Triad of Success: Essential Elements of Instructional Coaching- Relationships, Goals, and Strategies
The Call for Instructional Coaching
In recent years, more and more districts are implementing instructional coaching as a way to support classroom instruction and meet the needs of all learners. What is instructional coaching and how can it help improve student learning? In theory, instructional coaching sounds simple when we think of it as someone who makes it easier for teachers to meet the needs of their students. While that may hold true, instructional coaching is multifaceted. An instructional coach is someone who plays a pivotal role in supporting teachers and strengthening their instructional practices by providing personalized guidance, facilitating professional development, and cultivating a culture of continuous reflection that results in improved student outcomes and overall educational success.
Instructional coaching can be offered in various pathways. Teachers may want a sounding board for new teaching ideas, they may be looking for a co- teacher for a unit of study and want to plan and teach together, some may want to see modeling of a strategy, and others may be looking for one on one professional development. At the heart of all effective instructional coaching lie three key factors: building of relationships, setting goals and identifying strategies to achieve those goals.
Building of Relationships
While the focus of successful coaching lies on goal setting and identifying instructional strategies to meet those goals, it is through the building of strong trusting relationships
between the coach and teacher that the work takes place. Educators must first come to understand and thoroughly feel your intentions are set in supporting them and the academic achievement and social well-being of their students. Instructional coaching is not an evaluation of a teacher's work, but rather a partnership in student success. With the mounting responsibilities that teachers have attained in recent years, from the demands of implementation of expanding curriculum, integration of Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), the continuous building of new initiatives, and addressing the effects of student behavior following post-covid, a collaborative partnership is needed in supporting teachers' unwavering commitment and efforts in facilitating the full learning
potential of each and everyone of their students.
Trust as the Cornerstone
Trust is the foundation for a strong coaching relationship. To gain trust, a coach must lead from a place that demonstrates empathy, confidentiality, and commitment to the teacher's professional growth. Building trust is established through listening without judgment. Creating a safe judgment free space where teachers feel comfortable sharing will build the foundation for a strong coaching partnership. As a coach, each and every time you meet with a teacher is an opportunity to show that trust is the essence of your
It is through open and honest dialogue that trust, vulnerability, and shared understanding are welcomed and thrive. To encourage this, coaches must intentionally create an environment that encourages open dialogue and consistently nurtures it. This begins by establishing a safe non-judgemental space where concerns and ideas are shared, and the practice of active listening, empathy, and a genuine interest in the teacher's perspective. Open communication strengthens the partnership allowing the coach to provide personalized support and guidance, empowers the teacher to set ambitious and attainable goals for student achievement.
Celebrate Successes and Support
Through Challenges Celebrating success, whether big or small, is pivotal for
building relationships in instructional coaching. Acknowledging teachers' accomplishments builds their confidence and motivation. It's important for the coach to be the first to recognize growth and initiate celebrations. This shows your genuine interest in their success and builds a stronger relationship. However, challenges and setbacks are also part of the journey. A coach's unwavering support is vital during these times. By offering encouragement, brainstorming solutions, and providing resources, an instructional coach can help navigate obstacles and support the teacher in building a growth mindset.
Setting clear and attainable goals is essential for instructional coaching. It provides a structure for growth and helps guide the coach and teacher towards a successful vision. These goals act as a compass, guiding the coach in providing targeted support and feedback that will ultimately lead to enhanced instructional practices and student academic and emotional growth. Here are a few key aspects of goal setting.
Collaboration and Reflection
Goal setting begins with collaborative work between the coach and teacher that is grounded in open trust and meaningful conversation. By reflecting on past experiences, they begin to explore the teacher's strengths, areas for improvement, and aspirations. This reflection is a starting point for identifying goals that meet the teacher's needs and align with curriculum standards. Through an iterative process of reflection and goal setting, the teacher enhances their instructional practices, and ultimately creates the optimal learning environment for students.
SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) Goals is a framework that is widely used in goal setting. Goals that are set through the collaboration of coach and teacher should be specific to the teacher's needs, measurable to track progress, achievable within a given timeframe, and aligned to curriculum standards. Using SMART goals brings clarity and focus, as well as guiding coaches to design support plans for the teacher.
As coaches and teachers work together in setting goals, keep in mind the focus will be on student learning outcomes. The teachers are experts in the classroom and working with a coach is not a reflection on them, it is a way to have a partner to think through ideas and set goals together to help improve student outcomes; whether that be whole class or individual student focused. Collecting and analyzing data is key for setting meaningful and attainable goals. When designing a goal several sources of data should be considered, such as student formative and summative assessments, classroom observations, student- reflection, and student-teacher conversations. The data will help identify areas that can make the most impact on student learning and help the process of identifying strategies that will improve specific needs.
Consider this scenario where an instructional coach is working with a science teacher, Ms. Taylor, who wants to improve student engagement and critical thinking in her classroom. The instructional coach begins by listening to Ms. Taylor to better understand her instructional practices, strengths, and areas of aspirations. Trusting one another, they discuss her teaching style, past experiences, and the challenges she faces in promoting engagement and critical thinking among students. They take the time to reflect and identify Ms. Taylor's strengths, such as creating a positive classroom environment and providing clear explanations of assignments. She also identifies her need for improvement in facilitating student discussions, embedding hands-on activities, and promoting higher- order thinking skills. They ensure the goal aligns with the learning standards and find that fostering student engagement and critical thinking skills are essential to the science curriculum and for student success. The coach and Ms. Taylor dive into relevant data, such as observation notes, formative assessments, and student feedback, to gauge current level of engagement and critical thinking in the classroom. They will use this information to identify areas where improvement is needed and begin the process of identifying
strategies that will have the most impact on student learning.
Identifying the appropriate strategies is pertinent for reaching set goals. It is through the collaboration of instructional coaches and teachers working to pinpoint strategies that will lead to student success. Here are a few key considerations when identifying effective
Using evidence-based practices means we rely on real- world evidence and solid scientific methods to help us make smart decisions and improve how we do things in education. An evidence-based practice is a method of doing things that we know works well because it's been studied and tested carefully. EBP promotes accountability, enhances quality instruction, and maximizes the potential for student growth. Research- based best practices enables coaches to effectively support and guide in the fostering of continued improvement in teaching and learning. You can find evidence-based practices at Find What Works. This site offers descriptions and videos on strategies that work across content areas.
An instructional playbook is a valuable resource for coaches and teachers. It is a consolidation of high- impact teaching strategies and tools that have resulted in success in different content areas. The playbook will be effective and frequently used if it includes detailed descriptions of each strategy, examples of implementation, and research supporting its effectiveness. Coaches can work together to curate this resource, continuously updating it based on teacher feedback and emerging research.
"Being contextually respectful is about seeing each teacher as the expert in their own context-their classroom with students. By encouraging and allowing teachers to do the thinking, coaching builds a strong sense of
self-efficacy and enables agency."
-Chris Munro, Executive Director of Growth Coaching
Ongoing Support and Feedback
Identifying strategies is not a one-time event; it is an iterative process. Instructional coaching entails ongoing support and feed to teachers as they implement strategies. Teachers must not feel alone in this work, yet they must feel empowered to take the reins within the classroom. The partnership is one of regular dialogue, reflection, data analysis, and making adjustments to strategies when necessary. The process ensures that coaches and teachers are in a continuous cycle of growth and optimal student achievement is