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 first pitfall and recommendation shared in the overview article: “Common Pitfalls of Coaching Programs.”
Pitfall #1: Getting instructional coaches into classrooms as soon as possible.
Just because you have instructional coaches ready to help teachers, doesn’t mean you should let them loose in classrooms. While the new coaches may help teachers to improve in measurable ways, the efforts might not be in the areas of greatest need. Without a clear set of priorities or a targeted goal, instructional coaching in a school might yield improvements that are at best, scattershot and disjointed, but more likely, imperceivable. If the goal is to improve student learning outcomes in mathematics for a subgroup of students across a school system, then a system-wide strategy for your coaching program is needed.
Professional learning is most effective when it’s aligned with a school’s goals for student learning. Starting with an in-depth and data-driven needs assessment in which student needs are identified, analyzed, and prioritized builds the foundation for effective improvement efforts. After a thorough assessment of needs, one or two student-centered improvement goals are written. It is from those student-centered goals and the identification of obstacles students face in achieving those goals that the professional development needs of educators become evident. Once teachers write their professional goals based on student-centered outcomes, administrators can offer instructional coaching as an option for teachers’ professional learning journey.
A coaching program based on clear targets for instructional improvement helps both coaches and teachers focus efforts on identified and prioritized needs. This focus can keep efforts from getting sidetracked by the many competing demands in classrooms and schools.
Recommendation #1: Set an improvement strategy with instructional coaching as a channel of support.