Developing Teachers through Instructional Coaching
From The Desk Of: Sakeena on Instructional Coaching
In order for learners to have choices post-matric – their classroom teachers must be immersed in a culture of instructional support and professional development. Coaching is a small part of a bigger vehicle that drives learner achievement.
Instructional coaching is a direct and powerful tool for developing teachers when it is undertaken in the context of an all-encompassing support which includes ongoing professional development and consistent learner support and enrichment. This is reflected in a school improvement plan which outlines a school’s goals and strategy for the year.
Acorn Education supports over 80 teachers across 3 schools; 1 high school and 2 primary schools. We have a team of 5 instructional coaches who coach approximately 8 – 10 teachers and a lead instructional coach who manages and supports the coaches.
Instructional coaching encapsulates regular, frequent and an ongoing cycle of observation and feedback. The feedback session takes place after the instructional coach observes a teacher’s class. The feedback session is a dialogue that typically includes review; praise; feedback, reflection, modelling, planning and practice. These components will be discussed in more detail below. Instructional coaching benefits teachers by enhancing their skills and their capacity to respond to the particular needs and dispositions of learners.
The Need for Instructional Coaching
Even two decades after apartheid vast disparities still exist within South African education. The PIRLS 2016 (IEA, 2017) results show that 78% of South African grade 4 children cannot read for meaning in any language. In the 2015 TIMMS (HSRC; 2015) study South Africa ranked among the lowest performing countries in terms of Mathematics & Science achievement scale scores. There is therefore a very clear urgent need to implement interventions aimed at decreasing inequality within education.
Research & the Impact of Instructional Coaching
Instructional coaching is part of a bigger vehicle that can impact learner results and thereby narrow the inequality divide. Both local and international research conducted highlights the positive impact that Instructional Coaching has on teaching practice. Various Instructional Coaching programmes implemented across South Africa improved both teacher practice and learning outcomes. (Hofmeyr; J. 2020)
What Instructional Coaching looks like
Instructional Coaching can be viewed as a structured one to one learning relationship between an instructional coach and a teacher aimed at developing and improving teaching practice. With instructional coaching; teacher’s abilities can develop substantially over time with practice and effort. Good instruction is what drives instructional coaching where the instructional coach and the teacher have a shared understanding in terms of what best practice looks like in the classroom.
Coaching requires teachers to be willing to reflect on their practices and open themselves to feedback. This openness on the part of the teacher is driven by a school culture committed to professional development. To facilitate the development of open relationships; instructional coaches present an overview of coaching. This is an opportunity for teachers to hear about the coaching model and watch what a typical observation’ and feedback looks like. This is followed up with a check-in between the instructional coach and teacher where they set up an observation schedule (that is when the coach will be observing the teacher) and when they will be meeting for feedback. This is also an opportunity for the teacher and coach to again talk about what coaching will look like.
The coaching process starts with the instructional coach observing the teacher. During observations, the instructional coach spends 15 minutes in the class and takes notes in relation to what the teacher and learners are doing. These observation notes help to identify a moment in the lesson where a teacher can be even better. The instructional coach is now in a position to think about what is the highest leverage action step – in other words, what is the one thing the teacher can do that will improve their teaching. What makes the planning process highly effective is that the instructional coach identifies and thinks about the highest leverage action step and then scripts out how they going to show the teacher what best practice looks like.
After planning, the coach is ready to deliver feedback to the teacher. The quality of feedback that the coach provides to the teacher is a major component of the coaching model. The feedback session takes place during the teacher’s admin period. The coach will always start feedback off with what is working well in the teacher’s lesson and then asks the teacher about what has made those moments so successful. The teacher now has an opportunity to reflect on their best practice (what they do well). The coach will then identify one moment in the lesson that could be even better in the next lesson.
This is what the coach planned and scripted and it is also what we call the teacher’s “action step”. During the feedback session, the coach models implementing this action step for the teacher so that the teacher can see what best practice looks like and then the teacher gets an opportunity to practice him or herself. The heart of the feedback session lies in the teacher practising; because the teacher’s abilities can develop substantially over time with effort and practice. By practising in the classroom as if the learners are there gives teachers an opportunity to get a feel for what they must do and also gives teachers the time and space to perfect their practice
The fact that the coach shares a highlight of the lesson, moves to a small area of growth, identify a possible solution and practice with the teacher has proven to make the feedback far more valuable and a positive & empowering experience. The teacher is now in a position to start their next lesson and immediately implement their action step. In summary; the feedback session is like a dialogue where the Instructional Coach opens with praise; there is time for reflection before the instructional coach models what best practice looks like. There is a discussion after which the teacher practices which sets the teacher up to be able to successfully implement the action step in the classroom.
Impact of Instructional Coaching
Coaching is most impactful when it is part of a wider school programme aimed at developing teachers and driven by school managers. As instructional coaches we are humbled to be part of a teacher’s developmental journey. There has been a significant improvement in learners results for teachers who are consistently coached for a year. We have seen teachers who have gone from “I am struggling to manage these learners” – to taking small steps in creating a productive learning environment by embedding routines and procedures. We have also seen teachers going from “I don’t know why my learners aren’t getting it” – to teachers who consistently have working knowledge of where their learners are at in terms of understanding in the learning process. After a term of coaching, the Maths marks increased in all five of the Grade 3 classes in one school by an average of 18%.
The public school partnership programme endeavours to impact learner results which will ultimately provide all learners with choices with regards to post matric.
LEAD INSTRUCTIONAL COACH, Acorn Education.