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Coaches for the Classroom

By March 25, 2013June 13th, 201610 Comments

When you think of coaches, an image of a sports figure may come to mind—Tom Landry, Bobby Knight, or Bear Bryant. But in education, coach may be a part of your everyday vernacular as well.

As schools are looking for ways help teachers implement the Common Core and reach No Child Left Behind (NCLB) goals, traditional professional development (PD) programs, sometimes referred to as “one-day wonders,” have proven ineffective in sustained growth and improvement for teachers. Researchers Bruce Joyce and Beverly Showers (2002) found that PD that consisted of demonstration, feedback, and practice did not have a noticeable effect size on classroom transfer (effect size + 0.0). Even research-based models of learning and the most thoughtful day of PD have no impact on student learning if the teacher cannot internalize or sustain their learning over time and with fidelity. In order to make deep, lasting changes in teacher practices, more and more school districts and states are using instructional coaches to support teachers in implementing best practices for increased student achievement.

What is an instructional coach? While there are many variations, in general, an instructional coach teaches educators how to use proven teaching methods and uses a variety of PD practices to encourage the implementation of these methods. Often, instructional coaches meet with teachers individually or in small groups, collaboratively plan with teachers, model instructional practices, or observe teachers using instructional strategies (Knight, 2004). Instructional coaches are meant to help teachers transfer their training to the classroom and implement what they’ve learned with fidelity.

And there’s research to back that up. Two programs, Pathways to Success from the University of Kansas (which includes six middle schools and three high schools), and Passport to Success by the Maryland Department of Education (which includes five middles schools), showed that instructional coaching programs generated implementation rates of at least 85 percent (Knight, 2005), which means teachers were using what they learned in PD. Joyce and Showers (2002) also analyzed implementation rates and found that when coaching is added after PD, “a large and dramatic increase in transfer of training—effect size of 1.42—occurs”.

McREL staff has seen firsthand how instructional coaching helps teachers transfer what they’ve learned in training. In October and November 2012, McREL staff trained a diverse group of English, French and Cree-speaking consultants from Northern Quebec in instructional coaching strategies. These consultants learned best practices in coaching and practiced through role-playing and other interactive scenarios. A month later, when Bj Stone, McREL principal consultant and co-author of Classroom Instruction that Works (2012), presented two days of instructional training to the Cree teachers, the coaches were prepared to support and reinforce the new learning with a “toolbox” of strategies, including setting goals with teachers, modeling classroom lessons, and checking for the fidelity of implementation. Many teachers, in Cree and elsewhere, report that not only does instructional coaching increase their confidence, it also increases their willingness to try new evidence-based best practices. Teachers and coaches begin to share a vision—to increase achievement for students.

How is your district using instructional coaches? How is it benefiting the school? The teachers? Have you experienced any challenges?

Patti Davis is a lead consultant at McREL in the Center for Systems Transformation.



Joyce, B. & Showers, B. (2002). Student achievement through staff development (3rd ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Knight, J. (2004, Spring). Instructional coaches make progress through partnership: Intensive support can improve teaching. Journal of Staff Development 25(2), 32–37. Retrieved from

Knight, J. (2005, Winter). Instructional Coaching. StrateNotes 13(3). Retrieved from

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.


  • The district I previously worked for implemented reading and math coaches into the elementaries and instructional coaches into the middle schools.
    One of the benefits of instructional coaching is that after the coach has provided professional development, the coach is still in the building and not running to catch a plane. Teachers were able to learn new strategies and then have those strategies modeled in their own classrooms with their own students. If the teacher wanted an observation to make sure “I’m doing it right”, the coach was there to provide feedback.
    The teachers that I supported were appreciative of the modeling and feedback I was able to provide. I was also able to provide a lot of the research legwork for the Common Core.
    The biggest challenge is overcoming time. It takes time to build relationships. Teachers don’t want just anyone in with their students. They want someone they trust and know is going to do it right.
    For too long teachers have closed their doors and not been bothered. Getting the doors and communication lines open can be challenging depending upon the climate of the building.
    Given enough time, coaching becomes win-win for everyone involved.

  • Tammie says:

    Great article! Our district uses reading and math instructional coaches. I think it benefits schools because teachers learn new ways to reach all learners. Sometimes coaches see vertical alignment that teachers don’t get to see, so that helps with goal setting and depth of knowledge. Being new to 3rd grade, I don’t feel overly confident about teaching math skills, that’s when I have a coach come model a lesson with best practices, so I understand as well as my students what is expected from that skill. When a coach does this it’s easier to implement in classroom because the coach is showing you right then and there how to do those things.

  • Jamie Minette says:

    Our school uses instructional coaches in each building to be used in a variety of ways. They provide observations, lesson modeling, co-teaching, feedback, next steps, and additional resources that benefit teachers This has been very effective for me when I have a relationship with the coach and the coach is able to provide meaningful feedback to me. I have found some coaches say great job and that was the extent of our relationship. I am most empowered when a coach can tell me something I have done well, and then give me resources and ideas on how to make it exemplary. I feel comfortable approaching the coaching team when I need a lesson modeled or additional resources for teaching. The coaches are definitely an investment in me provided by my district. In my previous school district all of the positions were cut when budgets were tightened a few year ago.

  • Educational coaching is an excellent idea. This works in almost all subject area.However we need to ensure that we do not underestimate the aspect of classroom teaching. Coaching can be use to help slow learner develop skills at their own phase.

  • Altovise Stevens says:

    I am a first year mathematical coach at a Title 1 school. One of the benefits of being a instructional coach is being able to model for teachers. Teachers are able to ask questions and learn new strategies provided by coaches.
    Another, benefit for having a coach would be able to read and analyze data for your department. As a coach you are able to identify those students who has not mastered a particular benchmark.
    Teachers are appreciative of the assistance provided with small group pullouts, modeling, and analyzing data. However, one of the major problem is teachers not implementing strategies provided.

  • lbaxter1972 says:

    An instructional coach is someone every educator needs at some point in their career. Seasoned teachers could benefit when the curriculum changes, and new teachers could benefit when it’s time for them to put their training to work. I would have felt more at ease when I started teaching in 2010 as a second grade teacher and in 2011 as second and third grade teacher. An instructional coach would not only benefit me as an educator, but the students as a whole would have received better instructions.

  • Delmae says:

    Great Article! I support instructional coaching. The positives outweigh the negatives!

  • Emma says:

    As someone who was involved in this coaching process, the one being coached, it was a process that was very beneficial for my classroom instruction.
    Utilising technology in the classroom was the main aim and by the end of the year it was something that had become a more integrated part of my teaching, something that began to happen naturally in my day to day classes with this specific group of year 8 students.

  • Cheryl Paul says:

    Have begun work as a coach and have read Classroom Coaching Instruction That Works. Not a user friendly text and very dry. Good coaching begins with developing a supportive relationship and jointly identifying areas for improvement.

  • Ginger Robert says:

    As an instructional coach, I have begun supporting our staff through implementation of CITW. I find it most beneficial to treat each teach as an individual and find what kind of support they prefer/need. Some appreciate a face-to-face discussion rather than a phone call or email. Others really need to see the strategy in action and want me to model it or co-teach it with them. Being able to read people and find out how to work with each one is crucial to the job.
    Great article! Thank you.

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