Education Letter to the Editor

Supplement Coaching With Other Tools and Evaluation

January 08, 2008 2 min read

To the Editor:

We at the Center for Leadership and Learning Communities are big fans of instructional coaching, and agree wholeheartedly that it can be an extremely valuable tool for teachers (“Coaching Teachers to Help Students Learn,” Dec. 12, 2007).

Over the past decade, we have worked with dozens of school districts and hundreds of teachers to help implement a coaching model, but we would still argue that when a district is considering coaching along with more traditional professional development, the decision should not be either-or.

Effective professional development should help teachers both with the work of teaching and the knowledge needed to do that work. Because coaching is far closer to the work of teaching, this is one of its greatest strengths. But when it comes to knowledge needed, coaches typically do not have the time to explore with teachers the content underlying the lessons. Neither do they have the time (nor perhaps the resources) to help teachers get a handle on typical student hurdles in learning. For these reasons, other tools are still needed to supplement classroom coaching.

Mark Driscoll


Center for Leadership and Learning Communities

Education Development Center Inc.

Newton, Mass.

To the Editor:

If schools and districts are truly committed to improving the quality of teaching and leadership in their schools, on-site coaching of educators is a powerful professional-development strategy. As reported in “Coaching Teachers to Help Students Learn,” the Adams 12 Five Star school district in Thornton, Colo., is one place where teachers and students are benefiting from the impact of this new breed of staff developers.

Adams 12 is not alone. School systems across the country are investing in this strategy because they recognize that it addresses the immediate needs of teachers and students. Similarly, the Teacher Advancement Program, funded by the Milken Family Foundation, supports school reorganization so that master and mentor teachers can coach colleagues to improve their practice. The Wachovia Foundation Teachers and Teaching Initiative has also provided funding to help launch coaching academies in 15 states. In addition, recent Broad Prize for Urban Education winners, including the Boston public schools and the Norfolk, Va., public schools, have demonstrated the impact of coaching on teachers and students. And both urban and rural schools in Alabama benefit from reading coaches prepared by the Alabama Reading Initiative.

But if coaching is to fully deliver on its potential, district leaders must carefully establish criteria for the selection of coaches, provide professional development and support, and conduct regular assessments. Evaluation is critical for two reasons: to identify the most effective efforts, and to provide the evidence required when coaching initiatives face inevitable funding questions.

Funding staff development that doesn’t result in improved student learning is a waste of valuable financial and human resources. When done correctly, coaching is one professional-development investment that makes fiscal sense.

Stephanie Hirsh

Executive Director

National Staff Development Council

Dallas, Texas

A version of this article appeared in the January 09, 2008 edition of Education Week as Supplement Coaching With Other Tools and Evaluation