Coaching and Student Achievement - Steve Barkley

Coaching and Student Achievement

In the December(09)/January(10) issue of Kappan, Jon Saphier and Lucy West describe, How Coaches Can Maximize Student Learning.

Beyond the title catching my attention as it matches much of the work I am doing with coaches and administrators, I read the article with interest because in 1972 Jon Saphier and I were teachers on the same school staff in New Jersey. Jon taught on a K12 team while I taught on a 5-6 team in an IGE (Individually Guided Education) school. The school was structured around teacher teams (usually 4 teachers with one or two paraprofessionals) working in large open areas with approximately 120 students on two grade levels. Students spent two years working with the same team of teachers. Every Wednesday, the students finished at 1:30 leaving a 2 hour team meeting time.

Notice the culture that Saphier and West suggest that coaches build: (pg46)

Teaching is public and the focus of study.
Planning is thorough, deep, and collaborative.
Conversation among teachers is constant, evidence based, and focused on improving student results.

Much of the design of our IGE teams supported the items listed above. Today in many schools coaches work hard to create opportunities for teaching to be public. In the IGE setting, one’s teaching was almost always at least informally observed. I wish we had known about peer coaching back then as we missed many opportunities for extended teacher learning.

I frequently recommend that coaches build cultures and structures where teachers are coaching each other. That practice will likely have a greater impact on student learning than the coach can generate in one on one coaching activities with individual teachers. This is especially true for coaches working with larger faculties or working in more than one building. Peer coaching is a natural extension of a professional learning community. It moves the PLC into the classroom, increasing the public element in teaching.

The shared accountability for students that the teachers possessed in the IGE school increased their commitment to each other through their commitment to students. Each of the 120 students in my 5-6 Unit was mine. I was responsible for each student’s success either directly from my instruction or indirectly through planning with a teacher who was instructing that student. I wonder now what impact an instructional coach working with us individually and as a team may have had on our student achievement. I believe it would have been quite positive. Hate to think that too many teachers are in schools today where the coach is available but due to a closed culture the students and teachers aren’t reaping the benefits.

I emailed Jon Saphier after reading the article asking his thoughts on the two us having such a similar focus on school culture and coaching. How interesting that two of us from a staff of 25 teachers at that IGE school are working on the national/international arena with schools.

Jon wrote back, “I think the formative influences on my view of coaching came when I had a job in Cambridge MA as a building based coach in a K-8 school. It was ’75-’79. I was doing my doctoral work then, too, and reading quite a bit about teacher learning.

I suspect you and I have always wanted to learn more about successful teaching and learning, and continue with that mindset. That led us into creating ways for others to deepen their learning, too. Hampton (the IGE school) attracted me because I saw it as a good place to learn, but I don’t think there was much in the culture there to support good coaching.”

Here’s a statement from Jon’s and Lucy West’s article that totally aligns with my work with coaches:

For a corps of coaches in a school district to significantly influence student achievement, the role of the coach must be construed as a change agent and culture builder for professional learning of all adults in the building.(pg 50)

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5 Responses to “ Coaching and Student Achievement ”

  1. Jim Says:

    Hi Steve, great thoughts here. I frequently suggest, as I’m sure you do, that coaches think of every conversation as an opportunity to create a positive learning culture. Such a culture, I think, requires equal parts safety and accountability.

  2. Kathi Says:

    Hi Steve,
    This forum is my favorite Sunday reading! I also agree with you, and Steve in recognizing how valuable every conversaton is with a teacher. Whether they be in a planned context or one in passing, they each represent a potential opportunity for something further. This is both exciting and scary as each opportunity also comes with responibility as we as coaches continually try to develop safety and accountability.

  3. Stephen G. Barkley Says:

    Jim and Kathi

    Thanks for your connecting comments.Continuous learning is the goal for students and teachers and creating an environment of trust is a key for the needed vulnerability to be present. This is true for administrators too. Every comment and question to teachers, teams, and staff is an opportunity. That’s one reason why principals need coaches so they are conscious of how they use these opportunities.

  4. Gabrielle Nidus Says:

    One way that I have found to begin building a culture of shared learning is through the use of video reflection. But, of course, this too takes time and set up to do in a schools that don’t have a professional learning community. I have used short clips focused on students (not teachers) to begin getting staff to build peer coaching opportunities.

  5. Stephen G. Barkley Says:


    I believe the video of students is right on and where we need to head.

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