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The Impact of Instructional Coaches

Teacher's desk with letter blocks, colored pencils, and a stack of books with an apple on top.

Years of research indicate teachers who receive instructional coaching improve their quality of instruction and make gains in student achievement.

The Effect of Teacher Coaching on Instruction and Achievement: A Meta-Analysis of the Causal Evidence was conducted by researchers Matthew A. Kraft, associate professor at Brown University, and David Blazar, assistant professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. The 60 studies examined were randomized controlled trials focused on students’ standardized test scores and measures of teachers’ instructional practices as rated by outside observers.

The researchers found instructional coaching had a greater impact on instruction than almost all school-based interventions including student incentives, teacher pre-service training, merit-based pay, general professional development, data-driven instruction, and extended learning time. In fact, they determined the quality of teachers’ instruction improves by as much or even more than the difference in effectiveness between a new teacher and one with five to 10 years of experience. Similarly, student performance improved with instructional coaching regardless of whether a teacher was a novice or veteran.

Instructional Coaching Versus Traditional Professional Development

School districts spend a large amount of money on professional development (PD) programs. Teachers attend these sessions after school, on weekends, and during the summer. Despite the widespread use of these types of programs, the typical PD program can be too generic to meet teachers’ needs, leaving room for improvement and rarely showing a positive impact on student outcomes.

To personalize PD, school districts have started to hire instructional coaches to help teachers develop their expertise. Instructional coaching occurs during classroom instruction where instructional coaches observe teachers, model teach, provide feedback, and engage in meaningful discussion with teachers about their lessons and student learning. Instructional coaches can provide support in lesson planning and facilitate collaboration among teachers. The integration of coaching activities in a teacher’s day-to-day activities at the campus is much more effective than traditional PD workshop sessions.

Staffing Considerations

Researchers Kraft and Blazar did find a catch — large-scale coaching programs are less effective than smaller ones. This is consistent with theory of diminishing effects as programs are taken to scale. “The challenge of recruiting, developing, and supporting a larger staff of coaches is hard for districts to do,” Kraft said.

Districts may benefit with starting small, involving teachers who have a desire and motivation to participate, and tailoring coaching to individual needs. Larger programs requiring mandatory participation that are not individualized may be less effective especially if the teachers are not invested in the coaching process.  However, it’s important to note that even larger coaching programs had meaningful and statistically significant impacts on student achievement.

Staffing instructional coaches who are able to build relationships with teachers, understand good teaching practices, have experience with adult learners, and know how to use data are some of the skills associated with effective coaches, according to the New Teacher Center, an organization which helps districts implement coaching and induction programs. A sample job description outlining these required skills and responsibilities is available to HR Services members in the Professional Support Job Descriptions. Using a job description will help coaches and teachers have a clear understanding of the role and purpose of instructional coaches. An additional consideration is how many teachers one instructional coach can effectively support at one time. Districts may want to limit the ratio of teachers to instructional coaches as well as leverage technology to take advantage of virtual coaching. Research found there was little difference in the effectiveness of coaching programs online versus face-to-face. The use of technology allows feedback from a virtual coach minimizing the increase in personnel costs. This solution has become particularly popular with rural districts.

Staffing instructional coaches is costly. Districts will need to rethink how they are spending their professional development funds and perhaps reallocate some money for staffing and training instructional coaches. Also, creating a culture in which teachers are open to feedback and buy into the instructional coaching model is necessary for a program to be successful.

Impact on Teacher Practices and Student Learning

Having an effective teacher providing quality instruction in every classroom greatly impacts student learning. Providing more personalized support to teachers through instructional coaching can help increase the number of effective teachers in the classroom. Instructional coaching programs have the potential to improve practices in a way that many teacher professional development programs have not been able to do.

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Cheryl Hoover
Cheryl Hoover

Cheryl Hoover joined HR Services in 2018. She assists with staffing and HR reviews, training, and other HR projects. During Hoover’s public school career, she served as an executive director of curriculum and principal leadership, executive director of human resources, principal, assistant principal, teacher, and coach.

Hoover earned her bachelor’s degree from The University of Texas at Austin and obtained her master’s degree from Texas State University. She is a certified PHR.

HR Services

TASB HR Services supports HR leadership in Texas schools through membership offerings in specialized training, consulting, and other services.
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