Instructional coaches are tasked with many responsibilities. Leading and developing workshops, collaborating with PLCs, facilitating school-wide assessments, organizing learning walks, analyzing student achievement data, and various other activities all contribute to positive change in schools. However, in the proceedings and productions of these large-scale activities, oftentimes, the heart of coaching, the one-on-one coaching cycle, can fall to the wayside.
Why? To some people, the coaching conversation seems so small. Facilitating workshops and school-wide activities seems important and can make the coach feel important. Activities like these might provide justification for his or her job to wary teachers and administrators. Let’s face it — big activities look good. Also, it feels like we are accomplishing more (faster!) when we have lots of people involved. The coaching cycle just doesn’t seem time efficient, right?
However, much of the available research about coaching suggests that change really happens one collaboration at a time, through the use of one-on-one coaching.
So, what do I mean by a coaching cycle? Although there are many interpretations of what constitutes a “cycle”, I categorize a cycle as a professional learning sequence that includes a pre-conference, classroom instruction, and a post-conference reflection.
The classroom instruction and reflection can play out in three scenarios.
- The coach observes the teacher teaching a lesson and provides feedback to the teacher.
- The coach and the teacher plan and teach a lesson together. They then reflect together.
- The teacher observes the coach teaching a lesson and provides feedback to the coach.
There is still much research to be done, but studies that suggest that coaching has a positive impact on student achievement describe collaborations that I would characterize as coaching cycles.
Some studies show that teachers implement more literacy strategies in their classrooms when they work with literacy coaches (Feighan & Heeren, 2009; Kretlow & Bartholomew, 2010). Teachers especially give high praise to one-on-one coaching when compared to traditional off-site professional development (Gross, 2010; Kretlow & Bartholomew, 2010). Of all the possible ways coaches work each day, teachers report that significant coach and teacher collaborations have the most impact upon the learning in their classrooms (Campbell & Sweiss, 2010; Gross, 2010; Kretlow & Bartholomew, 2010). Most studies show that teachers report increased student engagement and on-task behavior as results of coaching collaborations (Kretlow & Bartholomew, 2010). Coaching cycles help teachers make changes in their instruction because coaches can tailor data collection, planning, and advice to the individual teacher’s situation and needs.
A three-year study of elementary schools tracked the amount of time spent coaching and resulting student achievement. The researcher used alphabet letter recognition and scores on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-III (PPVT-III) to measure student achievement. A significant correlation between time spent coaching and student achievement was found in the first year, but weak correlations were found during the following two years. The first year both coaches and teachers had a strong focus on particular content and techniques. They also had well-defined consultative and reflective conversation cycles. Teachers and literacy coaches had little focus and fewer structured coaching cycles in years that yielded weak correlations. The author suggests that more time is not as important as the “type and quality of the interaction” (Shidler, 2009). Thus, the use of structured coaching cycles and a school wide focus likely explains the greater student achievement results in the first year of coaching.
In a study of four middle schools where literacy coaching was implemented for one year, teachers reported much higher student engagement levels, and student scores made modest gains. Baselines from the state reading test and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) from the prior school year were compared to scores on both assessments after the year of literacy coaching. Classrooms with the treatment (individual literacy coaching collaborations) increased an average of five points on the state test and seven points on the ITBS (Feighan & Heeren, 2009).
According to available research, structured coaching cycles yield a significant impact on student learning.
Lasting change happens one conversation at a time. Let’s not allow the elaborate productions of meetings, workshops, and high-stakes data blind us from what we can do that really helps teachers become better for their students: one-on-one coaching.
Campbell, M. B., & Sweiss, C. I. (2010). The secondary literacy coaching model: Centrality of the standards and emerging paradigms. Journal of Reading Education, 35(3), 39-46.
Feighan, K., & Heeren, E. (2009). She was my backbone: Measuring coaching work and its impact. CEDER Yearbook, 67-93.
Gross, P. A. (2010). Not another trend: Secondary level literacy coaching. The Clearing House, 83, 133-137. doi:10.1080/00098651003774844
Kretlow, A. G., & Bartholomew, C. C. (2010). Using coaching to improve the fidelity of evidence-based practices: A review of studies. Teacher Education & Special Education, 33(4). 279-299. doi:10.1177/0888406410371643
Shidler, L. (2009). The impact of time spent coaching on teacher efficacy of student achievement. Early Childhood Education Journal, 36(5). 453-460.