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Teacher Coaching Overview PDF
Coaching teachers is an established professional development practice in schools and has been a focus of research (Wood, Goodnight, Bethune, Preston, & Cleaver, 2016). Teacher coaching is a method of professional development that incorporates providing feedback and support, often through modeling of a focused practice and classroom observations followed by reflection conversations (Raney & Robbins, 1989; Wesley & Buysse, 2006). The goal is to change teacher behavior with the ultimate goal of improving student achievement.
The purpose of this overview is to provide information about teacher coaching as it is used in schools, the research that examines this practice as a method of teacher professional development, and its impact on student outcomes.
Why is Teacher Coaching Important?
What teachers do in the classroom matters; teacher behavior and classroom practices impact student achievement (Chetty, Friedman, & Rockhoff, 2011). Professional development has been one way that districts have tried to impact teacher practice with the idea that it can shape teacher behavior in ways that impact student knowledge (Yoon, Duncan, Scarloss, & Shapley, 2007). Put another way, professional development may influence student achievement by increasing teacher skill, which improves teachers’ ability to make decisions that positively impact student achievement (Yoon et al., 2007).
When it comes to professional development, quality is important. Federal laws (e.g., No Child Left Behind, Every Student Succeeds Act) have outlined a need for high-quality professional development that improves teacher knowledge and provides effective instruction in research based strategies (U. S. Department of Education, 2001). Specifically, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) maintains support for evidence based practices in the classroom, funding for effective strategies, and efforts to promote the use of evidence based practices to improve student achievement (ESSA, 2015). Under federal law, high-quality professional development is:
- Sustained, intensive, and focused around content,
- Aligned with standards and assessments,
- Designed to improve teacher knowledge,
- Designed to improve teacher use of evidence-based practices, and
- Evaluated for its effect on teachers and students (NCLB, 2002).
Even with the focus on professional development that has been in place since the 2000s, there is a range of professional development experiences, including one-day workshops, classes, and coaching. The New Teacher Project (TNTP) found that most professional development does not have the intended impact of improving teacher practice (2015). Coaching, however, stands out as a way to influence teacher practice (Wood et al., 2016). This is important because coaching, in general, is a common and increasingly practiced in schools (L’Allier, Elish-Piper, & Bean, 2011). There are different methods of teacher coaching that have shown to be effective.
Methods of Teacher Coaching
There are various models of teacher coaching, including supervisory, side-by-side, remote coaching, and multi-level. Each one provides a different level of interaction between the coach and teacher, but all provide the same focus on observation, feedback, and reflection around a focus practice or behavior.
Peer coaching occurs when teachers are provided with observation, feedback, and coaching by a fellow teacher. The instruction may also involve modeling a focus practice as in a study that engaged teachers in peer coaching around teacher conducted shared reading with think aloud. Compared to teachers in the control group who did not receive coaching, teachers who worked with a peer coach changed their practice around think-alouds, which resulted in an improvement in student comprehension (Fisher, Frey, & Lapp, 2011). An important aspect of the peer coaching approach was the trust relationships established and maintained by teachers during the coaching work.
Side-by-side coaching occurs when a coach provides in the moment feedback that is directly connected to a focus practice (Kretlow & Bartholomew, 2010). Side by side coaching is characterized by being led by another staff member, and provides an opportunity to learn together, reflection, cooperation, and a relationship that aligns the coach and teacher as equals (Akhavan, 2015).
Side by side coaching is often led by another teacher or staff member and may involve co-teaching the lesson to model implementation of the focus practice. After side by side coaching a meeting provides for feedback, strengths, and weaknesses. This type of coaching has been shown to be important to support teachers’ use of newly learned strategies (Kretlow et al., 2011), has demonstrated positive impacts on student learning (Fisher et al., 2011) and is positively received by teachers (Akhavan, 2015).
Coaching can also occur remotely through the use of technology, such as web cams and online chat platforms. In remote or virtual coaching, a coach observes a teacher remotely through a video feed and provides either immediate feedback through a “bug-in-ear” device (e.g., Almendarez et al., 2012) or through a follow-up conversation (e.g., Vernon-Faegans, Keinz, Amendum, Ginsberg, Wood, & Bock, 2012). Specifically, video-conferencing has been effective when implemented alongside an evidence-based practice (Amendum, Vernon-Faegens, & Ginsberg, 2011; Ruble, McGrew, Toland, Dalrymple, & June, 2013; Vernan-Faegans et al., 2012).
For example, Targeted Reading Instruction, a reading intervention that uses one-on-one instructional reading skill lessons has teacher coaching as part of the intervention. Virtual or in-person coaching is used to provide feedback and problem solve around student concerns (Vernon-Faegans et al., 2012). Using this method, students who receive the intervention scored higher on reading skills than those that do not (Amendum et al., 2011; Vernon-Faegans et al., 2012).
In another study, when teachers of students with autism were coached in the evidence-based practice, Collaborative Model of Prompting Competence and Success (COMPASS), teachers who received coaching either face-to-face or online demonstrated greater fidelity to the practice than the control group (Ruble et al., 2013). Furthermore, students demonstrated greater goal attainment in the three target domains (communication, social skills, and independence) with large effect sizes for both the in person group (ES = 1.41) and the web based coaching group (ES = 1.12), suggesting that results can be achieved through either in person or online coaching.
Differentiating Professional Development: Multilevel Coaching
Multilevel Coaching is coaching provided within a model of Multi-tiered System of Supports (e.g., Response To Intervention) that provides professional development with follow up supervisory coaching or side-by-side coaching for teachers to support full implementation (Simonsen et al., 2014; Wood et al., 2016). Within this model, teachers are provided with an initial professional development (e.g., a one-time workshop). Then, based on their ability to implement the focus practice, teachers are provided with coaching (Schnorr, 2013; Simonsen, Macsuga-Gage, Briere, Freeman, Myers, Scott, & Sugai, 2014).
One study that examined teacher fidelity found that when teachers were provided with varying levels of professional development (in-service, supervisory coaching, and side-by-side coaching) based on the teacher’s initial treatment integrity of an instructional practice, not all teachers required coaching to produce positive changes in their practice (Schnorr, 2013). The focus of the professional development, including coaching, is to support teachers until they are all working at an acceptable level of fidelity, which may include providing some teachers with more coaching than others (Schnorr, 2013; Simonsen et al., 2014). In this model, teachers are provided with an initial training and their treatment integrity is recorded, if the teacher is not delivering the instruction at a high enough level of integrity, then they receive coaching until they reach the optimal level of integrity, which requires varying amounts of coaching depending on the teacher’s starting point and rate of learning.
Research on Coaching
Coaching has an established and growing research foundation including meta-analysis of research that brings multiple research studies together[RD1] [SC2] .
In one review, Kretlow and Bartholomew (2010) reviewed 13 studies conducted between 1989 and 2009 that involved teacher coaching. The review focused on 13 studies that specifically measured change in teacher practice using quantitative measures. The studies included 110 elementary-level teachers that received coaching (41 general and 69 special education teachers). All the studies incorporated a measure of teaching accuracy related to an evidence-based practice. All 13 studies found that the coaching increased the accuracy of teacher practice. Eight studies reported student outcomes, and of those, only three reported a positive change in student performance based on coaching provided. A lack of change in student performance may be because the studies were limited in length and it would take more time to see a change in student performance. Also, the student performance outcomes were limited (e.g., spelling tests, IEP goal completion) which may have contributed to the limited change in student performance.
In a recent meta-analysis, Kraft, Blazar, and Hogan (2018) examined 66 studies that involved teacher coaching across the grades (PreK-grade 12) and that had a causal design, such as a random controlled trial, or that included teachers who were and were not coached so that a comparison could be drawn. The studies also examined the effects of coaching on instruction and student achievement. The researchers combined the results from the studies for an effect size of 0.49 on instruction and 0.18 on student achievement[RD3] [SC4] (the[MOU5] [SC6] effect size is a way to show the difference between two groups, the smaller the effect size, the smaller the difference between groups that received, in this case, coaching and the group that did not). These effects were found for content-specific coaching, not for general coaching. And, coaching was equally effective across grade levels and for virtual compared to in-person coaching. (However, data provided for virtual coaching were less reliable.) In addition, they found that coaching must be provided in high doses to be effective.
Together, these reviews (Kraft et al., 2018; Kretlow & Bartholomew, 2010) support the use of coaching overall with a focus on content and that were intensive, or provided in high doses.
The Impact of Coaching on Teacher Practice and Student Outcomes
Teacher coaching has been shown to have an impact on teacher practice. In one study, teacher coaching had an impact on instruction in reading comprehension with a moderate effect size (0.64), meaning that teachers who received coaching delivered reading instruction that was much more aligned with the focus practice than teachers who did not (Sailors & Price, 2010).
Coaching has also had an impact on the classroom environment. In a study that focused on coaching teachers in Head Start programs, teachers improved in their classroom environment (e.g., the quality of the writing area) but not in their interactions (e.g., interactions that support language; Neuman & Wright, 2010; Powell et al., 2010). This indicates that teachers may change lower level behaviors, or those that require a one-time shift, like organizing a lesson, faster than higher level behaviors, or those that require processes and higher order skills, like questioning.
Furthermore, providing sustained coaching over time has shown to improve teacher practice, particularly when teachers have a low level of implementation fidelity when they use a new practice. In a study that trained teachers in a universal classroom management intervention (Incredible Years Teacher Classroom Management system) with ongoing coaching, teachers who started with lower levels of fidelity of implementation received more coaching and demonstrated an increase in fidelity over time. In comparison, teachers who started with higher levels of fidelity but received less coaching demonstrated a decrease in implementation fidelity over time. This supports the practice of maintaining coaching with all teachers to support high levels of fidelity (Reinke et al., 2013).
Teacher practice can be improved through coaching (Kraft et al., 2018; Kretlow & Bartholomew, 2010), which is important because professional development on the whole does not always produce the intended changes (Guskey & Yoon, 2009). However, though coaching has a strong impact on teacher behaviors in the classroom, studies indicate smaller effects (0.18; Kraft et al., 2018) on the impact of teacher coaching on student achievement. The hypothesis that improving teacher fidelity of evidence based practices will influence student achievement outcomes is a focus of future research.
Implications for Practice
First, coaching must be implemented well to see the results found in research.
Kretlow and Bartholomew (2010) identified critical aspects of coaching that produced changes in teacher practice:
- Teachers were involved in a highly engaging initial training that incorporated modeling and small group practice.
- Teachers received follow up observations that were repeated and frequent. The number of observations ranged from two to daily for multiple weeks. This is key because teachers are not regularly observed after initial training (Yoon et al., 2007).
- Teachers received specific feedback that incorporated individualized observation data and self-evaluation.
Kraft et al. (2018) identified qualities of effective coaching. It provides:
- Individualized support, or coaching was provided through one-on-one coaching sessions,
- Teachers received intensive support with regular interactions (every two weeks),
- Coaching was sustained over an extended period of time, such as a school year,
- Teachers were coached on practices that they implemented in their own classrooms, and
- Coaching focused on specific skills.
Considerations for Implementation
Teacher coaching is a method of adult learning, so efforts should be focused on implementing teacher coaching programs that are focused on teachers as adult learners. To that end, coaches should be able to:
- Focus on data to support instruction,
- Demonstrate adult learning practices to mirror classroom practice,
- Construct and apply knowledge and skills in classroom contexts,
- Focus on teacher content knowledge and leadership,
- Connect and align with the larger system, and
- Engage in data-driven decision making (measure, document, reflect, and adjust; Annenburg Institute for School Reform, 2004).
To be effective, Grabacz, Lannie, Jeffrey-Pearsall, and Truckenmiller (2015) identified that coaches should:
- Set clear goals for the coaching that provide teachers with an understanding of the outcomes for the coaching work,
- Model skills and provide teachers with opportunities to practice skills outside of the classroom (behavioral rehearsal) and within the classroom context,
- Provide feedback on skills either in the moment through bug-in-ear technology or hand signals, or immediately afterwards,
- Provide effective feedback that is timely, concrete, and specific (Veenman & Denneson, 2001), and
- Provide reinforcement and encouragement as teachers develop skill.
In their study of teachers that implemented a questioning technique in the classroom, specifically Question-the-Author (Beck, McKeown, Hamilton, & Kugan, 1997), Matsumura, Garnier, and Spybrook (2012) identified aspects of their model that may contribute to positive results:
- The coach had a clear role in the classroom and that role was well understood,
- The coaches received extensive training, and
- The focus strategy had a strong evidence base.
From this, it would be important to choose a focus practice that is an evidence-based practice or one that has a strong research base, and provide strong coaching around that practice.
Planning coaching as professional development necessitates identifying coaches. In a survey of teachers who had received coaching, Akhavan (2015) identified characteristics of effective coaches:
- They had strong people skills and developed good working relationships with the teachers they worked with,
- They focused on teacher development,
- They had time to be available to each teacher, and
- They were able to help teachers use data to plan instruction.
Finally, as school leaders make decisions around how to allocate resources, it is important to keep in mind that not all teachers may require intensive coaching. Providing multi-level coaching based on a teacher’s level of implementation may help maximize resources while producing the same results in teacher implementation (Simonson eta al., 2014; Wood et al., 2016).
Need for Future Research in Teacher Development
The primary need in research on coaching is research that connects teacher coaching efforts to improvements in student performance (Kraft et al., 2018; Kretlow & Bartholomew, 2010), which requires research that draws a causal connection between coaching and student performance (Borko, 2004; Yoon et al., 2007).
While changes in teacher practice are an established outcome from coaching, the level of treatment integrity on student performance is another area for further development. Specifically, studies, like those on multi-level coaching, that focused on improving teacher treatment integrity, often focused more on advancing teacher practice from low to high integrity may produce different results than when a high level of integrity is followed by a decrease in integrity. Future research that examines how teachers implement evidence-based practices over time and how the level of treatment integrity impacts student performance
Finally, there are questions around the type of coaching, the dosage, and the interactions that occur during coaching that influence student outcomes that can help inform coach practice (Wood et al., 2016).
Cost/Benefit of Teacher Coaching Compared to Professional Development
The cost of coaching will vary depending on the district and goals (e.g., the cost of an on-site staff coach will differ from a one-time project-based coach). One study (Knight, 2012) attempted to define the cost of coaching. The study found an average cost-per-teacher for coaching across three schools to range from $3,620 to $5,220, a cost that is six to 12 times more expensive than traditional professional development. However, considering that teachers do not generally use practices that are taught through one-time in-service sessions (Farkas, Johnson, & Duffett, 2003) it may be worth the extra cost to influence teacher practice.
Teacher coaching is one way to improve teacher practice, specifically related to evidence-based practices. When incorporated thoughtfully into a professional development strategy, coaching can provide the intensive support that teachers need to deepen their knowledge of a practice and improve their ability to implement it in the classroom.
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