By Megan Davenport, Professional Development Specialist

The term Instructional Coach has become a bit of a buzzword in education. Many districts and schools are utilizing these positions to support teachers with their instructional practice, curriculum development, and assessment analysis. Regardless of the exact responsibilities of coaches, below are a few tips for effective instructional coaching strategies.

Tip #1: Speak the same language to remove judgment.

One of the most wonderful and challenging aspects of instructional coaching is that instructional coaches often work side-by-side with the teachers they coach, and many have a personal relationship that may extend beyond the school. As such, coaching conversations with teachers can be difficult when discussing teacher performance professionally without values, judgements, and biases creeping in. One strategy to avoid this is to make sure that all instructional coaches and administrators are using the same professional terms. For example, referencing the three types of Professional Practice can allow these coaching conversations with teachers to happen on a professional level:

  • Automaticity: Occurs with a task that is carried out with minimal mental effort, possibly even without conscious thought. This is good for routines, but not ideal for deeper instruction.
  • Flow: Individuals engage in activities at which they are skilled, and the level of challenge perfectly matches their skills, training, strengths, and resources. This state occurs when a teacher has mastered a practice and a lesson is going very well.
  • Deliberate Practice: In deliberate practice, people are continually challenging themselves and are on the edge of comfort and failure with the challenge of growing their skills. All teachers should seek this practice to better their skills.

For example, if an instructional coach reported to another coach or administrator, “The teacher seemed to be teaching the lesson in automaticity. We will work on strategies that she can deliberately practice to move towards flow.” In this example, the tone is very professional, and judgement has been removed. Additional professional vocabulary can be found throughout this post!

For more communication strategies, read about a school principal’s insightful approach to navigating change and facilitating conversations with his team.

Tip #2: Choose a concrete and specific focus.

Anytime the instructional coach walks into a classroom, there are a multitude of things to give feedback on – are objectives posted? Is the learning environment set up in an effective way? Are the students on task? Is the lesson engaging? And on and on.

In order to avoid becoming overwhelmed or sharing scattered feedback, the instructional coach and teacher should work together to set clear goals for the teacher. This will allow both parties to stay focused on a single area of improvement that will impact teaching. Once the teacher has mastered that goal, the team can set another goal to continue progress. It is worth noting, though, that it is crucial to set an appropriate goal.

For example, if a teacher is struggling with classroom management, it would be difficult for an instructional coach to work on any other goal until the management issues have improved. In cases when the goal does not match the teacher’s biggest need, the coach must work with the teacher to set a new, more appropriate goal.

Here are a couple of my favorite instructional coaching resources:

  • The article 15 Minutes to a Transformed Lesson by Jon Saphier shares concrete tips and structures to have a short, focused conversation on a lesson that will yield big results
  • In the Marzano’s Art and Science of Teaching, there are 43 categories of instructional strategies (referred to as elements). Teachers can choose an element to work on to set specific and observable goals for their coaching sessions, such as “previewing lessons” or “increasing response rates”.

Tip #3: Plan feedback that’s differentiated based on teacher needs.

Based on a teacher’s experience level and needs, you will want to differentiate instructional coaching to make sure each professional is getting appropriate feedback. Here are the four different kinds of coaching conversations with teachers outlined by Robyn Jackson (2008):

  • Reflecting conversations have a goal of teacher realization. The coach guides the teacher in understanding how their behaviors and beliefs affect his/her classroom
  • Facilitating conversations have a desired outcome of goals. The coach asks clarifying questions to help the teacher identify goals that will result in the growth of his/her practice.
  • Coaching conversations have a desired outcome of growth. These are conversations that help a teacher understand why he/she is not getting desired results. The coach might suggest strategies or changes to improve results.
  • Directing conversations have a goal of teacher action. These are designed to give teachers clear instructions, as well as consequences that will ensure if they are not followed.

Tip #4: Create common resources.

Getting all instructional coaches on the same page will help ensure a strong program of improvement and allow coaches to better collaborate. Two of the main ways to do this are to create coaching resources such as a shared rubric and protocol for giving feedback.

Here are a few examples:

  • If you are coaching around writing curriculum, you may access our style guide. Be sure to scroll down to the Resources section at the bottom to find some sample rubrics as well!
  • The National School Reform Initiative offers a wide variety of protocols for varying topics (note: you need to create an account to access them, but they are free!):
  • Marzano schools have extensive access to rubrics, such as these.

Tip #5: Add structure.

In case you didn’t notice, there is one things that these effective instructional coaching strategies have in common: they add structure to an otherwise gray process. The very best thing you can do to support both instructional coaches and teachers is to make this process clear and remove any uncertainty. To sum things up, here are a few coaching conversations as well as instructional coaching resources that you will want to structure and practice:

  • Goal setting conversation: The coach and teacher will sit down and outline the teacher’s goal
  • Coaching conversation: Add some structure to the conversation that will happen after a coach observes the teacher or during a curriculum coaching session
  • Feedback conversation: Refer back to Tip #3 – these conversations may take place during the regular coaching conversation, or they may be an additional intervention for support
  • Supporting resources: rubrics, protocols, etc.

We’d like to extend a big thank you to Phil Warrick who presented the Marzano Instructional Coaching Workshop as well as Marzano’s Coaching Classroom Instruction, both of which informed some of the information in this post.

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