What Is Instructional Coaching and Does It Work?

All over the world, most schools have historically tended to approach professional development for teachers in a generic, one-size-fits-all fashion. Teachers receive training and information on acceptable teaching practices through seminars, workshops, and other similar programmes, often in large groups. Expectations are that they adapt and apply what they have learned in their classrooms.

Recently, schools have begun turning to instructional coaching as a promising alternative to traditional teacher training approaches. Many seasoned educators further their careers by pursuing instructional coaching in the hopes of guiding and mentoring new generations of teachers. Since its inception, instructional coaching has proven to be an effective way to support teaching staff and help them develop sustainable and productive teaching practices.

This feature will provide an in-depth introduction to instructional coaching, how it works, and its many benefits.

Understanding Instructional Coaching

Instructional coaches work directly with teachers, often one-on-one, to improve their teaching performance and enhance their students’ learning experiences. Many instructional coaches are trained experts who do work in that capacity full-time. However, senior teachers or academic leaders often provide instructional coaching for their more junior colleagues as a matter of course.

Most professional development programmes for teachers are broad and nonspecific, with few chances for personalised feedback, consultation, and support. Instructional coaching, by contrast, takes a highly individualised approach to continuing professional development (CPD). Coaches observe their coachees in the classroom, provide them with relevant feedback and points for improvement, and work with them to hone specific teaching-related skills.

Instructional coaching is most effective when applied on a one-on-one basis or across small groups, as this allows the coach to adjust their approach based on the specific context, needs, and goals of each coachee. Teachers tend to see the most benefits from instructional coaching programmes sustained over an extended period, such as a full term or a school year. This longer timeframe allows them to practise necessary skills, receive personalised feedback, and track progress.

Why Does Instructional Coaching Work? 

Teaching is a complex pursuit that requires educators to perform multiple discrete functions, sometimes simultaneously. Beyond classroom instruction, teachers study their course content, develop curricula, and coordinate with parents and school authorities on student performance. They also frequently have to provide their students with psychosocial support, mentorship, and guidance. One person is rarely, if ever, able to fulfil these duties equally effectively.

Instructional coaching works because it takes a deliberately non-standardised approach to CPD. Effective teachers adapt their teaching to account for the needs of particular students. Effective instructional coaches target the specific needs and objectives of their coachees. Theory and empirical studies consistently suggest that this differentiated approach is crucial to instructional coaching’s success as a teacher training method.

Furthermore, instructional coaching programmes are often highly flexible. Unlike seminars and other traditional CPD opportunities, an instructional coach can modify, expand, and supplement their initial plan over time. An effective instructional coach is prepared to change their approach as their coachees identify new priorities and new areas of concern. This flexibility ensures that the coach’s feedback and strategies are always relevant to their coachees’ present situation.

Benefits of Instructional Coaching

Abundant research suggests that the benefits of instruction extend beyond participating teachers to include those teachers’ students and their coaches. The following are among the most significant benefits instructional coaching programmes can bring:

· Teachers are more confident, more in control, and generally more effective in the classroom.

· Teachers are better equipped to evaluate their lessons and improve their teaching processes independently over time.

· Teachers can access a more diverse array of skills, strategies, and pedagogical approaches to draw from for future classes.

· Teachers can construct clearer, better-focused, and more organised curricula and lesson plans.

· Teachers’ professional relationships with their colleagues tend to improve. They may be more motivated to collaborate, share experiences and best practices with their fellow educators, and support one another’s professional growth.

· Students have more positive learning experiences in the classroom.

· Rates of student achievement tend to increase, while group achievement gaps tend to narrow.

· An overall healthier, more constructive school environment may emerge.

· Coaches also experience positive professional development due to working closely with various coachees, all of whom have differentiated needs, experiences, and personalities.

These numerous benefits are why instructional coaching has recently enjoyed a significant spike in popularity among teachers globally. It’s also worth noting that teachers can participate in instructional coaching programmes at any stage in their careers, as the experience is likely to be highly productive both for novices and for more experienced educators.

Instructional coaching is a young but promising form of CPD. Continuous personalised interaction between coaches and their coachees helps teachers cultivate confidence, hone their skills, and reach their professional goals.

Carrie Benedet coaches educators on how to be more effective amidst the pandemic. You may send her a message today.

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