Opinion Blog

Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Instructional Coaching: Finally, an Easy Choice

By Lisa Westman — September 20, 2016 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Today’s guest post is written by frequent Finding Common Ground contributer Lisa Westman. Lisa is an instructional coach specializing in differentiation for Skokie School District 73.5 in suburban Chicago. She taught middle school gifted humanities, ELA, and SS for twelve years before becoming a coach.

A few years ago, I read The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz. I was fascinated by the effect choice has on the human psyche. My learning from this book has changed my approach to simple tasks like grocery shopping and more complex manners like child-rearing and teaching. Schwartz writes:

When people have no choice, life is almost unbearable. As the number of available choices increases, as it has in our consumer culture, the autonomy, control, and liberation this variety brings are powerful and positive. But as the number of choices keeps growing, negative aspects of having a multitude of options begin to appear. As the number of choices grows further, the negatives escalate until we become overloaded. At this point, choice no longer liberates, but debilitates."

In other words, having choice is vital, but, too many options to choose from is destructive.

In the field of education, choice is a commodity frequently cited as one most valued by teachers. The 2014 study Teachers Know Best: Teachers’ Views on Professional Development conducted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, found:

“those [teachers] who choose all or most of their professional learning opportunities are more than twice as satisfied with professional development as those with fewer options.”

Additionally, there has been quite a bit written, both formally and informally, on educators’ desire to discontinue “one-size-fits-all/sit and get” professional development as this method is met with resistance and is ineffective at producing change. Instead, self-directed professional development options are being promoted for teachers.

Choice in professional development allows educators to learn more about areas of interest and tap into perceived strengths. Both of these factors build teacher self-efficacy and in turn positively impact student growth. Fortunately, in today’s educational landscape there is not a shortage of choice (for professional development and otherwise). Let’s take a look at some numbers:


  • 353 - number of weekly education Twitter chats

  • 2174 - number of EdTech Products available for educators (most with PD/training options)

  • 4,050,0000 - number of Google Search results for “Instructional Strategies”

  • Too many to count - number of EdCamps, Voxer Chats, Pinterest boards, books, blogs, podcasts, YouTube tutorials, etc.

The mere quantity of choices available to teachers could overwhelm even the most resolute of educators. Schwartz suggests that being faced with too many options causes many people to choose nothing which, ultimately, leads to disappointment:

When asked about what they regret most in the last six months, people tend to identify actions that didn't meet expectations. But when asked about what they regret most when they look back on their lives as a whole, people tend to identify failures to act."

Here we see a paradox. How can we accommodate teachers’ desire for choice and minimize the insurmountable task of evaluating all the available options?

The answer to this question is yet another reason why instructional coaching programs are crucial components to successful professional learning and growth of students. (You can read about other reasons for instructional coaching programs here.)

Instructional coaching’s foremost thought leader, Jim Knight of the Kansas Coaching Project says,

Effective coaching makes it easier for teachers to learn and implement new ideas. Indeed, without follow-up such as coaching, most professional learning will have little effect.”

Knight’s research is corroborated by the meta-analysis done by John Hattie author of Visible Learning For Teachers . Hattie found that when instructional coaching is conducted over-time in conjunction with data team analysis of how students learn to inform instruction student growth is impacted with an effect size of .51 (anything with an effect size above .4 is considered effective).

Instructional coaches form long-term, non-evaluative, mutually beneficial partnerships with teachers and administrators to support the implementation of research-based best practices through coaching cycles. Choice is an essential part of coaching cycles and is one of the seven instructional coaching partnership principles outlined by Knight.

When teachers (individually or in teams) partner with a coach, the coach supports the teacher to identify a goal. The teacher may have already come to the coach with an idea they want to explore. Or, sometimes the coach will engage in some preliminary learning on behalf of the coachee(s) to determine options. Instructional coaches are not experts on all things content and instruction, but, they do have significant training on how to determine if resources are aligned to research-based effective strategies and can decipher suitability of strategies. Either way, the coach and the teacher will discuss the possible courses of action and the coachee will choose how and what they will do to achieve their goal.

The learning phase continues with the coach modeling and/or co-teaching the chosen strategy followed by the teacher putting the strategy into action. The learning portion of the coaching cycle culminates when quantifiable improvement on the stated goal is noted. Typically, growth is confirmed by comparing evidence collected before the cycle, during the cycle, and at the end of the cycle. Sustainability of the goal can also be ascertained by continued check-ins and partnership on subsequent goals.

With the paradox of choice teachers face on a daily basis, instructional coaching as the primary vehicle for professional development makes perfect sense. Whether a teacher is well-versed in the available options and readily participating in self-directed professional development or conversely if a teacher does not know where to begin, an instructional coach will accommodate the needs of the teacher and ensure that teachers reach and sustain their goals.

In the words of my favorite coach, Mike Ditka, “I think it’s a wise choice.”

Questions about this post? Connect with Lisa on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP
Education Massachusetts National Guard to Help With Busing Students to School
250 guard personnel will be available to serve as drivers of school transport vans, as districts nationwide struggle to hire enough drivers.
1 min read
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass. Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, activated the state's National Guard to help with busing students to school as districts across the country struggle to hire enough drivers.
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass.
Michael Dwyer/AP
Education FDA: ‘Very, Very Hopeful’ COVID Shots Will Be Ready for Younger Kids This Year
Dr. Peter Marks said he is hopeful that COVID-19 vaccinations for 5- to 11-year-olds will be underway by year’s end. Maybe sooner.
4 min read
Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research in the Food and Drug Administration, testifies during a Senate health, education, labor, and pensions hearing to examine an update from federal officials on efforts to combat COVID-19 on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 11, 2021. On Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, Marks urged parents to be patient, saying the agency will rapidly evaluate vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds as soon as it gets the needed data.
Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research in the Food and Drug Administration, testifies during a Senate health, education, labor, and pensions hearing to examine an update from federal officials on efforts to combat COVID-19 on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 11, 2021.
Jim Lo Scalzo/AP