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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

Which Coaching Is Best for You?

By Peter DeWitt — January 25, 2017 4 min read

We live in a time where there is no shortage of suggestions on how to lead, teach and coach. For full disclosure, I certainly explore many of those ways for this blog. When it comes to leadership we talk about, write about and research the differences between instructional, distributive, transformational and collaborative leadership. We all build our cases about what is best for leaders to pursue. The reality is that it is up to the leader because they have to pursue what they are comfortable with when it comes to leading a building.

When it comes to teaching we spend our time discussing the guide on the side versus the sage on the stage. Researchers, pundits and educators differentiate the difference between differentiation, personalized learning or direct instruction. We weigh the benefits of teaching to a level that students have to rise up to, or find the student’s level and teach to them. There are many ways to teach effectively. We just have to make sure, as teachers, we understand our impact.

And then there is coaching...

Coaching is really considered the answer to the question of “What is effective professional development?” Timperley et al found that if we want PD to be effective it needs the following:


  • Over a long period of time (three to five years)
  • Involves external experts
  • Teachers are deeply engaged
  • It challenges teachers’ existing beliefs
  • Teachers talk to each other about teaching
  • School leadership supports teachers’ opportunities to learn and provides opportunities within the school structure for this to happen

Coaching fits into the category of support that is over a long period of time. Additionally, coaching inspires teachers to become deeply engaged because they are working on a goal that they have chosen. Clearly, all of this is much more authentic if leaders support these opportunities of learning by fostering a school climate where teachers feel that they can openly try new things.

Types of Coaching
There are many different types of coaching, and that is where issues can begin. Some school leaders dive into the different types of coaching, without a deep understanding of each one and how they work. Too often leaders will grab at something, throw it to teachers and say, “do it.” And from there the type of coaching is at risk of becoming, “let’s do it this way, but call it that.”

In order to choose the most effective type of coaching, we need to understand what different types of coaching entail, and ask how they can help us improve our practices. It is important to ask teachers for their input into which one will best serve them, and move in a forward direction trying to stay close to what the research says about the particular one chosen.

Those types of coaching are:
Cognitive Coaching - Cognitive coaching has been around for awhile. In Reflections on Cognitive Coaching (ASCD), which was written in 1995, the authors write,

Cognitive Coaching is a process during which teachers explore the thinking behind their practices. Each person seems to maintain a cognitive map, only partially conscious. In Cognitive Coaching, questions asked by the coach reveal to the teacher areas of that map that may not be complete or consciously developed. When teachers talk out loud about their thinking, their decisions become clearer to them, and their awareness increases.

The authors continue by writing,

Cognitive Coaching uses a three-phase cycle similar to teacher evaluation through clinical supervision: preconference, observation, and post conference. The primary difference between Cognitive Coaching and evaluation is that Cognitive Coaching uses these cycles for the sole purpose of helping the teacher improve instructional effectiveness by becoming more reflective about teaching. While the preconference requires a teacher to articulate the day's goals and the post conference calls for assessment, the teacher, not the coach, evaluates the lesson's success.

Cognitive coaching is non-judgmental which some coaches may find hard to do. If you don’t know about cognitive coaching, begin by reading the article linked above, and then move on to some deeper reading on the topic.

Instructional Coaching - According to Jim Knight, who I work with as an instructional coaching trainer, instructional coaching revolves around a coaching cycle where the teacher chooses the goal they want to work on. After the goal is chosen by the teacher, the teacher and coach go through the process of learning which involves reading research, modeling the practice or even co-teaching through the new strategy. At the end of the coaching cycle the teacher and coach see improvement in the teaching process, and the teacher continues to use the strategy after the relationship ends.

Specifically where instructional coaching is concerned, Knight highlights the need to focus on what complicates the task of helping adults, and the partnership principles needed for teachers and coaches to work in true partnership with one another. This piece is not implied in his work, but specifically addressed throughout the work, which is why instructional coaching may be different from other types of coaching. Additionally, there is a balance between asking good questions and offering quality insight. Click here to read more about Knight’s Partnership Principles.

Transformational Coaching - This type of coaching is similar to cognitive coaching or instructional coaching. It is meant to transform the teaching practices of teachers. Transform is a really important word, because there are times when coaching takes place, the teacher tries a new strategy with students, but never uses it again. If coaching is going to be transformational, it means that the teacher and coach works on a strategy that becomes a habit for the teacher long after the coaching process is completed.

Blended Coaching - Do you like the three types of coaching from above? Blended coaching may be for you because it combines the different types of coaching. According to Lochmiller there are five types of coaching that can be found under the blended coaching umbrella. Those are instructional, facilitative, collaborative, consultative, and transformational.

However, cognitive coaching can certainly be added to this as well if the coaches have been trained in it. Lochmiller seems to suggest that blended coaching is really left up to the expertise of the coach, because they need to be in-tune with what is happening in the classroom, and then use whatever type of coaching fits into that particular situation.

Which type of coaching is for you?

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is the author of several books including the best selling Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most (September, 2016. Corwin Press/Learning Forward). Connect with Peter 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.

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