May 12, 2022

Pedagogical coaching shows promise as a method to improve teacher impact

Providing students with access to a high-quality education begins first and foremost with an effective teacher in every classroom. To move closer to ensuring that every classroom has a quality educator, state and federal governments have invested in professional development (PD) programs, typically including workshops and presentations given to teachers to deepen their skills and content knowledge. Yet the “typical” PD curriculum is often too generic to meet teachers’ needs, leaving room for improvement and rarely showing impacts on student achievement.

In the United States, schools spend between $74 million and $181 million annually on professional development programs to improve teacher quality. Despite the widespread use of these programs, many doubt that they are really effective. The researchers found no significant improvement in teacher training from year to year, and teachers continually complain that these programs do not meet their needs.

To personalize professional development, many school districts have begun hiring instructional coaches for their teachers. Instructional coaches help educators and administrators develop expertise in academic content standards, for example, “by helping districts coordinate textbook adoption, developing curriculum, and providing professional development.” and teacher mentorship. Accelerated by federal education policy like No Child Left Behind, the staffing rate of these coaches doubled from 2000 to 2015. In this article, I explore current data on the effects of instructional coaches on the teacher training, student achievement and other student outcomes.

Pedagogical coaching versus traditional professional development

The most common form of professional development is the “workshop”. Teachers attend these sessions at scheduled times—often after school, on weekends, or during the summer—which are led by leaders with particular expertise. Institutes, courses, and conferences are other forms of professional development that share many of the characteristics of workshops. Michael Garet and his co-authors suggest that the traditional form of professional development workshop struggles to produce meaningful change in teachers’ practice because workshops are often too general in content or do not provide opportunities for learning. active learning – the preferred method for adults and teachers to practice before they go. back to the daily grind.

In contrast, instructional coaching occurs during the classroom teaching process or during regular planning time. Instead of presenting a general workshop, instructional coaches observe teachers in their classroom, provide feedback, and engage in meaningful discussion with teachers about their lessons. Sarah Galey, a researcher at Michigan State University who specializes in instructional coaching, says coaches also provide support when teachers plan lessons and can facilitate teacher learning by organizing peer groups where teachers can share and discuss. lesson plans and classroom management strategies with other teachers. According to Garet et al, professional development programs like teacher coaching are more effective than the traditional professional development workshop model because they are integrated into teachers’ daily activities at school and respond better to the active way in which teachers learn best.

There is currently no standard model or definition of the role of an instructional coach or licensing requirements across all programs or states. Looking at studies from Kowal & Steiner and Sailors & Price, instructional coaching models vary in purpose and practice as many have been designed to meet local needs using available resources. Coaching models differ depending on who they prefer to hire (excellent in-school teachers serving as mentors versus external consultants brought in to institute reform); the coaching strategy (whether the coach relies on joint inquiry or assumes the role of an “expert” directing the teachers); and in program orientation (whether the program focuses on approach and content or on improving professional culture among faculty).

In the instructional coaching studies of Jim Knight and Galey, there is consensus that instructional coaches must combine instructional and content expertise with strong interpersonal and organizational skills as coaches attempt to improve teacher practice while navigating complex relationships between political mandates, school administrators and mistrust. teachers.

Promising evaluations of educational coaching

As schools hire more instructional coaches, critics have pointed out that the dramatic growth in non-teaching staff has not led to improved graduation rates or test scores. They argue that this huge sum of money could be used more effectively elsewhere.

Despite criticism from “busy” schools, evaluations of teacher coaching programs show that coaching can create significant change in teachers’ instruction in reading, science, and math. In fact, Kraft, Blazar, and Hogan’s recent meta-analysis of 60 instructional coaching evaluations found significant positive effects of coaching on instructional practice (0.49 standard deviations).

However, the paper found that coaching has a more limited effect on student achievement (0.18 standard deviation). They interpret the evidence as suggesting a much weaker relationship between instructional inputs and achieved outcomes. Some previous studies suggest that coaching improves areas of instruction, such as the richness of concepts taught and elicits student reflection and engagement that ultimately seem unrelated to student achievement.

The positive effects of instructional coaching seem to extend beyond student success. Qualitative evaluations of instructional leadership conclude that coaches can play an important role in implementing educational reform by helping teachers make the connection between policies based on distant norms and their day-to-day teaching strategies. . Additionally, research shows that educational coaching can help close the racial discipline gap and ensure fair treatment for students. Anne Gregory’s recent study found that instructional coaching was successful in bridging the racial discipline gap by helping teachers incorporate higher-level thinking and hypothesis generation into their lesson plans. As a result, all students were more engaged, and coached teachers no longer referred black students to disciplinary action at a higher rate than their non-black peers.

Pedagogical coaching is moving forward

Although evidence on instructional coaching suggests that it is more effective than the traditional “shop floor” professional development model for improving instructional practice, several factors need to be considered moving forward. First of all, these programs must be profitable. Many of today’s educational coaching programs are small in scale and very expensive to implement.

While it is unclear whether these programs could continue to have an impact once scaled, creative tools such as the use of technology could help deliver this coaching in a flexible and inexpensive way to a larger group of teachers. A recent intervention used video recording, playback and videoconferencing to deliver coaching sessions to science teachers in rural middle and high schools. The use of technology has provided maximum flexibility for teachers, while allowing educational coaches to help multiple teachers at once in a cost-effective way.

However, when determining the feasibility of technology-based interventions, policymakers should keep in mind that there are significant differences in how disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged schools provide resources and support to teachers. to integrate digital tools in the classroom. Policymakers need to overcome this “digital divide” in schools to ensure technology-enabled instructional coaching programs reach their full potential.

Given that school districts are already making huge investments in professional development (as noted above), perhaps policymakers and district leaders can redirect and redistribute funds toward innovative and cost-effective programs such as the technology-driven instructional coaching to maximize the impact of their investment on teaching quality.

Second, according to Galey and Knight, instructional coaches, school administrators, and policy makers across the country need to work together to standardize and develop a clear and comprehensive definition of the role of an instructional coach. Their research found that coaches report performing best when their role is well defined, and the current lack of a clear and shared definition creates tension for coaches and causes colleagues to underestimate the job of an instructional coach. . For educational coaches to realize their full potential, they ultimately need a clear and standardized definition of their role in schools.


A number of studies have documented both the importance of having an experienced teacher at the head of a class and the extent of unequal access to quality teachers. Promoting higher quality teaching could potentially have the greatest impact on the least advantaged students.

Helping teachers become more effective in the classroom has been a federal and state priority for the past 10 years, and instructional coaching can play an important role in that effort. By providing more personalized support to teachers, coaching can improve the classroom instruction that students receive and can ultimately ensure that more students are taught by effective teachers and benefit from a high-quality education. quality.

Hana Dai contributed to this post.