Coaches have a valuable opportunity to help teachers improve their instructional practices. Through promoting ongoing job-embedded growth, coaching can address “the ‘whole’ of teaching and learning in ways that highlight current trends in education and help teachers become better at their craft” (Eisenberg et al., 2017, p. 12).
And that’s where instructional coaching is highly effective.
Jim Knight (2007) made instructional coaching popular in his book Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction, and it remains one of the most valuable resources in this exciting field.
According to Knight (2007), instructional coaching is an efficient method for helping teachers educate their students. He defines it as a partnership between a coach and an educator, aiming to improve teaching practices and student learning outcomes. His approach focuses on professional development and support for teachers, with the coach serving as a collaborator, guide, and mentor.
Based on his earlier research, he believed that the theory underpinning the learning professional’s approach predicts their degree of success. And that “working one-to-one, listening, demonstrating empathy, engaging in dialogue, and communicating honestly are all part of successful professional development” (Knight, 2007, p. 8).
As a result, partnership is at the core of the instructional coaches’ (ICs) work with teachers.
The IC and the teacher are equal and must do everything they can to respect that equality. In doing so, Knight builds (2007) the instructional coaching approach around the following seven principles:
A solid and trusted partnership is a relationship between equals. The coach and teacher recognize one another’s thoughts and beliefs as valuable and essential, validating each other’s expertise and knowledge.
Neither party decides for the other. “They make their own choices and decisions collaboratively” (Knight, 2007, p. 24). Teachers are given options in the coaching process, such as deciding which instructional strategies to work on and the pace of the work.
Teachers must be able to express their points of view, concerns, and insights openly throughout the coaching process. “ICs should encourage conversation that gives voice to a variety of opinions” (Knight, 2007, p. 25). The benefit is having more than one perspective.
Partners engage in a coaching conversation to allow the other to speak their mind. It depends on open and honest communication between the coach and teacher, with both parties actively listening and seeking to understand the other. In practical terms, the IC should listen more than they talk.
To create a learning partnership where partners are equal, free to speak, and can make meaningful choices, collaborating teachers are encouraged to consider ideas before they adopt them. Such reflective practices help them analyze their teaching methods and make informed decisions about how to improve.
Partnerships are successful when they enable individuals to have more meaningful experiences. “Meaning arises when people reflect on ideas and then put those ideas into practice” (Knight, 2007, p. 25). ICs and teachers focus on how to use these ideas in the classroom.
Such partnerships typically mean success for the IC and the teacher. They should expect to learn from one another, as each brings unique experiences and insights.
Goals of instructional coaching
Instructional coaching aims to provide personalized, nonevaluative support to empower teachers, develop their skills, enhance instructional practices, and ultimately improve student achievement (Eisenberg et al., 2017; Reddy et al., 2019).
By focusing on collaboration, trust, and professional growth, instructional coaching has the potential to be a transformative force in education.
“The primary goal of instructional coaching is to enable teachers to implement scientifically proven instructional practices that respond directly to teachers’ burning issues” (Knight, 2007, p. 17).
According to Knight (2007) there are several other subgoals associated with instructional coaching:
The IC learns alongside their collaborating teachers.
Emotional connections are established between ICs and teachers.
The process assists teachers in effectively applying evidence-based strategies.
Coaching provides ongoing and practical support to the teachers’ professional development.
The Instructional Framework: 3 Models and Cycles
The instructional coaching framework uses several models and cycles to create a learning partnership between the coach and teacher, including the following.
Big Four framework
The Big Four framework, or model, is used by ICs to “sort out the various scientifically proven teaching practices available to share with teachers” (Knight, 2007, p. 81).
The following questions are helpful to keep in mind when identifying and reflecting on where instructional coaching should begin (Knight, 2007).
Behavior: Is classroom management under control?
When the class is focused on learning rather than misbehaving, the IC can turn their attention to other issues related to student learning.
Content: Does the teacher understand their teaching content? Do they have a plan? And can they identify which information is most important?
Once the class is well managed, the teacher must develop a deep awareness and understanding of the content they teach.
Instruction: Is the teacher using teaching practices that ensure all students master the content?
If the class is under control, and the teacher deeply understands the subject matter, the next consideration is if the teacher can teach the subject to their students.
Formative assessment: Do the teacher and students know if students are mastering the content?
Finally, knowing whether the students are learning and mastering the subject matter is vital. Measurement and assessment will let them know whether existing and new approaches are working.
Five tactics for translating research into practice
The following coaching model is helpful for ICs translating research into practice before sharing it with teachers (Knight, 2007).
The IC must begin by reading the material, making notes, and synthesizing what they find. Deep knowledge is essential for imparting theory and practice in a way the teacher understands and benefits from.
Having read widely, the ICs must synthesize their knowledge to identify and summarize what is important for the teaching practitioner and, ultimately, their students.
3. Break it down
Teaching theories, skills, and materials can be complicated. Breaking down learning material into manageable chunks can prevent the teacher from feeling overwhelmed.
4. See it through teachers’ and students’ eyes
Teachers have real-world, practical concerns. How will they teach the material to the students they have in the environment they have been given? The IC can remove their anxiety by discussing realistically what an intervention might look like in the classroom.
While ICs should make the content palatable, they should not dumb it down. Teachers are intelligent and driven to do their best for students.
Stages of change model and cycle
Sometimes teachers assume that change is a one-off event. Researchers have identified six stages within the process of personal change (Prochaska & Velicer, 1997).
The individual ignores the need for change. They are often demoralized and don’t want to talk or think about the problem.
They begin to consider why they may need to change. They may remain stuck in contemplation for a long time, not quite ready to move forward.
Once the decision to change is made, they must make plans. For example, someone wishing to get healthy may start by finding out about clubs they could join or the location of a local gym.
In the action stage, the individual begins making the change for which they have been preparing. Despite its name, this stage also involves thinking, emotions, awareness, and self-image changes.
Perhaps the most critical stage of change, maintenance requires the individual to live out their personal and ongoing struggle to maintain the change, such as sticking to a new fitness regime or healthy diet.
This stage of change only occurs when the individual no longer struggles with the transformation they have made.
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9 Interview Questions to Ask Clients & Students
The following questions offer a helpful starting point for ICs to find out more about the teacher’s background and existing challenges (Knight, 2007).
What aspects of the profession do you find most fulfilling as a teacher?
Can you share your career goals and objectives within the teaching profession?
What challenges have you encountered in reaching your career goals as a teacher?
Can you describe the strengths and areas for improvement you’ve observed among your students?
What types of professional development opportunities have you found to be most beneficial or least helpful for your growth as a teacher?
ICs can use the following questions with students to understand the style of teaching currently in place within the classroom (Knight, 2007).
Does your teacher generally give more encouragement and praise than criticism?
Has your teacher set well-defined guidelines for tasks and transitions during class?
Do you feel your teacher effectively communicates these guidelines? Are you and your classmates clear about what is expected?
Do you believe your teacher offers enough opportunities for you and your fellow students to engage and express your opinions during class?
Planning Your Sessions: 2 Templates and Examples
Whether you’re new to instructional coaching or a seasoned coach, it is vital to reflect on where to start the journey and how to begin (Eisenberg et al., 2017).
The following two coaching templates can form part of ICs’ planning sessions with their teachers.
Use the Beginning the Journey template to ask reflective questions early in the session planning process.
Group coaching brings challenges and benefits. It is a powerful way of identifying information from multiple teachers and academic staff and sharing goals and objectives more quickly.
Knight (2007) also offers several helpful strategies to structure and plan group sessions, including the following:
Hold the initial group session at the start of the year.
Explain the partnership philosophy.
Provide a one-page handout.
Ask the attendees to complete and return feedback forms.
Employ activities that encourage dialogue within the session.
Ask for teachers with previous experience in instructional coaching to share testimonials.
Prepare any additional speakers asked to talk.
At the end of the session, ask the teachers to show whether they are willing to participate on a form.
Forms and Resources for Instructional Coaches
The following coaching forms are valuable for understanding the goals of instructional coaching at an academic institution and any concerns the staff may have about the changes to come (Morel & Cushman, 2012).
The Understanding Goals and Principles form is helpful for teachers identifying and understanding the instructional coaching goals shared by principals, champions, and coaches.
Not everyone is ready for changes within their school. The Gripes to Goals form can be used to help understand teachers’ concerns.
How to Virtually Support Your Online Clients
When instructional coaching is performed in the digital space, coaches must consider the following factors (Kanatouri, 2020).
Build a robust and trusting relationship with teachers by demonstrating empathy, active listening, and understanding.
Encourage ongoing dialogue and feedback to ensure a clear understanding of expectations, progress, and areas for improvement.
Instructional Coaching – Penn GSE
This certification program is designed for coaches, teachers, and instructional leaders wishing to develop their knowledge, skills, and tools to create flexible instructional coaching experiences.
Resources From PositivePsychology.com
We have many resources available that can be tailored to instructional coaching.
Our free resources include the following:
Is Coaching Right for Me? This questionnaire helps clients determine if coaching is the right approach for them.
Instructor Feedback Form This form is intended for an educational setting and helps organize client feedback on their progress toward their goals.
From Inner Critic to Inner Coach Meditation
This tool assists clients in distinguishing their inner critic from their inner coach, enabling them to replace their usual defensive reactions with supportive and encouraging self-responses.
Try out the following five steps:
Step one – Practice meditation to enter a relaxed state of calm.
Step two – Consider a recent time of critical self-judgment and reflect on the words you hear yourself saying.
Step three – Try replacing the inner critic with an inner coach.
Step four – What would your inner coach say to you to support you?
Step five – Reflect on the impact of switching to your inner coach.
Career Discovery Reflection
Knowledge gained through self-reflection is essential for career exploration and discovery and can be valuable for instructional coaches working with teachers.
Step one – Reflect on the career aspirations of your younger self.
Step two – Consider what aspects of those early aspirations are in your career now.
Step three – Reflect on hobbies from your past and present.
Step four – Reflect on qualities you find appealing in people.
Step five – What dreams do you have for the rest of your life?
Read through the answers and identify common threads.
Instructional coaching supports teachers’ continuous professional development, empowering and encouraging them as they implement evidence-based instructional practices.
The approach builds on seven principles: equality, choice, voice, dialogue, reflection, praxis, and reciprocity. Individually and together, they emphasize a strong partnership between the instructional coach and the teacher, built on mutual respect, open communication, and shared learning.
Other positive outcomes of instructional coaching include learning alongside teachers, establishing deep emotional connections, and creating a shared understanding and vision of instructional coaching.
Instructional coaching has the potential to be transformative in education, focusing on collaboration, trust, professional growth, and improvement opportunities for teachers and their students.
This approach, along with the worksheets, forms, and strategies we offer, can help coaches empower their clients within education, promoting positive change and growth in their professional lives.
Therapists can also apply the principles of instructional coaching to their practices to foster a deeper understanding of learning and development, personal growth, effective communication, and stronger partnerships with their clients.
Eisenberg, E. B., Eisenberg, B., P., Medrich, E. A., & Charner, I. (2017). Instructional coaching in action: An integrated approach that transforms thinking, practice, and schools. ASCD Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Gazelle, G., Liebschutz, J. M., & Riess, H. (2015). Physician burnout: Coaching a way out. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 30(4), 508–513.
Kanatouri, S. (2020). The digital coach. Routledge.
Knight, J. (2007). Instructional coaching: A partnership approach to improving instruction. Corwin Press.
Kutsyuruba, B., & Godden, L. (2019). The role of mentoring and coaching as a means of supporting the well-being of educators and students. International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, 8(4), 229–234.
Morel, N., & Cushman, C. (2012). How to build an instructional coaching program for maximum capacity. Corwin Press.
Prochaska, J. O., & Velicer, W. F. (1997). The transtheoretical model of health behavior change. American Journal of Health Promotion, 12(1), 38–48.
Reddy, L. A., Glover, T., Kurz, A., & Elliott, S. N. (2019). Assessing the effectiveness and interactions of instructional coaches: Initial psychometric evidence for the instructional coaching assessments–teacher forms. Assessment for Effective Intervention, 44(2), 104–119.
About the author
Jeremy Sutton, Ph.D., is a writer and researcher studying the human capacity to push physical and mental limits. His work always remains true to the science beneath, his real-world background in technology, his role as a husband and parent, and his passion as an ultra-marathoner.