Coaching Teachers’ Dual Roles - Steve Barkley

Coaching Teachers’ Dual Roles

In a report titled, Teaching the Teachers: Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Achievement, you’ll find an excellent summary of the research on professional development that changes teacher practice and leads to increased student learning. It suggests that the Common Core requires teachers to foster classrooms of collaboration, debate, and reflection which are ironically often missing from teachers’ professional development.

The following statement struck me as being very important to the work of coaches:

“Therefore, schools need teachers to not just be implementers of effective teaching strategies, but also innovators of strategies that foster critical thinking.”                                                                                                     

What’s the role of a coach in supporting teachers as implementers of effective teaching strategies?

The research summarized in this article identifies that for teachers to implement a new practice they need:

A solid foundation of knowledge about the teaching strategy

Modeling of the strategy to increase understanding

Coaching before, during and after implementation of newly learned skills

The report illustrates how the support for teachers’ implementation of new strategies needs to be purposefully planned. To be effective, from 50-80 hours of instruction, practice, and coaching are needed for teachers to arrive at mastery. Without this support only 10% of teachers can be expected to struggle through the awkward and often failure filled initial attempts with sufficient practice.  With coaching, 95% of staff can reach successful implementation.

In most school settings there will be insufficient time for instructional coaches and administrators to provide all the needed coaching, therefore creating cultures where teachers are coaching each other becomes critical. Teachers learning new practices together and then coaching and supporting each other through the “implementation dip” becomes a natural component for professional learning communities. Instructional coaches then coach the coaching process, teaching, modeling, and coaching the elements of peer coaching.

What’s the role of the coach in supporting teachers as innovators of strategies that foster critical thinking?

The study suggests that the research on teaching for critical thinking is lacking (in its infancy) and that teachers cannot just wait for “best practices” to emerge but need to create instructional innovations

I have often spoken about the need for coaches to realize they are coaching professionals, whom I describe as having a responsibility to be experimenters like doctors and attorneys. David Penberg explores the term “best practice” in a recent blog.

But best according to whom and in relation to what? How can anything be best when it is void of social, cultural, and historical context? Is best practice in a Baltimore middle school the same as one for an American School in Barcelona?  Can a best practice become a bad practice or a mediocre one?”

I’ve suggested that while we would all want a doctor who uses best practice, we’d also want one who doesn’t give up when best practice isn’t working. We’d all want an innovative problem- solver. Penberg suggests that with the improvisational nature of learning in school emerging practice might be a better term then best practice. That rings well for me as it has coaches and teachers continually looking to improve on previous best practice.

Again, I see professional learning communities being a valuable tool for coaches to use in supporting teachers as innovators. My experience indicates that most teachers are unprepared to work on innovative, problem-solving teams. This lack of background often causes teachers to be discouraged with initial time invested in PLC activities. I think it’s necessary that coaches and instructional school leaders provide facilitation and training for PLC members to experience effective collaboration, debate, and reflection that produce new teaching and learning strategies leading to success for all learners.

Look over your recent coaching activities. Are you supporting implementers and innovators?  What coaching skills do you need to support the two roles?

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5 Responses to “ Coaching Teachers’ Dual Roles ”

  1. Amanda Campbell Says:

    One of the things that I love so much about your approach, and this post in particular, is the focus on the community of teacheres rather than the focus on a coach as expert and change-bringer. Many of the coaches I work with are unsure of how to coach growth in an area in which they themselves are still improving, but I think that this can be a powerful aspect of growing a whole team/dept/school. As you point out in your comments on “best” practice, there is a limit to looking for the “right” way, and therefore, even those striving to implement a new strategy should be innovating around that strategy, constantly reflecting not only on their competency in implementing the strategy, but the effectiveness of the strategy itself.

    As complex as the work of teaching is, it takes a village of supportive professionals, facilitated by a reflective coach – rather than an expert super-coach!

  2. Steve Says:

    Thanks Amanda….. when I am asked to provide “look and listen fors” to people interviewing candidates for coaching positions, I stress the value of folks wanting the role because of the learning opportunity…. red flag when candidates stress their expertise that they want to “share.’

  3. Carolina Says:

    I feel better after reading your approach about coaches. I am always trying to promote trying new strategies in the classroom; however sometimes I doubted because I thought I was taking to many risks on students performance.
    I can tell you that I have seen how the teachers who are willing to try different strategies and resources are the teachers who learned more therefore students’ performance increase. Do you recommend to work with specific teachers to pilot a new idea?

  4. Linda Says:

    Steve – You are a source of positive energy and influence for instructional coaching. Thank you for your continued research, work with coaches and administrators, and your posts that highlight the journey! You are the ultimate coach!

  5. Steve Says:


    You want strong teachers experimenting with new strategies as they are in the best position to be continually assessing the value of the pilot on student achievement

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