Instructional coaching is an excellent way to support teachers in their continuous improvement practices, especially given the speed of change in school policies and environment. Indeed, research shows that job-embedded coaching is the most effective type of professional learning for teachers.
Why, then, do some coaching programs fail to produce desired student learning outcomes?
In this post we will elaborate on the sixth pitfall and recommendation shared in the overview post “Common Pitfalls of Coaching.”
Pitfall #6: Having content generalists as your math coaches.
If your school’s or district’s goals for student performance relate to math learning, it is critical to have an experienced, dedicated coach of mathematics instruction. It may be cost-effective to have one instructional coach for all subjects, but an instructional coach who does not possess both a deep understanding of mathematics content and pedagogical knowledge specifically for mathematics can perpetuate harmful misconceptions that hurt students in the long run.
Many argue that good teaching is good teaching, but we’ve seen too many well-intentioned instructional coaches allow misconceptions about math to persist, especially at the primary and intermediate grades, because they don’t understand the nuances of mathematics. Allowing a primary teacher to decline placing a negative number on a number line to “keep the math simple,” or not to define the “whole” when teaching fractions, or to tell students just to “add zero” when multiplying by factors of ten, can derail students’ foundational concepts of mathematics and cause undue struggle in upper grade math courses. A math coach, however, will know the nuances of mathematics and can deepen teachers’ mathematical content knowledge.
Math content knowledge is just one piece that math coaches can offer to teachers. The research-based practices promoted in the new standards comprise a very different way of teaching mathematics than many teachers are used to. Helping teachers move from outdated to research-based, student-centered instructional models requires a specialized, experienced coach. Experienced math coaches can model how to engage students in the Standards for Mathematical Practices and foster learning through problem solving, concepts that are often foreign to generalist coaches.