May 12, 2022

How principals can increase the effectiveness of instructional coaches

Instructional coaches function most effectively as “utilitarian actors” that connect teachers, school leaders, and district administrators, but they are easy for them to be strained.

An instructional coach is a specialist – usually a seasoned teacher – who helps other educators develop content expertise and adapt their practice to meet specific student needs. In a study of seasoned instructional coaches in Blue Springs, Missouri, public schools near Kansas City, researchers found that principal’s trust and support can make the difference between an effective coaching program and a watered-down one. .

“The keystone of educational coaching is relationships based on trust. It makes sense, but it’s a lot easier said than done…and a key part of that is on the principal,” said Ryan Gettings, Principal of Blue Springs South High School and co-investigator of the study. , which was presented at the American Educational Research Association meeting in San Diego last month. “For this to work, instructional coaches must be a valuable part of the culture.”

Coaches are not substitutes

Districts are required to dedicate at least 20% of their U.S. bailout allocation to addressing the impact of lost instructional time, and many districts have sought to hire instructional specialists to work with teachers as well as directly with students. However, broader staffing shortages can make it easy for content specialists to drift away from this mission if their roles in schools and districts are not clearly defined.

“It’s kind of like you have 100 broken cars in your backyard and you hire five mechanics, and those mechanics spend all their time doing other things, you’re not fixing your cars, are you? ” said David Law, principal of the Anoka-Hennepin school district in Minnesota, which was not part of the Missouri research project. “All of our reading and math specialists end up replacing us. And so what keeps me awake at night is that over the next two years are we going to have $45 million in federal funds that haven’t made the kind of difference that I was hoping for because these people were busy keeping the doors open.

It’s not uncommon. A preliminary study found that coaches who report to the district spend on average more time working directly with teachers on instructional practice, while those hired by individual schools spend more time on administrative work or self-teaching. However, district and school-level coaches have also become mired in more administrative work, the more their district has focused on testing responsibility, although separate research suggests that improving the practice of teachers could do more to stimulate long-term student learning.

To ensure instructional coaches are able to focus on improving teacher practice, Gettings suggested:

  • An instructional coach operating across multiple campuses should have regular and open communication with each building manager about curriculum, content, instructional strategy, evaluation, and teacher professional development.
  • Principals should provide explicit times and locations for coaches to meet with vice principals and department chairs to plan what to target in professional development and consider how teachers respond.
  • Districts should provide joint training for managers and coaches on how to share leadership responsibilities.

Gettings and his colleagues analyzed training and meeting materials and observed interactions between teachers and administrators and experienced instructional coaches in reading, math, science and technology. They also asked teachers and staff about the quality of their coaching support. All of the coaches were seasoned teachers with between 17 and over 40 years of experience, and the principals viewed them as a “non-threatening resource for teachers”, a liaison to support educators who may feel more reluctant to ask for assistance to their managers.

As one director told Gettings, “There is a much greater impact when teachers are coached, led, and developed by a content specialist, not an administrator.”