Districts around the country are trying to measure the impact of instructional coaching on teacher effectiveness and student performance. While the correlation between teacher quality and student outcomes has long been proven, there have been few studies which effectively measure trends in teacher growth as correlated to student growth. Matthew Kraft, David Blazar and Dylan Hogan recently published just such a study in the Review of Educational Research. Their findings are optimistic, but present one significant challenge to be addressed: scalability.Click here to read the full study. Click here to read a summary from the Hechinger Report
What is the Impact of Instructional Coaching?
Kraft, Blazar and Hogan found that there is significant evidence to show that a high-quality coaching experience can improve a teacher’s skillset. In fact, gains seen from high-quality instructional coaching were equivalent to the gains seen in teacher experience learned over five to 10 years (as compared to a first year teacher). The impact did not end with teacher skill development. There was also evidence of a value-added effect on student achievement from teachers who had a high-quality instructional coach.
Instructional coaching is better than PD workshops
It’s important to note that the gains seen in the instructional coaching study exceed gains from impact studies that try to prove the effectiveness of other, more traditional professional development options. In other words, instructional coaching can be proven to have a positive impact on teacher effectiveness and student achievement, PD workshops can’t.
There are two caveats to this study that are worth considering, though.
1. Not all instructional coaching is high-quality.
The instructional coaching programs that were proven to have an impact on student achievement all had similar characteristics. Feedback is a crucial factor. Without high quality feedback from a coach, instructional coaching is not likely to have a positive impact on classroom performance. Additionally, enthusiasm matters. Teachers who are excited about participating in coaching, and who had a positive relationship with their coaches, were more likely to show gains than those who were forced to participate in a coaching experience. That doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t require coaching for all teachers, but that the way you sell it matters.
2. There are diminishing returns on scaling instructional coaching in larger programs.
In the studies explored by Blazar, Hogan, and Kraft, the biggest barrier to success is scale. Small, campus-level programs were shown to have a significant impact on teacher effectiveness and student performance. As programs grow, there is an inverse relationship between size and effectiveness.
What can we learn about the impact of instructional coaching?
There are some important lessons to take away from this study. While instructional coaching seems to be the most effective way to improve the quality of teaching and learning, relying on people and paper will not work if you are trying to coach more than a few teachers. Unless you have a way to monitor conversations and provide feedback on the coaching conversations that take place in your program, there will be varying degrees of effectiveness in the quality of coaching that takes place. This will be dependent upon the coach, the relationship with each teacher, and the context in which each conversation takes place. Consistently high-quality feedback requires calibration at scale. Coaches need to be given the chance to receive feedback from one another on the support they provide to teachers.
Secondly, managing the complexity of an instructional coaching program at scale will require some sort of analytical data that can be easily and quickly reviewed by program administrators to ensure fidelity across the program. It is unrealistic to assume that anyone can manage a large program without defining some key performance metrics for coaches, and ensuring that everyone meets those metrics regularly.
Lastly, and most importantly, it seems that time will continue to be the greatest factor. While in person observation and conversation can be highly effective, it is unrealistic to believe that such a program can be easily scheduled with hundreds, or even thousands, of teachers to be coached. Luckily, technology provides a welcome solution to that problem. Smart-phone captured videos that can be securely shared between coach and teacher will allow observation and feedback to take place virtually. Hogan, Kraft, and Blazar are studying a blended model of video-enhanced coaching now. Their recognition of this as a solution to the scalability problem is a promising indicator that schools and districts need a technology solution that eliminates the barriers of time and space that traditional coaching programs present. We look forward to the results of that study.
Clearly, ensuring consistent high-quality instruction is crucial as schools continue to grow and resources continue to shrink. There are few silver bullets in education, but a high quality teacher can be one of them. The focus on life-long teacher development that leaves behind traditional professional development models and finds new ways to help teachers grow is a major challenge that serious educators around the country are accepting. The stakes couldn’t be higher. Without high quality teachers, students are at risk of failing at school, which is why it is crucial for schools and districts to find scalable ways to make instructional coaching work in ever