Broadening a Definition of Coaching | Steve Barkley

Broadening a Definition of Coaching

Michael Moody suggested that a strategy of broadening the definition of coaching could increase the effectiveness of instructional coaching. In an Educational Leadership article, titled “If Instructional Coaching Really Works, Why Isn’t It Working?“, he stated,
“When we think about instructional coaching, we likely envision a single coach observing a teacher and providing feedback. Perhaps we’ve been short-sighted. What if instead we broadened our definition of coaching to include several engagement points for teachers? After all, coaching is really about targeted and supported reflection of practice.”

3D. words demand and supply on wooden seesaw unbalancing on white background, business concept,Here are some of the inter-related activities Moody suggested to include as part of a coaching system. I’ve added my thoughts on each suggestion.


The following benefits to teachers’ self-reflection are identified in The Ultimate Guide to Reflective Practice in Teaching.

  • Encouraging reflective practice in schools, not only benefits individual teachers but the school as a whole.
  • Developing a culture of reflective practice improves schools by creating a strong foundation for continuously improving teaching and learning. It sends the message that learning is important for both students and teachers, and that everyone is committed to supporting it.
  • Reflecting practice creates an environment of collaboration as teachers question and adapt both their own practice and that of their colleagues. Teachers can team up, drawing on expertise and offer each other support. This helps to develop good practice across the school, resulting in a more productive working environment.

School leaders should be examining the ways that reflection is built into collegial conversations across the school. These conversations should spark and support teachers ongoing self-reflection. Questions from these opportunities can generate ongoing individual teacher pondering and searching. Time to share insights from reflection is important. (Earlier blog on coaching and reflection)

Peer-to-peer observation and feedback.

The first book I wrote on coaching was titled Quality Teaching in a Culture of Coaching. The title was purposeful in that I wanted people to see coaching as a part of the culture of a school rather than an isolated experience or activity. Most recently I have looked at defining peer observation and peer coaching as two different activities, both of which can generate teacher reflection and growth.

Peer Observation has a teacher observing in a colleague’s classroom, mostly for what the observer can gain. In another classroom, I can observe “how learning is happening” … watching students in a way I cannot when I am teaching. I can also observe teacher “moves” that generate ideas for my own practice. Any feedback to the observed teacher is positive and appreciative.

Peer Coaching has a teacher observing in a colleague’s classroom with the main purpose being to provide the observed teacher with feedback that the teacher has requested to guide her conscious teaching practices, identify impact on student learning behaviors, or problem-solve. Peer coaching requires a pre-conference to focus the observing peer. Feedback is specific to what was requested.

I describe one role of an instructional coach is to be the coach of coaching; creating ongoing peer to peer interactions that generate reflection and growth.

Individual coaching sessions between a teacher and instructional coach.

These coaching activities can be peer coaching where the focus of the activity is driven by the teacher or more mentor focused where the instructional coach is assisting in the implementation of a system’s curricular or instructional strategies. Often this coaching is an extension of professional development that was provided or support for a teacher new to the school.

Facilitated PLC coaching conversations addressing instructional practices, lesson study, and so forth.

PLCs are great opportunities for increasing reflection and setting the stage for increased coaching. PLC discussions and questions generate the need for peer coaching to gather more detailed observations, especially around student learning production behaviors. Information and insights from those coaching observations extend and deepen a PLC’s learning. Here is an earlier blog showing the benefits of connecting coaching and PLCs.

Observation and nonevaluative feedback from a school leader.

I have always stressed the need and value of school administrators modelling their abilities to function as a peer coach. The ability to switch “hats” from evaluator to coach models what teachers are asked to do with students. Check this podcast with Matt Renwick, a school principal and the author of Leading Like a Coach. I met a principal who had teachers generate an observation tool they wanted her to use whenever she had an opportunity to coach. The form put the teacher in charge of what was observed and what feedback was provided. A great chance for the principal to model peer coaching.

“……’s much more feasible to engage teachers in frequent reflection and coaching if the school isn’t relying on a single coach to carry the entire system. The activities must be coordinated, and a coach can be the one managing the process, but we need to think beyond the traditional coaching structure.”

(Michael Moody)

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