How many times as a teacher have you received feedback like the following?
“You need to have more clarity in how you explain ideas to students.”
“You need to work on improving your presence in the classroom.”
“You need to question students more.”
Do you remember how frustrating it was to receive such feedback after you thought the lesson had gone well, leaving you wondering: what does ‘more clarity’ actually mean when explaining? What does ‘having more presence’ look like in the classroom? Why do I need to question students more? How do I question students more? This type of feedback can leave you feeling disheartened and not ‘good enough’ by not providing specific support in what to do next.
All too often the feedback and advice given to teachers lack precise meaning that cannot be actioned, leading to limited improvement in teacher practice and ultimately student outcomes. In a recent poll, I asked the value of observations to the Twitter community. The view was clear: observations in many schools are providing limited support towards improving teachers’ professional development.
This is where instructional coaching has provided evidence for school leaders to move away from traditional observations and use coaching to contribute to improving teacher’s professional development. In 2018, Sam Sim went as far as saying instructional coaching is currently the best-evidenced form of CPD. Sim defines instructional coaching as follows:
‘Instructional coaching involves an expert teacher working with a novice in an individualised, classroom-based, observation-feedback-practice cycle.’
One of the examples of several pieces of evidence that supports his claim is a randomised controlled trial from the My Teaching Partner (MTP) intervention, which demonstrated improved secondary school results in the state of Virginia by an effect size of 0.22, where students were taught by teachers who had made the greatest amount of progress from their coaching sessions. This was further supported by a replicated experiment in 2015 where similar positive results were recorded. Sim goes on to provide further evidence of research that supports the positive effect of using coaching to support teacher professional development and the impact this has on student outcomes. The article can be read here – https://samsims.education/research/.
In Get Better Faster, Paul Bambrick-Santoyo outlines a 6-step instructional coaching model (shown below) that focuses on getting ‘granular’ by breaking down the feedback teachers receive into one clear highest leverage action step. Just like a football coach might focus on practising one technique, like short passes, in this model the teaching coach focuses on working with that teacher on one skill at a time. For example, it might be that the coach identifies the overall aim for the teacher observed is to develop the culture of learning in their classroom. Firstly, the coach would break this down into smaller bite-sized action steps so that the teacher can master one skill at a time. In order to master this skill, the coach would provide time for the teacher to practise this skill before delivering it to students in a lesson. After all, teaching is a performance and like any West End actor, practice is crucial. At this stage, the coach may use video of the teacher to help support development. The Centre for Education Policy Research at Harvard University provides a fantastic video observation toolkit to support its use in schools. The toolkit can be found here – Video Observation Toolkit. The coach would then follow up on the implementation of the bite-sized action step with the teacher. In this scenario, the coach may spend several weeks or a half term with the teacher supporting them in mastering each skill that ultimately aims to improve the culture of learning in the classroom.
Whilst the evidence for instructional coaching is positive, the implementation of it by school leaders is crucial to ensure it helps teachers to grow. This is outlined by Lucy Steiner and Julie Kowal from the Centre for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement. “For an instructional coaching program to be effective, school leaders need to play an active role in selecting trained coaches, developing a targeted coaching strategy, and evaluating whether coaches are having the desired impact on teaching and learning.”
Consequently, there needs to be a clear vision for a school’s instructional coaching program, with skilful coaches who work with individual teachers over a period of time, and their impact on teacher professional development monitored. When this is done successfully, it removes the lack of clarity in feedback given to teachers and provides greater collaboration amongst colleagues that ultimately will bring out improvements in teacher practice and student outcomes.