The Work of Coaches - Steve Barkley

The Work of Coaches

I am often asked to assist district staff in exploring ”what should be the work of our coaches?”  and “How can we guarantee that our coaches’ work will positively impact student achievement?”.  I often use this diagram to illustrate choices for administrators and coaches deciding where the coach will spend his/her time.

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The “YOU” in pink is the coach. On the right hand side of the diagram, coaches spend more time with individual teachers and perhaps working directly with students. Toward the left, coaches spend more time working with teams of teachers (grade level, PLCs, departments) and with administrators. My general guideline is that the larger the number of teachers per coach, the more the coach needs to focus on the left…focusing their time on teams and leaders.

I am currently reading Simply Better: Doing What Matters Most to Change the Odds for Student Success by Bryan Goodwin, which sites meta- analysis results of educational research identifying successful school practices. 

Goodwin identifies selected school-level influences on student achievement that have a strong influence and a moderate influence on student achievement. (page 110)


Opportunity to learn— aligning the curriculum and assessments and monitoring its use in the classroom

Decreasing disruptive behavior…programs to address behavior issues

Leadership– schools with leaders who receive high teacher ratings on key leadership behaviors

School size– high school size between 600 and 900 students


Optimizing instructional time– maximizing time spent teaching, minimizing distractions

Clear and monitored achievement goals– articulating and monitoring schoolwide achievement goals

Pressure to achieve– communicating academic success as a primary school goal

Parental involvement– involving parents in setting and enforcing policies

School climate-clearly articulating and enforcing rules of behavior

As school leaders struggle with budget issues and try to decide if coaches can make a difference the above list should help. It should also be valuable to coaches and administrators trying to decide, “What are the best activities for coaches to engage in?”. Here are research findings that can support these decisions.

Goodwin concludes, “It would appear then, that “job one” of principals should be to reduce the variability in teaching quality within their schools. This means visiting classrooms, observing teaching, coaching teachers to higher levels of performance, evaluating their performance, and supporting their professional development.”

If that were my task, I’d definitely want to have instructional coaches on my leadership team. I’d also work to develop a peer coaching and professional learning culture within the school organization. 
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