The Work of the Instructional Coach | Kane and Rosenquist | Steve Barkley
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The Work of Instructional Coaches

During a podcast with Jim Knight  and another with Joellen Killion and Cindy Harrison, the topic of how instructional coaches spend their time arose. So, it was interesting to find this article by Britnie Delinger Kane and Brooks Rosenquist, Making the Most of Instructional Coaches, in Kappan April (2018) [pages 21-25].

Coaching puzzle piece

Kane and Rosenquist conducted a study to uncover the amount of time that coaches spent in activities that research suggests are useful in improving instruction, such as modeling or analyzing classroom video versus spending time on duties like making copies or substituting. They reference the research of Lynsey K. Gibbons and Paul Cobb, Focusing on Teacher Learning Opportunities to Identify Potentially Productive Coaching Activities. Gibbons and Cobb identified five characteristics of high quality professional learning to assess coaching activities:

  1. The learning opportunity should be intensive, ongoing, and sustained.
  2. Learning is in context of issues the teacher is dealing with day to day with students.
  3. Teachers are focused on student thinking: evidence of student thinking is used to assess progress.
  4. The learning develops teacher communities with common professional discourse.
  5. Professional learning provides opportunities to both investigate and enact specific pedagogical routines and practices (active learning).

This list makes a great reflection activity for a district coaches’ meeting or a principal/coach planning/goal setting session.

  • How often are these criteria present in teacher/coach interactions?
  • What changes could we make to increase the educator learning opportunities with these criteria?

Kane and Rosenquist share that while the promise of coaching is high, the evidence of effectiveness has been inconsistent. Coaches’ job descriptions may be one of the problems. They often contain a wide array of duties that can erode time to work directly with teachers. Studies have identified some coaches working only a fourth or a third of their time with teachers to improve instruction.

“To achieve their potential, coaching initiatives must be designed
to maximize the time coaches spend working with teachers to improve instruction.”
 – Kane and Rosenquist

The coaches in Kane’s and Rosenquist’s study were divided between those hired by a central office supervisor and those hired by a principal. The study found that district hired coaches spent on average 92% of their time working with teachers in “potentially productive coaching activities” compared to school hired coaches who averaged 40% of their time on those activities. While school-based coaches usually had greater trust with principals and teachers, they tended to be more limited in their time to work directly with teachers on issues of instruction as they had too many disparate responsibilities. School-based coaches frequently spent time working with students, tutoring low performing students, working with students’ software log -in records, collating test score data, or proctoring assessments.

Kane and Rosenquist uncovered some interesting issues connected to coach/principal relationships. While other studies identify the importance of positive relationships with principals which helped support coaches work with teachers, they identified that principals who reported great trust in their coaches frequently assigned them more non-coaching duties. The authors suggest that pressure on principals to improve test scores may lead to decisions about the coach’s time being more short-term focused then the longer-term improvement of instruction.

Developing new skills

I’ve worked with coaches in both settings and believe that “how the coach” establishes a plan for focusing on needed ongoing support is a critical element and can be achieved differently. A teacher working to implement a change in practice needs extended coaching. If I am a district coach working in several buildings, most of my work with a teacher needs to be followed up/supported by someone else between my scheduled time in the school (department chair, administrator, mentor, peer coach). If I am school-based, I needed to work with a small enough group of teachers at a time to be in classrooms frequently with coaching support. Creating peer coaching feedback around a shared teaching strategy is another option.

I envision, that regardless of hiring being done at the district or building level, the costs of a coach is an investment being made in learning at schools. Building administrators need to be accountable for the “use” of that investment. District staff assessing principals should explore how the coach as an asset is being employed. Coaches should be logging their time for continued conversations with leadership teams regarding choices the coaches are making concerning their use of time. An expectation should also be presented to teachers that coaches are a resource to impact student success. Any teacher dealing with a struggling or unsuccessful student and having not sought out the coach should be conscious of her administrator’s concern.

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One Response to “ The Work of Instructional Coaches ”

  1. cindy harrison Says:

    Steve,
    This is a great column. It reminds me to emphasize the importance of coaches doing the right work as I work with districts.
    Thanks

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