A Look at Educational Coaching in the Classroom
Change is known to be a gradual and often difficult process for teachers.
When asked what teachers hope to gain from professional development, they prefer specific, concrete, and practical ideas, directly relating to their classroom’s day-to-day operation (Guskey, 2002).
Instructional coaching, specifically educational coaching in the classroom, aims to enhance teachers’ success by giving them new problem-solving strategies. Simultaneously, they are introduced to new interests that may further promote their knowledge and are relevant to their practice.
Some of these interests include using new digital technologies, developing new lesson-planning strategies, and curriculum mapping/integration. Instructional coaching topics may include classroom management and how to discuss professional and pedagogical issues with colleagues.
This article will look at educational and instructional coaching, models, and a few further training opportunities.
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Educational and Instructional Coaching: A Definition
While coaching has been around for a while at a leadership level, it has recently also become a means of professional development for educators.
Educational coaching is a unique philosophy that initiates professional development and personal change through open-ended questioning and reflection, looking specifically at how teachers plan to challenge their own ideas and methods.
The educational coach’s job is to facilitate participants by gathering information, testing its validity or applicability, and creating meaningful conclusions or solutions (Sezer, 2016). That is, educational coaches facilitate rather than direct participants (teachers and instructors) on methodologies and solutions to improve their approach to better student experiences.
Educational coaching is becoming more common among educators to expand their skills and make them more open to emerging educational philosophies and methodology.
Coaching is seen as collaborative work between professionals and encourages the development of collective efficacy, which is defined as follows:
“a group’s shared belief in its conjoint capability to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given levels of attainment.”
(Bandura, 1997, p. 477).
Even when coaches do not hold formal, evaluative authority over teachers, there is still an expectation that they are more well versed in relevant areas of subject matter and classroom practice. This can be threatening to teachers, who may feel as if they are being criticized for the way they manage their classroom (Jacobs, Boardman, Potvin, & Wang, 2017).
Since coaches hold expertise relative to the practitioners with whom they work, teachers may be resistant to entering this kind of partnership, as the coach is introduced as an agent of change.
Coaching vs. Teaching
A question that is often considered when looking at teaching and coaching is: can teachers be regarded as coaches and vice versa?
While the answer is debatable, consider how current learning and teaching models are evolving.
With the rise of online learning modalities and a departure from the notion of the “sage on the stage” analogy that was previously dominant within the teaching profession, it is becoming more apparent that teachers are beginning to integrate more coaching practices into their practice. In fact:
“…the most effective teachers create opportunities for learning by allowing students to discover knowledge in a mutually supportive environment.”
(Ellis & Smith, 2020)
But what is the difference? Teaching is concerned with the acquisition of new knowledge, as learners are “taught” by an expert (i.e., the teacher).
The goal of a teaching experience is typically two-fold, as learners seek to:
- Gain new knowledge
- Master new skills
On the other hand, a teacher uses their knowledge and experience to:
- Help learners learn
- Allow learners to become more knowledgeable in their subjects
Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance, but the assumption is that the individual seeking out coaching already has the expertise and knowledge needed. The ultimate goal of coaching is to tease out the knowledge and skills the coachee is looking to apply.
Coaching is non-directive, where the answer is not known and waiting to be discovered, while teaching is directive, with an idea of the path learners are on and the questions that will be asked (Ellis & Smith, 2020).
Despite the growing integration of coaching aspects into teaching, teachers are still threatened by the presence of integrating educational coaching as a process to help improve their practice, as instructional coaching requires teachers to accept fundamental changes to their professional routine.
These changes include:
- An acceptance of the need to make instructional shifts
- A reorganization of a teacher’s time to accommodate regular communication and meetings with a coach
- Shifts in their instructional practice to accommodate the coach’s feedback and associated new instructional demands (Jacobs et al., 2017)
Therefore, to ensure both teachers and coaches are involved in a reciprocally beneficial relationship, an understanding of educational coaching models and their benefits to individual practice is important. This will improve the understanding of how crucial educational coaching is to facilitating professional development.
Models of Educational Coaching
Educational coaching can be divided into three broad categories, all of which seek to change instructional practices to improve the student experience. Each model encompasses specific coaching strategies that center on different aspects of the student experience, with the ultimate goal of facilitating and enhancing learning.
Teacher-centered coaching (TCC)
The focus of teacher-centered coaching is to help improve their instructional practice by making teachers more aware of their strategies in the classroom.
For example, suppose a teacher is using backward design, which is a common strategy in curriculum planning. In that case, an instructional coach will go through the planning cycle with them in a pre-observation classroom and observe how the teacher implements their plan in their teaching practice. The coach then helps the teacher reflect on the process after it has been implemented.
This process is called the partnership philosophy framework, and the steps include pre-observation, observation, and post-observation conferences (Knight, 2007).
Another form of TCC, proposed by Aguilar (2013), views the teacher as an expert with whom the coach must build a relationship before the teacher can be coached.
Aguilar’s (2013) method focuses on the teacher’s strengths and promotes the idea of ongoing improvement, rather than primarily focusing on areas for improvement. For instance, in her book The Art of Coaching, Aguilar (2013) provides a case study about an eighth-grade teacher being coached.
The teacher was concerned about the progress of a Mexican–American student in the class and made a culturally based assumption that the student was lazy, based on the fact that the student could read, but not at grade level. Instead of directly confronting the teacher’s cultural biases, the coach played to the teacher’s strength (teaching reading).
The teacher discovered the student in question struggled sounding out multisyllabic words and had strong sight word reading capabilities.
Therefore, focusing on the teacher’s strengths and using them to mediate, rather than pointing out the approach’s weakness, was more beneficial. It allowed the student to get the necessary intervention and the teacher to realize they needed self-improvement.
While teacher-centered coaching focuses on teacher performance, student-centered coaching uses formative evaluation tools such as proposals, outlines, and checklists to evaluate how well students perform and make adjustments as necessary.
Sweeney’s (2013) model emphasizes that the coach’s role is to provide the support teachers need to maximize effective assessment practices to enhance student performance. The focus is on setting learning targets and designing formative assessments to monitor student progress, focusing on how teachers can make happy students perform better instead of focusing on instructional strategies.
The focus on student work may lead to a change in instructional performance or to the coach assisting the teacher in other ways, such as designing better assessments.
The final model, differentiated coaching, focuses on considering the teacher’s individual needs to create a customized coaching experience.
By understanding the teacher’s personality, the coach can adapt strategies to ensure that the teacher’s needs are being met in a way that fits their values and beliefs.
Differentiated coaching does not focus solely on changing instructional practices nor on analyzing student data; instead, the coach utilizes strategies that will meet the goals and needs of the teacher (Kise, 2017).
Programs and Certification Opportunities
Obtaining certification to become an educational coach is highly dependent on your region and area of expertise.
Often, professional individuals interested in coaching can present their area of expertise to a school board, teachers’ union, or individual schools with a mentorship plan and explanation of how their coaching services can benefit their teachers.
Fortunately, certification is available through several coaching platforms, depending on the type of educational coach you are looking to become. Some of these programs are outlined below:
Google’s Certified Coach Program
The Certified Coach Program, powered by Google, aims to empower instructional coaches to work one-on-one with educators with the goal of transforming instruction.
The program is multi-leveled, as individuals have the option of pursuing an L1 or L2 certification. Through the Google Certified Coaches platform, coaches get access to research-based strategies and tools, as well as impactful technology, so they can work alongside teachers to improve their practice.
The curriculum is self-directed and free to access online, so individuals wishing to pursue coaching certification can access it easily and work through the steps at their own pace.
The program also has resources for distance learning and provides a self-assessment for individuals to determine if the program is a good fit. The EDU Learning Applications program promotes ongoing development, allowing prospective coaches to track their coaching hours and receive feedback about their progress.
Instructional Coaching Group
The Instructional Coaching Group provides workshops and certification for coaches who are more advanced in their practice.
Their coaching program is based on the tenets from Jim Knight’s The Impact Cycle (2017) and the coaching cycle proposed for instructional coaches. It provides a process for guiding the coaching experience through considering the unique experiences of teachers, schools, and classrooms.
The aim of The Impact Cycle program is to ensure that coaches have all the tools to help teachers engage in goal setting and, ultimately, achieve their instructional goals.
This organization offers 5-, 8-, and 16-week workshops, which include in-depth instruction on specific topics and an introductory course on The Impact Cycle. The 8-week course is taught by Jim Knight and is specifically designed for those new to educational coaching.
The workshops address topics such as:
- Role clarity
- Using strategies and goals
- How to enroll teachers in coaching
- How to best work with principals and administrators
All sessions are recorded and available on-demand for 30 days. Pricing varies depending on the duration of the course, but a complimentary coaching session is available for 15–30 minutes on one of the following topics:
- Creating a highly effective instructional coaching program
- Creating an instructional playbook
- Obtaining a coaching certification through their organization
Here at PositivePsychology.com, we provide various coaching masterclasses for individuals looking to incorporate coaching skills into their practice. Three positive psychology courses that can be particularly useful to educational coaching include:
These coaching courses provide generalized coaching strategies that are applicable to all facets of coaching, not just educational coaching.
For further reading, you might want to peruse this article discussing 20 options for online coaching courses.
3 Useful Tools for Educational Coaching
Are you already an educational coach or a teacher looking to apply coaching practices in your next professional development session?
Iris Connect is a great website that provides video-based learning to enhance teacher reflection and gives access to a number of professional development resources.
It also allows coaches to connect, share their stories, and gain new insight and knowledge to use in their coaching practice. Iris Connect also has a blog with an article about teacher coaching tools that teachers can use with their students in a learning activity, bridging the gap between teaching and coaching.
This Coaching Observation Tool also provides questions for teachers and coaches in a TCC session during the pre-observation, observation, and post-observation.
There is no denying the power of podcasts, and for that reason, we have curated a selection of 20 Top Coaching Podcasts. All coaches can enjoy these resources to help them develop their skills and mindset around coaching.
3 Books on the Topic
Several positive education books are available, whether you are looking for a book on the general principles of coaching or philosophies surrounding educational coaching.
1. The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation – Elena Aguilar
Elena Aguilar (2013) provides an outline of practical and foundational skills needed for coaches, principals, and administrators from a differentiated coaching perspective.
Her strategies are student centered, and she focuses specifically on addressing racial and ethnic equity issues in schools.
This book provides practical examples of real-life situations involving students and teachers to help individuals at all levels understand how to implement a differentiated coaching approach.
Available on Amazon.
2. Educational Coaching: A Partnership for Problem Solving – Cathy A. Toll
One of the most heavily cited resources in the educational coaching field, this book by Cathy Toll (2018) provides a general overview of educational coaching and characteristics for problem solving and effective coaching strategies.
Toll provides an introduction to several models of coaching and outlines three phases of the problem-solving cycle that drive effective coaching conversations.
She also breaks down obstacles that hinder a coach’s success and provides strategies for addressing these difficulties.
Available on Amazon.
3. Instructional Coaching in Action: An Integrated Approach That Transforms Thinking, Practice, and Schools – Ellen B. Eisenberg, Bruce P. Eisenburg, Elliott A. Medrich, and Ivan Charner
This book by Eisenberg et al. (2017) details strategies for educational coaching within the school-wide community, focusing specifically on teacher development using educator-centered instructional coaching.
Eisenberg et al. offer details from the teachers’ perspective by giving a model that is centered around practical purposes to promote educator buy-in.
The book provides a detailed overview of the approach, strategies for data collection and analysis, as well as additional pathways to promote teacher development.
Available on Amazon.
A Take-Home Message
Even though several different models promote educational coaching, promoting change in one’s philosophy, assessment practices, or teaching strategies is not a simple endeavor.
For any of these modules to effectively promote change, both teachers and coaches need to be engaged in a mutually trusting relationship where collaboration, critical questioning, and transparency are highlighted as facets in forming the relationship. Without these key tenets, meaningful change will not occur, and neither party will reap the benefits that a coaching relationship has to offer.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free.