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Key insights from David Blazar on instructional coaching

Assistant Professor David Blazar from the University of Maryland College Park joined us for a webinar to explain how instructional coaching is one of the most effective educational interventions. Here are some of the key insights he shared.

Instructional coaching is a differentiated, individualised model of teacher professional development

Coaching is an observation and feedback cycle that instructional coaches engage in with individual teachers. It is differentiated, individualised and time-intensive, in the sense that it happens on a regular basis over time. It can take different forms and can focus on a number of areas of pedagogy and practice such as classroom management or particular curriculum areas. Some of the different models of coaching include in-class observation followed by a debrief, or ‘bug-in-the-ear’ coaching which involves in-the-moment feedback. Coaching programmes also usually involve in-school colleagues as mentors and coaches, although there are examples of programmes where the coaching is virtual and occurs via an online platform.

One of the important characteristics of instructional coaching is that it is focused and specific, as opposed to more general models of observation and feedback that might take place in schools such as the observation of beginning teachers by their mentors. Instructional coaching begins with a diagnostic observation that is used to determine specific areas of concern on which the coaching will focus.

The evidence to support the efficacy of instructional coaching is significant

While there is no evidence to indicate that one single approach to instructional coaching works in all schools all the time, the research on the efficacy of coaching programmes on average shows large effects on teacher practice and student test score performance measures in a number of randomised controlled trials. The only other educational programme that research has shown to be as or more effective than one-on-one coaching with teachers is one-on-one tutoring with students.

What the research doesn’t show us … yet

While the evidence to support instructional coaching as an approach is very strong on average, it is less clear about some of the specific features or approaches, although intuitive and correlational conclusions may be drawn from the data. For example, the majority of coaching studies focus on the area of early literacy, which means that the evidence for the effectiveness of coaching in other subject areas is currently less strong. The research also demonstrates that coaching is a time-intensive approach, but, as no correlational link has been found between the efficacy of a coaching programme and the length of time it took, it doesn’t indicate definitively how long it should take and how many cycles are required before improvement is seen.

Coaches ARE the intervention

Much of the efficacy of the coaching depends on the coach, as the success of instructional coaching as an approach comes down to the one-on-one relationship between the coach and the teacher. However, there is nothing definitive in the current body of evidence to indicate what the specific qualities of effective coach are, although it does suggest that subject area expertise is an important factor.

Advice for school leaders looking to introduce an instructional coaching approach in their schools

As a first step, it is important to gain teacher buy-in. An important aspect of this is to emphasise that the instructional coaching programme is not designed to be evaluative but rather is for the purposes of improvement. Secondly, leaders should consider how to scale coaching as an approach. An effective way to do this is to start by looking at who needs coaching the most and who would benefit from it the most. Thirdly, leaders need to consider how to recruit for high quality coaches within their schools. Finally, they should consider how an instructional programme will align with other activities and improvement efforts that are currently underway in the school. One of the advantages of coaching is that it can be adapted to align well with a school’s current professional development focus and used to support other initiatives.

To learn more about instructional coaching, read this research review.