Instructional Coaches Working with Whole School Professional Development - Steve Barkley

Instructional Coaches Working with Whole School Professional Development

This is the third of three blogs illustrating how coaches can apply the backwards process of connecting the desired student learning production behaviors to the teacher behaviors/practices/strategies that can generate those behaviors. This post focuses on the coach working with an entire school staff. The previous blogs considered coaches working with individual teachers and PLCs, teams, and departments .

A high school leadership team which consists of the school principal, vice principals, department heads, and the instructional coach have formed school-wide goals to increase the number of students successfully completing honors and AP courses, raising student performance on ACT and building students’ abilities to successfully meet college and career challenges. They have agreed that students need to be engaged in deeper critical thinking processes. The common phrase they have shared is that the person in the classroom working the hardest learns the most. They observe that too often the teachers are working the hardest — working to guide the students through the critical tested material.

“The greatest gift is not being afraid to question.”
– Ruby Dee

The instructional coach provided the team with the following student and teacher behaviors concerning critical thinking and questioning, pulled from the Danielson Framework:


  • Think, reflect and test ideas against those of classmates.
  • Formulate many questions, initiate topics and make unsolicited contributions.
  • Ask cognitive challenging questions.
  • Engage in give-and-take discussions with teachers and classmates.
  • Invite comments from their classmates during discussions, ensuring that all voices are heard.


  • Ask fewer but cognitively challenging questions, often with multiple answers or approaches.
  • Call on most students, even those who don’t initially volunteer.
  • Work with student responses and ideas.
  • Step back and facilitate student discussions.
  • Provide time for students to work with questions.

The team agrees that this list is a good starting point for staff conversations, professional development, peer coaching and walk through “look fors.” The instructional coach challenges them to consider beginning with members of the leadership team peer coaching with each other around these teacher and student behaviors.

Following the team meeting, the instructional coach identifies a questioning protocol called Questions for Learning. She believes that it would provide a common vocabulary for staff and students to explore questioning in thinking, learning, and problem-solving.

At the next team meeting the instructional coach shares the diagram and explains the value of the staff developing a common vocabulary around questions. Questions for Learning is presented in three five hour online PD modules. The team agrees that they will complete the first module in September and if it is valuable, they will ask the staff to complete the first one in October. Then proceed through the other two (one each month) with the team completing each in advance of the staff.

The coach offers to co-teach with volunteering department heads for experimentation with the planning of questions and then observing students’ reactions. These co-teaching plans will provide models that can be shared with staff as their study and implementation progresses.

The coach reminds the team of the learning dip that occurs when consciously implementing a change in practice.

Learning Dip

The uneasiness that teachers and students can experience during such a change in teaching and learning is an important component of growth. As coaching observations can document changes in teacher practice producing changes in student learning behaviors, continued effort in the practices is encouraged. The instructional coach supporting administrators and teacher leaders to coach the staff is very important. The instructional coach cannot meet whole staff needs on her own.

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