Instructional Coaching

How the right relationships help teachers grow.

GUEST COLUMN | by Michael Moody and Maura Dudley

CREDIT Insight Education Group video in the classroomBetween new standards, increased accountability measures, and seemingly constant change, it’s no secret that teachers today face a lot of stress. The most recent Study of the American Teacher from MetLife showed significant declines in job satisfaction among educators, and attrition continues to be a concern for districts across the country. With headlines like this, it’s natural to wonder – Is the joy of teaching and learning fading? Can technology help deter this?

The shift in focus to teacher quality in particular has brought about a greater understanding that teachers need effective supports and resources in order to grow.

Not necessarily – and maybe just the opposite. According to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Impatient Optimist community, there are several reasons to be hopeful about the future of education, including greater access to technology and an increasing appreciation for the value of great teachers.

The shift in focus to teacher quality in particular has brought about a greater understanding that teachers need effective supports and resources in order to grow. And given the connection between teachers’ satisfaction and the level of support they receive, this could make a big difference in educators’ careers – and their students’ success.

Finding the right support

As many educators will likely attest, when it comes to the support and professional development they receive, the problem is not a lack of opportunity, but rather, a lack of quality and connection to their own classrooms. It’s no surprise that one-time “sit and get” sessions, for example, aren’t very effective in enacting lasting change or growing teachers’ practices.

However, one form of professional learning has stood out among the rest: instructional coaching or even better, online video based instructional coaching. The use of video not only improves the process, but increases a coach’s ability to provide feedback from a distance.

According to research from the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, coaching that is both job-embedded and content specific has been shown to improve educators’ practices by helping them make connections to their own classrooms and feel more confident in implementing new strategies.

Making it work

As part of a team of content specialists and coaches at Insight Education Group, we have supported educators around the country and seen firsthand how instructional coaching can create and keep the joy in teaching by building strong, collaborative relationships and achieving goals together.

Over the past two years, I (Maura) have had the wonderful opportunity to work with math teachers in Georgia’s Newton County School System (NCSS) to build their capacity to implement Common Core-aligned instructional strategies through both onsite and virtual coaching using video.

The video technology has made it possible to provide specific, actionable feedback and help teachers engage in meaningful reflection. Just as coaches and athletes rely on game film to analyze performance, video gives observers and teachers a chance to pause and rewind moments to truly see all the moving parts of a classroom. The teachers have quickly embraced the technology, which is no surprise. A recent poll Insight conducted with SmartBrief Education showed that 91 percent of teachers believe filming their instruction would help them improve their practices.

It has been exciting and gratifying to see that not only have students’ pass rates significantly improved as a result of the coaching, but that these teachers have become more invested and enthusiastic about their own professional growth. It was particularly amazing to see several teachers go – on their own accord – to the school board meeting and ask to extend the coaching program.

Maura has been a personalized resource that has provided advice about my strengths and struggles. She has challenged me to enhance my teaching style by being more student focused. 

—Caiti Ewing, Algebra Math Teacher, Eastside High School, Newton County, GA

However, it’s important for educators – particularly district and school leaders – to recognize that not all coaching is created equal, and not all models are so effective.

In order for teachers to feel truly supported by and invested in a coaching program, a strong relationship must be built around trust and respect. According to Elena Aguilar in The Art of Coaching, a coach should foster a safe environment in which teachers can take risks, acknowledge struggles, and celebrate successes. Ultimately, coaches should build the foundation for joyful communities of practice and new outlooks on professional learning.

To help build these strong relationships and improve teachers’ practices through coaching, we believe these four strategies are essential:

  1. Set goals: Before we begin any formal work, coaches and teachers meet to identify short and long-term goals and work to design an ambitious, though achievable, plan to accomplish them together.
  1. Model best practices: Effective coaching is much more than a conversation – it’s showing, not telling. Our coaches demonstrate best practices in the teachers’ unique context and show them how to assimilate and incorporate strategies.
  1. Give actionable feedback: In our efforts to grow as coaches, we have identified the features of effective feedback: it’s specific, actionable, timely and relevant to teachers’ needs.
  1. Provide continuous support: Coaching shouldn’t be seen as a scheduled event. Rather, it’s a relationship that must be sustained through frequent communication and continuous support and feedback. Our coaches regularly share new resources and instructional practices with teachers that are specific to the challenges they face in their classrooms and check in often for successes and to help with new challenges. 

There’s no denying that daily stress in a classroom and the feeling of being underappreciated and unsupported can quell even the best teacher’s desire for excellence. But when a coach and a teacher can connect and together build a safe place for feedback and support, great things can happen.

Michael Moody, Ph.D., is the founder and CEO of Insight Education Group. His experiences as a classroom teacher, school and district administrator, and consultant have given him a unique perspective on both the challenges and opportunities in education today. He regularly shares his expertise and thoughts on the Insight Education Group blog. Follow him @DrMichaelMoody

Maura Dudley is an associate with Insight Education Group. As a math content specialist, she works with school districts across the nation to implement effective instructional strategies and increase student achievement. Follow her @MauraDudley

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