacher

b. Change your approach

c. Conduct additional research

8. Continue Your Process

You should continue your instructional coaching process until you feel confident in your new teaching approach.

9. Share Your Experience

Finally, share your experience with others through articles, presentations, newsletters, blogs, etc.

Instructional coaching process
Instructional coaching process

What is the role of an Instructional Coach?

Instructional coaches are academic leaders that give training to the teachers and provide feedback, resources, professional development and modelling, to help schools achieve school improvement and instructional goals. They are expected to have a considerable amount of knowledge and teaching experience. Teacher coaching is an important way to provide teachers with the desired support they need by embedding professional development into their teaching. In short, the role of an instructional coach is to provide coaching to the educators in the area of teaching.

What are different Instructional Coaching Methods?

There are several methods of instructional coaching. Coaches need to identify the major needs of their teachers like teachers identify the needs of their students. There is no fixed method of coaching; however, many schools find it helpful to use a structured coaching process. The steps of this process are set by the teacher and the instructional coach and are mostly focused on teachers' shortcoming that needs to be reinforced. EL Education defines instructional coaching as an ongoing cycle, which usually includes the following steps

  1. Goal Setting: This is the first step of instructional coaching in which the instructional coach and teacher work together to develop focused goals relating to student needs and teacher practice.
  2. Learning: This is the second step of instructional coaching in which the coach works with the educator to develop quality plans, co-teach, model lessons and provide resources to the teacher.
  3. Observation: This is the third step of instructional coaching in which the instructional coach observes the teacher's instruction and takes notes for providing the teacher with sufficient feedback.
  4. Reflection/Data Collection: This is the fourth step of instructional coaching, in which the coach contacts the teacher after observing the teacher. The coach reviews any relevant changes such as changes in lesson planning after the learning/instructional portion of the cycle. The coach also provides the educator with feedback from classroom observations and give suggestions on basis of notes taken during the observation.

The instructional coaching cycle may look different on basis of the individual needs of educators. It may repeat itself as educators find out about new needs during the reflection step of the cycle.

How Effective is Instructional Coaching?

Until now, the area of instructional coaching hasn’t been extensively studied. Before enforcing instructional coaching, schools must understand how coaching can affect students, principals and teachers. Empirical evidence validates the necessity for instructional coaching in schools. Research reveals that instructional coaching encourages reflection and collaboration. Also, the research revealed that effective coaching widens teacher capacity by promoting positive cultural change and by embedding professional teacher learning.

Using instructional coaches means customizing teachers' professional development in education. Coaches may use the steps discussed above or similar steps to individual needs of teacher education, ultimately leading to a positive effect on student learning. Instructional coaching programs evaluations show that coaching may result in significant changes in teaching practices, leaving a positive impact on student achievement.

One example of an instructional coaching process might be an instructor whose pupils struggle to link new and prior learning and in seeing the relevance of lesson activities. A coach may identify this issue as being due to the teacher’s lesson introductions which are extraordinary long and lack focus. The coach may arrange feedback meetings and help in designing a new step of effective teaching through scripting out a lesson introduction that connects past, present and future learning, providing a model example and getting the instructor to practise this particular aspect of their lesson with coaching feedback.

Professional development in education is a crucial deliberate practice of school improvement programs. Teaching-based school leadership use data to decide what professional development is needed for improving instructions and strengthening student learning. Unfortunately, the time and funding are usually not available to provide teachers with the professional development they require.

Getting the coaching model right
Getting the coaching model right

What makes instructional coaching a powerful form of professional development?

Through a long-term, incremental deliberate practice to teacher development, effective teacher education and instructional coaching programme may help teachers to bring long term changes to their classroom practice, whilst instantly developing the mental models needed to implement these new strategies properly. This makes the impact of interventions on teaching coaching a crucial professional development strategy. Following are some features of successful instructional coaching:

  • The instructional coach must contain strong interpersonal skills to build relationship of trust;
  • Teachers must play an active role in the process;
  • The instructional coach must be disciplined to set bite-sized steps for development and get the instructors to practise these;
  • More significant than all of these, however, are the skills of the coach.

Just like a coaching team in any other area of life, instructional coaches are not necessarily expert practitioners of the craft, but they are expected to have extensive knowledge of declarative teaching practice rather than tacit i.e. they must understand why something is done, what is done and how something is done. The impact of interventions of Instructional coaching is particular because of its incremental and specific nature. It also recognizes that experienced teachers need high levels of assistance to adopt new changes in their classroom's complex environments.

Novice teachers can modify their current performance level to become senior leaders and achieve a target performance level while practising a series of sub-goals with the help of an instructional coach. The coaching of teachers seeks to enable educators to become an effective teacher while overcoming the current ingrained habits and acquiring new behaviours. The coach provides his input after observing the practitioner’s current performance, then the coach sets precise sub-goals and designs practice. In absence of any of these active ingredients, the positive effects of instructional coaching wouldn't be sufficient to meet the professional needs of teachers.

Final Thoughts on Instructional Coaching

Instructional coaching involves an expert coach working with the instructor in regular one-to-one coaching sessions to gradually enhance both their students' learning and their performance. Effective coaching demands active listening, analyzing needs, and then developing capacity on the basis of teachers' strengths. By gradually coaching, actively listening to the request in every comment, and assuming positive intentions, an instructional coach can engage and better support educators in improving their instructional strategies.

In this article, we discussed the importance of instructional coaching and presented an overview of its various components. We also provided information about instructional coaching models, including the step-by-step model. Finally, we explained how to implement the instructional coaching process.