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 http://www.instructionalcoach.org/images/downloads/articles/Knight_PL2005-05.pdf
Knight, J. (2005, Winter). Instructional Coaching. StrateNotes 13(3). Retrieved from http://www.instructionalcoach.org/images/downloads/articles/nov_stratenotes.pdf