Archive for the ‘Issue 8’ Category

Instructional Coaching to Improve Student Learning and Close Achievement Gaps

Friday, March 29th, 2013

Author: Mandy Sargent, Region 13 PLC Specialist, Instructional Programs and Initiatives


Harry Wong says, “Quality teaching is the most critical means by which to improve student learning and to close achievement gaps. You achieve student success through teacher success.”  (The First Days of School, 2009)  If the number one way to improve student success is by improving teacher quality, what are we doing to ensure that every teacher in our schools is well prepared to teach in today’s classrooms?  How do we guarantee that the best research-based instructional practices are being implemented in today’s classrooms?   Traditional professional development only results in a 10% implementation rate in the classroom. When you provide instructional coaching, the implementation rate soars to 85%, according to The University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. ( , 2007)  Investing in embedded professional development focused on coaching will lead to increased student performance.


What Is Instructional Coaching?

Instructional coaching is classroom-based professional development that focuses on building the capacity of an individual teacher or team of teachers to implement best-practice instruction and meet the learning needs of all students, thereby breaking the isolation among classroom teachers.   Instructional coaching is a partnership between a coach and teachers to incorporate research-based practices in the areas of classroom management, content, instruction, and assessment for learning into their teaching.

The job of an instructional coach (IC) includes recruiting teachers to be coached, identifying appropriate interventions for teachers to learn, modeling and observing to gather data in the classroom and engaging in dialogue about classroom and assessment data.  In order to do these things, ICs must build relationships with teachers and encourage teacher reflection about their classroom practices. Therefore it is necessary for instructional coaches to have good communication skills; be empathetic, supportive and good listeners; and be expert educators with a toolbox full of successful practices. Instructional coaches are not evaluators but should see themselves as equals or peers to the teachers with whom they work. The role of the instructional coach is to support the classroom teacher in identifying the specific needs of his or her students and implementing the most effective practices to ensure student learning.


What Makes an Instructional Coaching Program Successful?

For instructional coaching to be successful certain systems must exist.  First and foremost, the role of the instructional coach must be focused on instruction and student achievement, and then the context must be built to allow that focus to remain the priority.

Time – The simplest way to improve an instructional coaching program is to increase the amount of time coaches have to actually work with teachers.  Many times instructional coaches are given other tasks and duties due to their flexible schedules, but administrators must remember that with each new task or duty added,  the amount of time that ICs have available to directly affect instruction and student achievement decreases.

Proven Research-Based Interventions – It is important that instructional coaches have a deep knowledge of effective strategies in all aspects of teaching including classroom management, content knowledge, instructional practices and assessment for learning.  In addition, ICs need to be resourceful in finding additional tools and strategies when faced with new experiences, specifically when it comes to individual student needs.

Professional Development – Instructional coaches must be a model learner for the teachers he or she supports.  Professional development for ICs should focus on two areas:  improving his or her own coaching skills as well as continuous learning of effective classroom practices.  Part of the instructional coaches’ role is to translate research into practice.  In order to do this, ICs must deeply understand that which they are sharing to clarify it, synthesize it, break it down, see it through the teachers’ and students’ eyes and finally simplify it in a way that makes implementation more manageable and therefore more likely to occur.

Protecting the Coaching Relationship – Trust is a key factor in coach-teacher relationships.  Teachers must feel assured that their conversations with their coach will not reflect poorly on their evaluations by administrators.  The confidentiality between teacher and instructional coach must be honored and respected by coaches, by teachers and by administrators.

Ensuring that Principals and Coaches Work Together – The instructional coach is the right-hand man to the principal when it comes to instructional leadership, but the principal is still the primary instructional leader on the campus.  Principals and ICs should meet regularly to clarify the principal’s goals and vision for the campus as well as the instructional coaches’ strengths and abilities to support the teachers.  The caution is that the IC not be viewed as the eyes and ears of the principal, either by the principal or by the teachers on the campus.

Hiring the Right Instructional Coaches – Not every excellent teacher will make an excellent instructional coach.  While it is obvious that ICs need to have the skills and attributes that make an excellent teacher, they must also have communication and organization skills, be flexible and able to adapt and have an ambitious “whatever it takes” attitude.  Effective coaches are “affirmative, humble, and deeply respectful of teachers, but they are unwilling to rest unless they achieve significant improvements in teaching and learning in their schools.” (Knight, 2009)

Evaluating Coaches – Instructional coaches need to set goals and measure their effectiveness just as all other professionals within the school do       .  However this is often difficult as there are few tools and standards developed to monitor the effectiveness of instructional coaches.  If an appropriate evaluation system for coaches is not currently being used, ICs should be involved in creating the guidelines, standards and tools to be used in their evaluations.  As stated earlier, ICs should be the campus model for continuous improvement and professional learning: the basis of any evaluation system.


Knight, Jim. Coaching: Approaches and Perspectives. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2009.



At Region 13 we provide Instructional Coaching support as ongoing, campus-based professional development for teachers across the region.  We also provide professional growth opportunities for district-based instructional coaches through our Instructional Coach Network trainings offered at the service center as well as embedded professional development on campuses.

See our brochure for more information on instructional coaching for teachers or district-based coaches.  For information about the Instructional Coach Network, contact Jennifer Basey ( or Amanda Betz (

Professional Learning Communities – They’re More Than Just Another Meeting

Friday, March 29th, 2013

Author: Mandy Sargent, Region 13 PLC Specialist, Instructional Programs and Initiatives


Many districts and campuses are beginning to label specific planning or collaboration time as “PLC meetings” but by the true meaning of the term a Professional Learning Community is not a meeting at all.  Rather it is a culture that develops within a school to ensure that EVERY student is learning at high levels.

Richard and Rebecca DuFour are two of the leading names in education and as principals they worked to develop very successful schools based on a philosophy and process which has been coined Professional Learning Communities.  Along with their colleague Robert Eaker, they have defined a Professional Learning Community (PLC) as “educators committed to working collaboratively in ongoing processes of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve. PLCs operate under the assumption that the key to improved learning for students is continuous, job-embedded learning for educators.” (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker & Many, 2010)

Professional Learning Communities are based on three big ideas:  A focus on learning, building a collaborative culture and a focus on results.  The key to first establishing a PLC is to develop a campus culture and systems that support these three ideas and establishing a shared mission and vision that focus on a collaborative commitment to ensuring ALL students learn.


Focus on Learning

It is often difficult for teachers to shift their focus from an emphasis on “What am I going to teach?” to a fixation on “What are my students learning?”  A collaborative meeting within a PLC focuses less on which activities and worksheets will be used for instruction, and more on what specifically students need to learn, how to know if they have learned it, what to do when they don’t learn it and what to do for those students who already know it.

In a Professional Learning Community you do not hear comments like, “It’s my job to teach and his job to learn” or “I gave her the opportunity but she didn’t take it.”  Instead, teachers work collaboratively to ensure that students cannot fail.  As a school, systems are put into place that ensure additional time and support within the school day as mandatory interventions for students, not merely optional opportunities before and after school that many students cannot or will not attend.


Building a Collaborative Culture

In today’s schools, it is virtually impossible for any single educator to ensure high levels of learning for all students.  Instead, in a PLC campus all staff members agree that each individual is mutually accountable for the mission, vision, values and goals of the campus.  Systems are put in place as a school to allow teams the time and structure to work interdependently and learn from each other.

The backbone to a successful collaborative team is trust.  Without trust, interdependent collaboration will not exist.  To build trust teams need shared experiences, an understanding of the strengths of everyone within their team and shared commitments to one another.  Establishing team norms and holding each other accountable for adhering to the agreed upon norms supports team productivity and strengthens trust.


Focus on Results

Decisions within a Professional Learning Community are made based on the impact on student learning.  Rather than setting goals and measuring success by the intentions of the adults in the building, effectiveness is measured by the level of student learning that occurred as a result of the policies, programs and practices put into place.

Teams within a PLC need easy access to data in order to measure effectiveness.  Sometimes this means creating new data tools to intentionally gather information about specific student learning goals and instructional practices.  Teams use data to inform what is working and what is needed in core instruction, intervention support for students who are struggling and enrichment opportunities for students who have already mastered the intended learning.

In high functioning PLCs collaborative teams clarify what is essential for students to learn, create common assessments for learning, analyze data, and base instructional decisions on that data.  When a campus has become a Professional Learning Community collaborative time is no longer considered “another meeting” but is valued as a sacred time to all those involved.

For more information on Professional Learning Communities, you can visit

Region 13 provides trainings and support on PLCs.



DuFour, DuFour, Eaker & Many (2010). Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities at work.  Solution Tree Press: Bloomington, IN.